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Sep 09, 2009
Case Study

Develop Non-English Websites for International Search: 7 Strategies

SUMMARY: Want to reach international prospects through SEO and PPC but don't know how to start? Here's a case study about testing the waters of non-English search traffic.

Read how the marketing team for a translation services company developed native language websites for several European countries. They started small, tested keywords, and have achieved 300%-500% growth in sales from some of their target countries. Includes strategies for:
o Keyword list development
o Site design
o Testing

Christian Arno, founder, Lingo24, had used SEO and PPC to help grow his translation services company in the UK. So he and his team wondered if they could achieve similar results with an international marketing effort.

"The Internet provides so many opportunities that sometimes people forget the obvious ones," says Arno. "You're immediately accessible to people in so many different countries."

They wanted to test whether their successful English-language website could be adapted and localized for other countries and languages. But they didn't want to spend too much time and money on site development or PPC campaigns until those markets had proven themselves.


Arno and his team developed an international search marketing strategy that involved building sites and testing keywords for more than a dozen target countries. They started small and used their observations to adapt and optimize each country's website.

Here are seven strategies that guided their process:

Strategy #1. Identify best markets for expansion

Before building any local-language websites, Arno and his team identified countries that were good markets for their translation services. They looked first at non-English speaking European countries and analyzed the following attributes:

- Gross Domestic Product per person, to get a sense of the country's affluence levels.

- Export indicators, to get a sense of how many companies within that country are exporting. Exports are a key driver for translation services.

- Existing competition, to determine whether there is room in the market for a new translation service provider.

They identified several affluent, export-led economies, including:
o Germany
o Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland)
o Switzerland
o The Netherlands
o Belgium

Strategy #2. Use successful English terms as basis for local-language keyword lists

With target countries and languages identified, the team developed a list of search terms to incorporate into their website content and architecture:

- They used successful keywords from their English language website as a starting point, but turned those lists over to native-speaking translators currently living in the target countries.

"We always use translators based in-country, because language always changes," says Arno. "Even native speakers can mess up their natural language if they haven't been living locally for several years."

- The native speakers developed translations for the team's English terms, and also suggested similar terms or relevant phrases that Arno's English-speaking team could not have known.

Strategy #3. Build basic websites for each country

The team used the list of translated keywords and phrases as a guideline for developing a local-language website for each country.

- First, they purchased local domains and hosted these websites in-country. That structure helps achieve better Google rankings than a non-local website, says Arno.

- The team did not dramatically change its basic website structure or design. They used a vertical, left-hand navigation bar for links to important sections of the site, such as:
o Services
o Clients
o Contact information
o Pricing and ordering

That structure allowed them to accommodate changes in word or phrase length when terms were localized for different countries. By contrast, a design that featured a horizontal navigation bar on the top of the homepage might become unworkable when translating from English to, say, German, which tends to use longer words and phrases.

- They translated content for only the most important sections of the website, such as pages that described the company's services, pricing and contact information. For initial testing, they did not translate news sections, blogs, or other dynamic sections of the site.

The result was a website for each country with six to seven pages of localized content that featured the keywords and phrases identified by their native-speaking translators.

Strategy #4. Test localized phrases with PPC campaigns

The team tweaked and adapted each localized website by conducting PPC tests of phrases on their keyword list. They also tested new phrases in an ongoing keyword-optimization process.

- They team waited until they received at least 100 visits from each keyword before making a decision on its performance. Then, they examined metrics such as conversion rate and revenue-per-keyword.

- Those metrics determined the team's target position for subsequent PPC campaigns. For example, they targeted positions 1-4 for their best-performing keywords, and positions 5-8 for terms that didn't perform as well.

- They also used results from those tests to identify new content for the site that would boost natural search rankings.

Strategy #5. Develop in-country inbound links

The team also sought links from in-country domains to each of their localized websites. They followed the same kind of link-building tactics that marketers would use for their English-language sites, such as:

- Contributing native-language articles to local industry news sites or blogs.

- Contacting local media to pitch company experts as interview subjects on industry topics. Arno says that in many European countries, especially in Scandinavia, reporters will conduct interviews in English and then translate those comments for a native-language article. The result is a good, localized link.

Strategy #6. Make arrangements for local search listings

Arno's team knew from their UK site that many prospects seek out translation services using phrases that specify a location -- e.g., "translation services London"

To capture similar local searches in other countries, the team set up virtual offices that allowed them to legitimately compete for local search results. For example, they contracted with a company that offers virtual offices in Stockholm to establish a local address and rank for phrases such as "translation services Stockholm."

Strategy #7. Increase resources as volume of business from a country grows

The team's testing approach allowed them to build several localized websites with very little upfront investment. Over time, however, they used search-marketing results to determine which countries deserved a larger commitment of resources.

For example, when they first launched a Danish-language site the team responded to search-generated inquiries in English. That technique allowed them to win some Danish business, because a large percentage of the population there speaks English.

However, after about six months of growing inquiries from the country, the team decided to test how much their conversion rate would improve by answering Danish inquiries with a native-speaker. They hired a Danish-speaking salesperson in their UK office to field those queries.


The team's international SEM efforts tapped into the enormous value of non-English language search:

- Although the UK remains the team�s biggest market, five different countries each represent more than 5% of the company's overall business.

- Sales from Germany have increased 300%.

- Sales from Scandinavia and The Netherlands have increased 500%.

"What's really good is that it shows you can achieve quite a lot without risking much," says Arno.

Here are a few other observations from the team's international search efforts:

- Searchers in English-language markets, such as the UK and the US, tend to be more sophisticated and type in longer search queries. As a result, keyword lists for those markets tend to be longer, and the long tail is more important for success.

- Lower competition for native-language search in Scandinavian countries makes it comparatively easy to maintain top rankings for simple, one- or two-word phrases.

- Hiring a sales member who can respond to international search queries in the prospect's native language is a necessary step to achieve significant scale in those markets. Hiring a Danish-speaking sales representative helped Arno's team make Denmark one of the countries from which they now get more than 5% of their revenues.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from Lingo24's international search campaigns

Localize Your International Email Campaigns: 4 Proven Tactics

How to Get Better SEO Traffic: 4 Strategies to Increase Leads 58%


See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Sep 10, 2009 - Mary Kay Lofurno of SyberWorks, Inc. says:
The content of the article does give the correct general overall approach to doing international seo/sem especially in regards to url type selection, hosting each in that specific country, etc. The thing I would say is that I think saying that it does not cost a lot is major exaggeration. Here is why: Setting up individual country specific sites costs money, maybe not a ton, but does cost money. Plus, each of those sites needs to be managed, so there are staffing/IT costs associated. Also, getting translators and people that know the language and have the skill of being able to write seo copy for each of those countries. People that know how to do specific seo research in regards to each of those countries, the reason I say this is that each country & population group has their own search preferences and or properties they prefer to use. Then throw in whether its B2C, B2B, etc. SEO/SEM is hard work and takes real talent and this costs money. While your not doing an overall site redesigns from scratch for each country, you still need to make sites that are "country specific" and of course, there are things that go along with that -- again more man hours, etc. Then the testing element, PPC testing always costs money, no way to get around it. Finally, let's throw in something you did not mention, which was link building online marketing efforts. There are several types of link building strategies, each would then need to be customized to that exact country, what the search properties are that this population uses, what specific vertical sites they may search on, etc.--again, developing this, growing it, maintaining it, costs money. Again, I do believe that the article is generally correct in its overall approach to International SEO/SEM --but "they didn't want to spend too much time and money on site development or PPC campaigns until those markets had proven themselves." -- In my opinion, they did and had to when you roll up all the costs and staff time needed. And they will need to spend more money and more time going forward to grow presence in each of those markets. Yes, they increased sales, but there is not data associated with your article that identifies these costs realistically. I am in no way against the technique of International SEO & SEM--I just think it would be great if you could supply real data. Just my two cents. Respectfully, Mary Kay Lofurno

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