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Building Up from Local to International SEO

March 10, 2022

International SEO strategies can be built upon the foundation of a company’s domestic strategy for digital marketing. But the two are very unlikely to be identity, so when you are attempting to expand existing practices to include international SEO, it’s important that you avoid simply copying and pasting, unless you follow that up with rigorous analysis and extensive tweaks.

If you read this blog regularly, you may find that the topic of this post is a fairly dramatic departure from the previous post. That one emphasized the fact that digital marketing is not inherently international in its scope, even though many people view the internet as being borderless and resistant to the formation of truly local communities.

The previous post noted that in fact, it is increasingly common for social media users to prioritize connections with people in their local area, and to develop certain convergent online habits as a result. However, it did not – or at least did not intend to – suggest that the international character of the internet has diminished at the same time that local communities have become prevalent. The proper take-away from that post and from many others on this blog is that digital marketing is nothing if not flexible, and you can bend it to serve as narrow or as expansive an audience as you like.

Language Diversity Starts at Home         

International SEO strategies are essential if you wish to push your digital marketing in the opposite direction of localism. In nearly every case, such strategies require a multi-lingual element. And in fact, this is something that certain businesses might need to utilize even within local or regional online markets. Businesses in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, for instance, can benefit from a sort of proto-international SEO, by making themselves more accessible to communities that do not exclusively use English, and therefore tend to run some portion of their web searches in another language, like Spanish.

You might assume that this phenomenon would be limited only to people who speak no English at all, but that really isn’t the case. While it’s true that the overwhelming majority of American websites will be written entirely in English, this doesn’t necessarily apply to all ecommerce businesses that have heeded the advice of our previous post by adopting a digital marketing strategy that focuses on local users.

If there are many such businesses in a Spanish-speaking community, they are sure to see the advantage of writing their digital content in Spanish, or creating a version of the site in each of two or more languages. After all, if people tend to walk into a certain brick-and-mortar store off the street, then read Spanish signage and communicate in Spanish to the clerks, it stands to reason that they would first try searching online for that same business in that same language.

When thinking about the target audience for your search engine optimization, you have to consider not just the language used by the individual or the most prevalent language in the surrounding area as a whole, but rather the language used by the community you’re trying to service, both in-person and online. And if you have any intentions of growing your business into other metropolitan areas or across national borders, you should consider yourself lucky if our initial digital marketing strategy seems to require multilingual functionality. It will put you well on your way to developing an effective international SEO strategy over the long term.

In fact, local experimentation with a second language can be an extremely valuable learning experience, in that it can help you to work the kinks out of your international SEO before you actually have to present it to a user base that has little to no native familiarity with English.

Perfect Translations Only, for Foreign Markets

When serving a bilingual local community, there’s a good chance that some visitors to your website will help you to correct flaws in translation, or will at least look to the original English content in order to clarify things that got lost in translation between the site’s two versions. But when the alternative language becomes the main language in a foreign market, these points of confusion are much more likely to remain uncorrected, and could lead to you losing customers permanently.

For that reason, while an alternate-language webpage for a local business may be able to rely on an automatic translation service in order to start expanding its reach, this isn’t good enough for a live website in a foreign market. International SEO strategies can certainly be based on their English-language predecessors, but they also have to be carefully researched in advance, designed to accommodate a specific target audience, and thoroughly vetted by native speakers.

Automatic translation might get the ball rolling, but despite how sophisticated the technology has become, it is still prone to errors that will easily be noticed by native speakers and probably also by the version of Google using the relevant language. Poorly translated content not only tends to be grammatically ugly and difficult to navigate, but may even be mistaken for spam by search engines, leading to the collapse of your entire international SEO and digital marketing campaign.

Furthermore, even a clean translation can lack effectiveness as a tool of international SEO if it hasn’t been workshopped by a team with solid understanding of the relevant language and also of digital marketing. Toward this end, it can be useful for a Los Angeles marketing company to develop partnerships with similar firms in foreign-language markets. Such partnerships minimize the risk of one company porting a domestic SEO keyword over to a foreign campaign without realizing that it won’t work there, even in translation.

Of course, such partnerships are not easy to come by, and so clients and marketing firms will often have to work together to develop a multilingual campaign on their own. In those cases, they have a much higher likelihood of success if they proceed with a clear understanding of the challenges they’ll have to overcome to make a campaign work equally well at home and abroad.

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