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Is SEO Integrated Into Your Localization Process?

For many, the question posed in the title of this post seems silly, often resulting in either a confused expression, or a “how dare you ask that question” look from localization managers. Yet over the past few weeks I have spoken to a number of localization and SEO managers at Fortune 500 companies who still could not answer that question. I recently had the localization manger tell me, “Well of course I understand SEO and we go to great lengths to ensure all the keywords are translated and put into the meta keywords tag!” He was shocked when I told him the engines have ignored that tag for years, and that his efforts were wasted.

Last year I wrote an article on how to integrate SEO into the localization workflow and many of you told me you have started to use the best practices I described. Those recommendations are even more appropriate today with the ever-increasing interest and demand for global search optimization. If your localization efforts aren’t yet tightly integrated with your SEO activities, I highly recommend meeting with your team to better understand what they are doing, with a specific focus on the overall process and keywords management in particular.

Understand your current localization process

Start by having the localization team explain the current translation or localization process to you. You may be surprised at what they tell you, just as I was when hearing about translating meta tags. The SEO manager at one company told me they “localize” the content by making it marketing friendly and contextually relevant to the local market. As such, she was concerned that translators would remove occurrences of the keywords from the page, especially titles and headers thereby diluting its relevance.

Upon speaking with the localization manager we learned that if there were 5 occurrences of the phrase in the source document there would be 5 occurrences on the localized version. She was totally unaware that the localization team was only translating the content and left the localization and wordsmith activities to the brand managers in the local markets. In this case there is no negative impact to SEO unless they are using less than optimal keyword phrases. This is why you should try to align the keyword management process with the localization term management process. Do you know what your team is doing—full localization or simple translation?

Term management and keyword management

For anyone in global search marketing you should understand your companies approach to term management and how the “term base” is managed. This is a gold mine of information and a scale point that can be leveraged by any organization. A “term base” is modern database approach to dynamically managing the glossary that contains the company’s own specific terms and phrases in each language and ensures that all employees have access to consistent terminology. This process allows companies to globally speak with “one voice” and we in search want to ensure that “one voice” is not only linguistically correct but also has relevant demand.

Often the term base contains obvious elements such as brand names, product names, product categories and individual phrases that are preferred by the organization. By centralizing this information in a database it is available to content writers, translators, editors, project managers, the search team and others offering uniform access the same terms. Simple updates to the term base means the latest version of the word is immediately available to all of these constituents.

To give an order of magnitude, at a large tech B2B company there were 77 different roles that were pulling from their term base at any given time. These ranged from web content editors to white paper writers to external contractors writing print collateral. We found a misspelling in the database and did a search on Google and found numerous different types of documents that has used this incorrect phrase. This happened because the incorrect phrase was dynamically inserted into the content from the database and was accepted during the QA process. Imagine the scale of opportunity if these words were also the relevant and more frequently searched then all of the documents containing them; from blogs to core content to syndicated whitepapers would all contain the best words expanding the reach far beyond the realm of simple SEO and PPC.

I am always amazed at how many global search managers have not reviewed this process or matched their keywords to a term database. This should be a quarterly exercise and any additions or deletions reviewed with the wider team to ensure continuity and relevance.

Integration and alignment

Large localization teams are insanely busy. There are some that are currently managing between 50 to 100 million words of translation a year so they are not easy to get into a room or able to make a lot of changes quickly. In addition to their tempo, they are managing multiple vendors, and that adds to the complexity. My recommendation is to start a dialogue to simply help you to understand their current process and the benefits of collaboration. Once you have a better understanding of the workflow then come back with recommendations for non-intrusive integration into that process and a road map for deeper integration over time. In the interim, you may want to share some of the best practice guides and keyword management tutorials for them to review and add them to your search council.

It can be a daunting task to integrate and to align with the terminology data management system but you never know what you might find. I have found the glossaries and term databases to be a gold mine of relevant phrases to paid and organic search efforts in local markets that don’t have the budgets for keyword research. Extract the words and dust them off and it might cut that process in half.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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