Retailers Realize Multilingual SEO as the Key Ingredient for Successful Global Expansion


Retailers Realize Multilingual SEO as the Key Ingredient for Successful Global Expansion

By Elizabeth Elting

Integrated Solutions for Retailers – September 16, 2010

In terms of investments in time and resources, there has never been a more beneficial moment for retailers to embark on international expansion. The Web opens nearly unlimited global opportunities to retailers – both large and small. However, merely translating a U.S.-based website into another language is not enough to take advantage of the potential expansion in foreign markets. Multilingual search engine optimization (MSEO) is a key ingredient to success, and it’s attainable for any retailer willing to embrace a few important “rules of engagement.”

1. Don’t make international SEO an afterthought. Building multilingual websites should not be done in staggered attempts. There is little value in going live with a website that is not optimized for international search engine optimization. Companies might be tempted to start with website translation first and optimizing them later to phase in resource investments. However, this phased approach actually costs more money in the long-term. MSEO should guide a company’s entire content development and site-architecture strategy. Otherwise, they’re building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information. Only when foreign SEO and design are done in conjunction can a company clearly answer the question: “Have we launched a website that will attract customers?”

2. It’s all in how you say it. However you put it the words on your website serve as a virtual shop sign for potential customers and visitors. Just as an upscale boutique wouldn’t hang a discount store’s sign over its front door, businesses operating in foreign markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do and why customers should care. Therefore, copy optimization and proper keyword selection are the first items that should be on the minds of companies moving into foreign markets. It is vital in successful website localization projects to validate keyword choices before going live in other languages.

From Blue Nile to Yves Saint Laurent, retailers are now taking steps to make sure their virtual shop signs are compelling to consumers speaking a wide array of languages. While the many available website translation applications have streamlined this process, retailers must be cautious about the tools and methods they choose for website localization. Localizing communications for other cultures must be handled carefully by professionals who understand the nuances of word choice and connotation in any given language. Settling for anything less puts the effectiveness of international campaigns and foreign SEO at risk.

3. Robots are better suited for factory work than for communication. Automation is great, but it can only take a company’s brand messaging so far in the arena of customer communications. Relying solely on software to translate website copy is likely to fall short of overall localization goals. The work of maintaining the message and feel of the original language takes knowledge and skill that can only come from human involvement. Machines cannot accomplish all the nuances involved with localization projects, and when companies rely on machine translation, their MSEO shortcuts become obvious. Organizations that deploy such solutions are almost putting themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don’t translate at all. For example, “cutting edge” might sound like an appropriate keyword for one market, but the direct translation in another language might connote something quite negative. Machine translation is not adept at catching these kinds of subtleties, which can make or break a campaign.

4. A picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure those are the words that you want to convey. When companies consider the steps to take in website optimization, they often overlook images. This can be a mistake with severe consequences. Local interpretations of your images should be part of your overall MSEO strategy to ensure that visual elements express your intended messages.

5. Consumers in any country like choice. Trust them to select their own language preferences. Just as a company should avoid auto-translations when possible, automatic redirects to particular language sites may also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to website translation. For most situations, it is a good idea to choose a dropdown language menu instead, which allows users to choose a language most comfortable to them, instead of having the site choose for them. With automatic redirects, customers have the website language chosen for them, which can present some frustrations and decrease your site’s effectiveness. For example, just because someone lives in Canada does not mean that they prefer French over English.

When it comes time to buy a new computer or update a wardrobe, some consumers visit independent, local shops; others go to the mall. However, many, many more stay home and choose their items online from retailers around the world. Those consumers want the variety and value offered by international companies, but also expect the comfort of shopping in their own language on a site that shows an understanding of their cultural norms.

The pay-offs for e-commerce businesses that globalize and localize are great; to reap the rewards of copy optimization, though, organizations must put in the appropriate efforts on the front end of their website projects. Automated, machine-driven translation is quick and easy, but can also fail to accomplish the goals that any retailer rightly sets for itself, as it establishes a presence in foreign markets. Professional translation services offer businesses the means to truly localize their communication strategy. This demonstration of authentic interest in local markets is directly related to increases in revenue and sales figures.

In an era of global business, engaging only one nation’s consumer base is a sure way to plateau a company’s revenue and growth. In the past, only the big players could afford to invest the time and strategic resources needed to localize their websites for foreign markets, and even they didn’t always invest enough resources to do it well. In countries with less competitive Internet markets and less refined search engines, it used to be enough to simply translate the English copy into the local language and start doing business. With so few companies doing it, there was not much competition for e-business or Google rankings. This is no longer the case. Luckily, strategic MSEO is now within reach for any retailer savvy enough to embrace it.

Liz Elting is the co-founder and co- CEO of and TransPerfect. Elting has received numerous awards for her outstanding entrepreneurship, including Working Woman's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Customer Service, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the Inc. 500 Award and the Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 Award, four times. is a leading provider of software, website, and enterprise-wide localization services, as well as translation-related technology products. solutions allow customers, such as retailers, to conduct business more effectively in international markets. The company has a global presence on four continents and services a variety of clients with dedicated practice groups for every major industry. is part of the TransPerfect family of companies. For more information, please visit


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