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Multilingual SEO Is the Right Fit for Apparel Retailers Going Global

By Liz Elting, Translations.com
Apparelmag.com – September 1, 2010

In an era of global business, etailers of all sizes can now reach consumers in a wide array of languages. Find out how to maximize your search engine optimization to capitalize on this golden opportunity.

When it comes time to buy a new dress or update a work wardrobe, some consumers visit an independent, local shop. Others go to the mall. Many, many more stay home and choose their items online from apparel makers around the world. Those consumers want the variety and value offered by international retailers, but they also expect the comfort of shopping in their own language on a site that shows an understanding of their cultural norms.

In an era of global business, engaging only one nation's consumer base is a sure way to plateau a company's revenue and growth. In the past, only the big players could afford to invest the time and strategic resources needed to localize their websites for foreign markets, and even they didn't always invest enough resources to do it well. In countries with less competitive Internet markets and less refined search engines, it used to be enough to simply translate the English copy into the local language and start doing business. With so few companies doing it, there was no competition for e-business or Google rankings. This is no longer the case.

From Blue Nile to Yves Saint Laurent, retailers are now taking steps to reach consumers in a wide array of languages. While the many available website translation applications have streamlined this process, apparel makers must be cautious about the tools and methods they choose for website localization. Localizing communications for other cultures must be handled carefully by professionals who understand the nuances of word choice and connotation in any given language. Settling for anything less puts the effectiveness of international campaigns and foreign SEO at risk. There are several best practices businesses should follow when it comes to translation and international search engine optimization.

1. You say "jeans," I say "dungarees." However you put it, the words on your website serve as a virtual shop sign for potential customers and visitors. And just as an upscale boutique wouldn't hang a discount store's sign over its front door, businesses operating in foreign markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do and why customers should care. Therefore, copy optimization and proper keyword selection is the first item that should be on the minds of companies moving into foreign markets. It is essential to validate keyword choices before going live in other languages.

2. Machine work is great for ready-to-wear, but not for one-of-a-kind couture. Your website is not an off-the-rack item, and you should not treat it as such when it comes time to localize for foreign markets. The work of maintaining the mood of the original language takes knowledge and skill. Machines cannot accomplish it, and when companies rely on machine translation, their multilingual SEO shortcuts become obvious. Organizations that deploy such solutions are almost putting themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don't translate at all. For example, "form-fitting" might sound like an appropriate keyword for one market, but the direct translation in another language might connote something quite negative. Machine translation is not adept at catching these kinds of subtleties, which can make or break a campaign.

3. Consumers know what language looks good on them. Let them choose for themselves. Just as a company should avoid auto-translations, automatic redirects to particular language sites may also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to website translation. For most situations, it is a good idea to choose a dropdown language menu instead. With automatic redirects, customers have the website language chosen for them, which can present some frustrations and decrease your site's effectiveness.

4. Multilingual SEO is more than just an accessory. Building multilingual websites is not a task to be done in staggered attempts; there is little value, for example, in going live with a website that is not optimized for international SEO. Some companies are tempted to start by translating their websites and optimizing them later to phase in resource investments. However, this phased approach actually costs more money in the long-term. MSEO is not a strategy one should employ after the fact. Rather, it should guide one's content development and site-architecture strategy. Otherwise, you're building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information. Only when international SEO and design are done in conjunction can a company clearly answer the question: "Have we launched a website that will attract customers?"

5. You look marvelous, darling, in any language. When companies consider the steps to take in website optimization, they often overlook images. This can be a mistake with severe consequences. Local interpretations of your images should be part of your overall multilingual search engine optimization strategy to ensure that visual elements express your intended messages.

The pay-offs for e-tailers who globalize and localize are great. To reap the rewards of copy optimization, though, organizations must put in appropriate effort on the front end of their website projects. Automated, machine-driven translation is quick and easy. It is also a waste of valuable time, since it fails to accomplish the critical goals any apparel maker rightly sets for itself as it establishes a presence in foreign markets. Professional translation services offer businesses the means to truly localize communications. This demonstration of authentic interest in local markets is directly related to increases in revenue and sales figures, which is an attractive outcome in any language.

Liz Elting is the co-founder and co-CEO of Translations.com and TransPerfect. Elting has received numerous awards for her outstanding entrepreneurship, including Working Woman's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Customer Service, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the Inc. 500 Award and the Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 Award, four times.

Translations.com is a leading provider of software, website, and enterprise-wide localization services, as well as translation-related technology products. Translations.com solutions allow customers, such as retailers, to conduct business more effectively in international markets. The company has a global presence on four continents and services a variety of clients with dedicated practice groups for every major industry. Translations.com is part of the TransPerfect family of companies. For more information, please visit www.translations.com.