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Hey, it’s good to speak languages! How online companies can succeed in a multilingual world

Multilingual online companies

I’ve been hearing it for most of my life: “If you want to be successful, you need to speak languages”. It’s a fact. The more languages an individual speaks the more chances they get to expand their talent in life. In the professional field this is an obvious thing. Let’s make it simple: Imagine you speak six languages (even three would be wonderful!) and you apply with your CV for a job in either a finance, marketing, travel or media company. What would be the outcome? You would mostly likely get the job (unless somehow you have no idea about the nature of the business).

If we apply this universal truth to all companies, especially the ones looking for success and expansion among the online scene, we’ll quickly notice that the web is becoming an increasingly multilingual place. Therefore, international opportunities are there for anyone.

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A bit of context

According to a report by the UN Broadband Commission, in May 2011, English was still the top language of the web however Chinese and Spanish are growing much more rapidly. What we find today is that more than 70% of the world’s online population does not search in English when using a search engine to find certain products or services. What does it mean? Whatever the nature of your business is, the day has arrived. It is time for your company to conquer new exotic markets.

So, what next?

1. Optimise by country, not by language

The difference between Spanish and English is obvious, however the difference between the Spanish spoken in Spain compared to the one spoken in Mexico is less obvious. The very first question you have to ask yourself is: Where are you targeting? Once you have decided which region or country your business is going to conquer you need to think about SEO. In this case, SEO in another language, which will be looking at site content, titles, meta-tags, alt-tags, heading tags, and of course, local keyword research.

2. Hire native speakers -What can they do for your business?

The next step has to do with localised content. Whether you decide to develop your international strategy in-house (make sure you have the right SEO team on board) or either you prefer to trust an SEO and content agency in order to find your own place in a new foreign market, there is something you definitely cannot miss: People from the countries you want to target.

• They will create awesome editorial content in their native language

Native speakers are the experts when using the language and playing with syntactic constructions, but it’s not only about the language and its possibilities when writing a piece of content. It’s also about finding out which topics are trendy in each country. In this sense, native creative writers will be playing an important role when doing both on and off-page optimisation, as they will bring personality to the language. (For new off- page SEO horizons see Matt Lindley’s post here).

• They will ensure your work is culturally relevant

It´s true that globalisation is changing people’s values by making us “all very similar,” especially in terms of consumerism. However there are things that will never change. For instance, a Spanish writer could pitch a Spanish lifestyle magazine with an article called “Top 5 chiringuitos in Spain”, as she or he knows that searches for anything related to beach bars (the look and style, best atmosphere etc.) in Spain are huge.

However, the same experiment shows us that if a British writer wants to pitch the same kind of magazine in the UK, it´s likely that they´ll have to change the topic to something more international such as “Top 5 beach bars in Europe”. Another option could be: “Top 5 rooftop bars in the UK” or even “Top 5 beach bars in Barcelona”.

Google´s ranking for “beach bars in UK”

As we can see in the screenshot above, the first thing that has been shown on Google´s ranking for “beach bars in UK” is a beach bar website, which apparently is the only one in the country based on the beach! If we scroll down, we´ll find articles such as “The best beach bars in the world”. There is no doubt that native content writers are the ones that are able to engage with those audiences.

• They will research the keywords (Don’t get lost in translation!)
Lost in translation

One of the worst mistakes made by companies that want to operate in new countries is using the wrong keywords. Seriously, the terms used by an English speaker buyer when looking for things on the internet don’t necessarily have volume of searches in another country. We often see how online businesses don’t succeed because they literally translate every single keyword from one language to another.

This is a clear example of how sometimes literal translations simply do not work:

In the UK the keyword “Skate dresses” has approximately 6,000 searches per month

In Spain the translation of that keyword “Vestidos de patinadora” has approximately 10 searches per month.

Source: Google Keyword Planner (find out how to use it with this step by step guide)

The list of “inexistent” keywords is endless. In this sense it happens very often that one keyword in one language means something completely different in another. So let’s avoid getting lost in translation and let’s trust the native speakers. They will explore all the options through an intensive keyword research and it´s very likely that they´ll also come up with new suggestions.

3. Your website will be one of your most powerful tools

Picture this scenario: you speak Italian and one day you travel to the beautiful Toscana regione (Tuscany region). It’s more than likely that you’ll want to hang out with the locals so it’s best you let them know that you speak the language. From a business perspective this is very simple: If you speak more than one language, highlight this fact. Your best ally will be your website. It’ll show your work, your professionalism and of course, your personality.

If you are:

An Ecommerce company: Make sure the version for each of the countries you want to target is culturally relevant. Make sure the architecture of your site is search-friendly. For instance, did you know, for example, that Japanese sites prefer to use images instead of text to represent links? Several studies have revealed that culture influences how we access our memories, process information, and navigate through a website. Understand your consumers and make it simple for them to click!

A content agency (or any other business that offers multilingual services): Don’t forget to clarify this on your website. It seems like a silly thing but we often come across wonderful companies hidden behind a wrong website. Make people find your team (and discover who’s in charge of each market). Introduce them to your clients and include your portfolio of clients (don’t forget the ones you have worked with in the past). You can also create landing pages in different languages to make it even easier for them. Show the consumers and the clients that, there’s a human team behind your work.

4. Diversity +Tolerance= Business growth

I always say that variety is the spice of life. We often hear that people become more tolerant when learning new languages. Being able to develop international campaigns will help you to understand how the outside world is and, more importantly, it’ll inspire your work. Last year at Verve Search we carried out a Christmas campaign for Expedia UK, which included an infographic that showed the different Christmas traditions across Europe. This work was inspired by the diversity of the team, and even though the project was developed for one country, in the end it was expanded across the European social media channels.

Last but not least, having international people on board will let your team multitask and your company will become more tolerant.

Let´s talk to the world!

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