What are the most common mistakes that people make with international SEO?

We recently published a webinar special, looking into the challenges with International SEO and how that impacts areas such as website structure, content and brand strategy.

Today we’re zeroing in on one of the topics discussed as part of the webinar: What would you say are the most common mistakes that people make regarding international SEO?

Jump straight this question in the webinar video below:


MICHAEL BONFILS: I’d say on the top of my list would be localisation and translation. People think that it’s okay, I can just translate my pages automatically, or translate my keywords automatically, using Google Translate, or using a translator who doesn’t know search, and that should be fine. What a lot of people don’t remember, especially in the US or even in English languages, is that English as a language is very forgiving. The US as a country is very trustful, if that’s a word.

So when somebody speaks to us in different languages, it’s easy for us to decipher. It’s also easy for us to have a certain level of trust; we’re pretty much open all the time to all kinds of new products and so forth. The problem that a lot of North American or English, or maybe Australian or English-based countries, the way that we see the language is the same in other countries. So take German, for example. If I translated German, I can’t think, ‘Okay, they’ll get it. I’m going to write this page, and they’re going to see it, and they’re going to get it. Even if it’s wrong, it doesn’t matter.’

Well no, it does matter. Number one; people aren’t going to trust you if the page, the content on the page doesn’t look right, for one. For two, languages outside of English aren’t that forgiving. You can’t make a mistake. One little tiny mistake throws off everything, and it just doesn’t make sense, purely at all. So I’d say localisation is probably the biggest one.

DAVID BAIN: I thought it was quite interesting actually, you were talking about different countries that speak English as well. Michael F., when you see businesses that conduct business in different English-speaking countries, like Australia, UK, Canada, United States, do you think that most businesses just use the same English in all of those websites? Or do you see more businesses using different phraseology in those different countries? If so, do you think it’s better to actually even adjust the English for those local versions of the English language?

MICHAEL FLEISCHNER: Yeah, that’s a great question, David. Really, to build on what Michael B. was talking about, there is kind of this foundational level of translating webpages to the native language in a way that is precise and makes sense. But I think a larger issue is that, especially with international companies that are looking to get the most from their websites, generally they don’t go far beyond that. So, first of all, they may not be interpreting things optimally.

Then secondly, they make a literal translation. I can tell you from working actually recently with a client from Canada, they have a domestic presence here in the United States, and they have a division in Canada. The Canadian version of the pages themselves is very different. How they present themselves, how they position themselves with their market, how they talk about the same products and services, are different.

Really, the most efficient way, I think, or that I’ve learned, to get there is, of course you can start with a literal translation, but then you really need to work with people in the partner country, to help educate you on how to change the webpages, how to change the text or the verbiage, or even the images that you use. So I think that’s one of the most important things when it comes to international SEO. Even if you’re working among English language or English-speaking countries, there are subtle variations that need to be addressed.

DAVID BAIN: So Lukasz, having grown up in Poland, you must have seen lots of websites that have tried to target themselves at the marketplace in Poland, and perhaps they’ve done it really, really badly. Maybe they’ve mixed up Polish and English, and just made some terrible mistakes that made you not trust the website. What are some of the big glaring errors, the big mistakes that you would say businesses make with that kind of thing?

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: I will give you an example. For me, living here in England for ten years, it’s become very difficult to write an article about SEO in Polish, and I will give an answer why. All these words like ‘bounce rate’, disavow files, and so on and so on. In Poland, we have our own way to translate this, and you cannot take this… ‘Oh, bounce rate is probably this,’ because they won’t understand.

So there are only two ways. First, you don’t replace this word, and you still use an English version of this word in the Polish article, which doesn’t always look great. Or first, like I just read a dictionary, how to write these terms, like visit sessions, use visitors, and so on, and so on, and so on. So I think this is exactly what Michael has said, that we’re touching what is called a tone of voice, yet you cannot translate this directly.

The second thing, you asked about the biggest error we ever saw recently. I have one in my head. It was a Bulgarian website who wanted to sell their stuff worldwide. They had these one-man offices in lots of countries. These countries had their own phone numbers. Instead of creating one page about how to call a specific office, they just duplicated the whole 10,000-page website, and put this into specific country directories.

So they had about 500,000 pages which they duplicate, and the core of 10,000 pages. They were not ranking anywhere because of this approach. Obviously, they haven’t had an SEO expert in their company, so obviously they didn’t know that this is the wrong thing. A little advice was able to fix, and they had lots of traffic, at least from their own core country and the core website. So I think tone of voice, and this little bit of technical knowledge is a must when you’re starting to implement this international online strategy.

Remember to watch the full international SEO webinar recording here.

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