Frequently, in Search Engine Land’s Multinational Search column, we talk about “language” and its impacts on marketing performance. Typically we mean written words and I was reminded that my father always talks about “music” being the most universal international language. Alas, “music” isn’t yet a convenient or targetable medium for search marketers—but the word does suggest the value and opportunities represented by video.
According to comScore data, YouTube.com was firmly ensconced as the number two search engine in the US January of this year, second only to its parent, Google. More recent data also from comScore also shows that YouTube.com is the video leader, not just in the western world but also in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. In fact, in the major Asian markets only China does not give YouTube.com the top spot (largely because the country blocks the site). If you examine the growth in video viewing the numbers go off the scale. It’s not difficult to draw the conclusion that video search is the “new search” and that huge growth is going to continue for some time throughout the world.
The scale of success of video is not what I mean by its universality, however, and certainly not its ability to speak to potential customers easily. There are four ways in which video reaches users that other web pages cannot.
Subtitling: The global market entry technique
The first of these involves maximizing existing video content by enhancing it with subtitles. Subtitles are a relatively easy add to a video and can have a positive effect from an SEO perspective too. If you’re moving your US or English-based videos out to a wider world—or you want to test this—in many cases it makes most sense to go for this approach first.
The advantages with subtitling are that the effort is relatively limited, because you have little to do in terms of re-editing the video. This approach can easily be adopted for existing videos, even in cases where there was no intent to use them internationally when they were created.
One key advantage to subtitling is that the actual localization cost for adding subtitles to a video will typically be less than that for translating full web content, for the simple reason that there are limited words needed to achieve the right effect. Most of the work, in fact, is in deciding what the base English subtitles should be for localization, which can often be achieved in-house.
Translating voiceovers or dubbing
It’s a little trickier to re-edit audio tracks of videos to incorporate dubbing or new voiceovers in a new target language. There are two different situations where this happens. One is for videos which already exist and which retrospectively need to be re-edited. The second type are videos which are produced with the intention to go international later.
The key point is that adding an additional language track to an already recorded video is not quite as simple as it sounds. If your video is a film of the CEO talking to the camera—sometimes called a “talking head”—this will be less attractive to international users once a different language track has been added or dubbed for obvious reasons. It is much easier to internationalize videos where the moving content of the video has been planned in the beginning with an international audience in mind thus avoiding moving lips that need synching.
There are many simple ways of getting around these additional challenges, depending on the circumstances. It’s just they involve more intervention on existing videos than subtitling incurs. One solution is to use still images that you already have in your library to cover the spots where synchronization is difficult. Alternately you can add Powerpoint slides to cover the offending portions of your moving image stream.
If you planned your video for an international audience from the outset, typically you created a script which can be re-crafted quite easily in each of your target languages and you planned the moving image content in such a way that it can be used in any of the languages, significantly reducing the degree of re-editing which might be required.
Demonstrating how it’s done in English
Another solution is not to translate or re-edit the English video at all! If it presents a topic visually in a way that anyone can understand—fitting an ink cartridge to a printer for instance—then the moving image takes precedence and provides the communications your audience actually needs. In this scenario, you would place all of the effort in the transcription of what is happening in the video to firstly promote it and secondly to provide a source to explain what’s going on in the video itself. Don’t forget that transcription needs translating and needs to incorporate the keywords your customers use.
Reaching mobile phone users
One of the reasons why video fascinates me as a promotional technique is because of its universal ability to speak to a wide audience—but additionally to reach people on PCs, Macs or mobile devices in pretty much exactly the same way with the same content. That cannot be said for many other techniques!
The question of whether you can rely totally on video content to reach your audience depends very much on the market you are targeting and your own business model. But yes, it’s certain that there are organizations who would be better off using international videos rather than translating their web pages to maximize their global opportunities. Cameras, action…