On numerous occasions in the Multinational Search column both Bill Hunt and I have tackled the need for integrating and refining one of the most essential and costly global website management processes: SEO-Localization. My first post in September last year compared the level of investment in localization to investment in SEO. Today, it still seems the case that the localization industry is vastly bigger than the search marketing sector—there’s certainly more money going in than into SEO.
Let me define SEO-Localization as a process combining the requirements of localization and SEO. Since for localization this means making the content as relevant as possible to customers and users in the target language—but also presenting consistency and correctness at minimum cost. SEO is more about reaching customers and users via search engines, therefore, SEO-Localization must be:
The process by which content is made relevant to local website users reached via search engines locally.
As I explained in “Foreign No Longer Means Under the Radar”, increasingly much of the investment in localization lands up on web pages with an aspiration or hope to be revealed to the world by Google, rather than a firm commitment. In his article “Integrating SEO into the Localization Workflow Process” Bill Hunt wrote:
“It fascinates me that companies can see the value in localizing their site content, but then don’t allocate any money for optimizing that content so it can be found and rank well in search engines.”
At the Localization World conference in Berlin last week, I went further, saying:
“Marketing content which is not available to search engines isn’t worth localizing. Period.”
It cannot be said that this comment was popular—there were some grim looking expressions in the audience—but I don’t see how in today’s world, anyone responsible for localizing content for web pages with a marketing purpose could remotely justify, to the board or shareholders, that millions of dollars of investment was going into a process which would subsequently not perform well in search engines and therefore be seen by a very small audience. And I don’t accept the argument that social media presents a “get out of jail free” card either.
Why is localization moving so slowly towards SEO?
Previously, I have described localization as a large oil tanker which is finding it very difficult to turn. After a year of working with some of the world’s major brands on their SEO-Localization, I now regard it as more the case that no one on the bridge is actually trying to steer the tanker in an SEO direction—although the command centre back at base would dearly love them to. In other words, the blockers to the integration of SEO into localization are predominantly middle, and not senior, management.
Does this mean that middle managers are irresponsible? Not at all. In fact the cause of the problem is due to the complexity of tackling the issue in the first place—but also and primarily that little work has been done on researching and developing solutions which are appropriate to improve SEO by making it compatible with localization. Put another way, very few SEO experts understand the issues faced by localization teams in very large companies, and therefore do not offer an effective solution they can use.
Now for a confession
Yes it’s true—humility is needed from me because after much more than a decade in SEO and a career involving linguistic training and localization, I have to recognize that I have not tackled this issue head-on. My recent studies into the localization processes of these larger firms—and developing solutions to integrate SEO—has revealed that my earlier statements about how to fine-tune SEO-Localization have implied that the solution is simple—but it’s not.
All of the companies I have worked with on developing the SEO-Localization process have employed SEO vendors before. In all cases they had had some success with the technical setup and coding of the site, and have some limited progress with generating links. But the SEO-Localization of content in languages other than English was inadequate and, in some cases, woefully inadequate and seriously under-performing.
The core of the problem seems to be that adding a tactical SEO addition to the non-English websites serves the vendors well (in that agencies charge generous fees) but has little real benefit to the owners of the websites themselves. Often, the manipulation of metatags, adding keywords into pages or adding links to content is simply overwritten by the very next update of the localizations necessitated by some minor changes to product or service specifications, and the entire effort is wasted. Frequently, different ages of the same pages are controlled by different parts of the organization—so getting changes adopted and uploaded is challenging at best and sometimes impossible.
SEO-Localization best practice
The above graphic has been developed over many conversations with clients and practitioners and represents our current thinking on best practice SEO-Localization. You will note that SEO features on the chart twice—once in the top right of the image where the activity you see is what, in this context, I call “tactical SEO.” This is typically the service which large corporations are offered and buy. Then in the center you have a newer concept, the “SEO-Localization strategy & plan.” I will delve into the specifics of of creating, maintaining and using such a planning device in a future post—but for now it is sufficient to describe this element as a filter through and to which all other SEO and localization processes connect.
How to reach a process with an SEO-Localization strategy and plan
To introduce an SEO-Localization strategy (SLS), it is essential to use independent facilitators who understand both SEO and localization and to bring together all of the key teams involved in the whole process. This includes SEO professionals, localization managers, project managers, linguistic assessors and terminology professionals. Directly or indirectly, they all connect with the SLS.
Gaining agreement to proceed then involves all professionals contributing their issues and challenges understanding those and bringing them into the plan. The SLS is neither dominated or owned by loclalization specialists or SEO teams—it is a joint creation that aligns the goals of both towards greater success for all.