The Devil’s in the Detail in International Search

The Devil’s in the Detail in International Search

23rd July 2012

If you’re developing international versions of your website, you’re probably hoping to reach a large number of potential users and most likely are investing a lot of money and resource going into getting them up and running. So you want to make sure that you’re giving your international audience the best possible experience on your website; one that will make them relate to your brand, enjoy their experience and ultimately complete whatever action it is you want them to.

To do that, in an international context, you need to think about more than just translating your content. Sure, that is a pretty major step and a huge factor in convincing your multilingual audience that you’re a viable and relevant option for them but it’s not enough on its own.

Here are a few scenarios where missing a piece of the localisation process, could, and in most cases would, result in failure.

** For the next few hundred words, we don’t care about search engines. I know – the majority of us spend most of our waking lives caring about search engines and every animal they can throw at us, but for now we are just going to think about the users; the people that we ultimately want to talk to, engage with and sell to.

Assuming one size fits all

Depending on the languages you’re using, the impact of this will vary but you can’t just pop your localised content straight into your template and leave it at that.  This can be as simple as making sure templates are dynamic – German words and sentences are often significantly longer than English. It can, however, be more complex. Arabic natives read from right to left – but that includes navigation bars, calendars, price lists. In other words, the entire site structure might need to be changed.  Otherwise users will struggle to find their way around the site – and won’t have much confidence in you or your product.

Forgetting Facebook doesn’t rule the whole world

I nearly fell foul of this myself when I was merrily adding Facebook and Twitter share buttons to a group of international websites – including the Chinese version of the site. Thankfully I realised before they went live that giving Chinese users the option to share content on websites they don’t
have access to,  thanks to censorship from their government, wasn’t the best move. At best the buttons would have caused users confusion, as they probably wouldn’t even know what the sites are, at worst they could have caused offense and frustration to those users who know about internet life beyond the great firewall but can’t access it.

Of course, I would have also missed the opportunity to have my content shared on popular Chinese social sites, such as Sina Weibo

Who the heck is [insert famous person]?

While the actual content might have been translated, it still might not make sense.  References to national celebrities, sports stars, TV shows or brands might be relevant or funny to your local audience, but once you go international they could just become irrelevant and confusing.
Ideally you should replace such references with relevant local examples to ensure visitors from each target market understand the message you’re trying to convey and will find it engaging.

Buy from me – but I can’t take your money

This seems like a pretty obvious one, but it’s really important! Make sure you offer the right currency options and payment methods for each target market – without this, your site will fail.  If a user is navigating a site in their own language and seeing relevant content but then gets to the checkout and can’t select their local currency, they are going to have doubts about the site. And while Visa and Mastercard are standard, trusted means of payment for many of us, that isn’t the case everywhere. In Russia, for instance, where paying for goods online is still a relatively new concept for many, the most popular electronic payment system is Yandex. Money . With over 9 million accounts, a number which grows by 9000 every day, it is the equivalent of Visa for many Russians – so ignore it at your peril!

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“All customers promptly executed”

It’s safe to assume that the Japanese barber shop with this sign in the window didn’t get many English-speaking customers through its doors. While this is a silly, offline example, it highlights an important point – get your translations right!

Mistranslations are only funny when you’re not actually trying to make a serious purchase – if you are, they bring the quality and reliability of the site into question. This applies to localising marketing content, but also product and brand names. While the car name Matador sounds fine to many of us, a Puerto Rican is unlikely to buy a car with the name “killer”. Don’t assume that because a word is meaningless to you, that it will be everywhere.

Checking your terminology also applies when localising for the same language. If I see a website selling vacations or soccer tickets, I’ll understand it but I won’t buy from it as indicates that it’s targeted to a US audience, rather than me in the UK and it doesn’t resonate with me or seem relevant. And as for a fanny pack, well I’m not going near one of those!  

If you’re localising your website, it’s most likely because you want to sell your product/service or at least promote your business in the markets you’re localising for.

Whether you’re targeting cheese manufacturers in France, wine merchants in South Africa or sheep farmers in New Zealand, they all fundamentally want the same thing – an online experience that is relevant, understandable and appealing to them.  It is often the little details that make the difference between a positive and negative experience, so don’t sacrifice the detail for a quicker, easier roll out. Do your research, involve native speakers and test your website – and you’ll be on your way to global success!

About the Author, Gemma Birch

Gemma Birch has been working in international search for 5 years and leads WebCertain’s marketing team. She is responsible for managing WebCertain’s online marketing activities around the world as well as organising and programming the International Search Summit,  which runs across Europe and the US. She contributes regularly to the blog and has spoken on various webinars and at conferences. Gemma holds a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a BA Joint Honors Degree in French and German. 

This post is part of a special guest post series this summer in which we’ve asked (search) marketers to take a ‘different perspective’ on things.


Written By
Gemma Birch has been working in international search since 2007 and leads WebCertain’s marketing team. She is responsible for managing WebCertain’s online marketing activities around the world as well as organising and programming the International Search Summit.
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