6 tips for international SEO and marketing

Keywords can't be translated from one language to another

Imagine a wealthy Russian entrepreneur sitting down with her expensive laptop. She is looking to buy a vacation home in Florida. Which search engine does she start with?

If you answered “Google,” “Yahoo” or “Bing,” you’re wrong. In Russia, the number one search engine is not one of the American leaders. It is Yandex, which is as Russian as Stolichnaya Vodka.

International image via Shutterstock.
International image via Shutterstock.

Yandex operates in other countries, too. It is so popular that it has more users — not just in Russia, but around the world — than Microsoft’s Bing search engine. That’s embarrassing for the tech giant from Redmond.

The situation in China is similar. A search engine called Baidu dominates web search. There, the word “Google” hardly even registers a flicker of recognition with most web users.

This pattern is repeated in many other countries around the globe. Naver is number one for search in South Korea. Seznam leads in the Czech Republic.

If you intend to market property or services to overseas buyers, you must include foreign search engines in your search engine optimization and marketing (SEO and SEM) plans.

Yes, English is the most-used language on the web. But it only accounts for about 25 per cent of the total. Research shows that multilingual users place more trust in websites in their native tongue.

As one expert in the foreign language Internet, Christian Arno, puts it, “The greatest benefit of foreign language Internet marketing is the opportunity to reach new markets, or to penetrate further into markets that may already be partially catered for with English alone.”

Here are my six best tips for international search engine optimization and marketing:

1. Choose the right search engines. Know which international audiences you are trying to reach. Pick the search engines they use most.

2. Start with search engine marketing because it allows you to see much quicker results and control your budget. It is much better to test your strategy and keywords before you invest resources in rewriting your website’s content in foreign languages.

3. Reconsider your keywords. You cannot succeed by using the same keywords for international marketing as you use domestically.

Even if you are targeting English-speaking buyers, say from the UK, you will need to re-evaluate your keywords and probably select new ones. For example, someone in London is more likely to search for “property” than “real estate.”

When working with foreign-language buyers, your keywords need to be in their mother tongue. Keywords can’t just be translated from one language to another. That’s because they aren’t just words, they are short hand for an entire thought process.

4. Don’t let your foreign language-speaking intern do your SEO and SEM. Search engine optimization and marketing are sophisticated skills. Good practitioners can command salaries of $150,000 per year, or more.

If you let a junior staff member handle your international SEO just because they speak the language of your target buyers, you are inviting disaster. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, rent it from a legitimate expert.

5. Revise your site’s content to make it relevant to your international audience. Andy Atkins-Krüger is one of the world’s most insightful international online marketers. He believes the most common cause of failure is “allowing customers working in other languages to receive second best.” I will get into this in more depth in a later article in this series.

6. Integrate your international marketing into your business. Attracting clicks online is only the first step to converting an international prospect into a buyer with a signed contract. Think long term and make whatever other changes in your business are necessary to nurture these valuable leads.

Follow these steps and the next property you sell just might go to that wealthy Russian entrepreneur from the first paragraph.

Andrew Taylor is co-CEO of Juwai.com, a real estate portal linking Chinese buyers with property in the U.S., Canada and a total of 54 countries.