Testing your website localization for better local SEO

Posted by Ebbe Kernel on 29 Sep, 2019
View comments SEO
Localizing your website to international markets can open the door to millions of potential customers. But how can you make sure your website is in best shape for the local market you're targeting?

Localization.

Localizing your website so that it is accessible and familiar to users all over the world is an important step in establishing yourself as a truly global service. In terms of marketing, a good website localization process can have a significant impact on local SEO. But it requires more than a simple translation to be successful: sometimes you need to change the website layout, colors or even remove some elements, and the only way to find out if it works is by testing.

You should be aiming to test your localization at every stage to ensure that you are on the right track. Whether this means you access your site through proxies in various locales or run ads to see if your landing pages are optimized for the best conversion rate before you index them, testing must be a foundational part of your process.

Why localization matters

English is the de facto language of the internet. It even has a special status as the main language used for international diplomacy. However, while the biggest websites in the world may still be headquartered in English-speaking nations, particularly the US, they actually make up less than 50% of the whole World Wide Web. Websites look to localize and tap into this additional market even without targeting local SERP positions.

If Facebook didn’t make its services available in local languages, it wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the 2 billion or so users that it currently enjoys.  Every time you localize your services, you are opening the door for potentially millions of customers who would otherwise have been kept out by the language barrier.

Not only will you be able to broaden the appeal and reach of your website with relative ease, but you can also give your SEO a boost in the process. For example, you can create localized versions of your website - a .com, .co.uk, .fr, etc. – and run focused local SEO campaigns for each of them. Otherwise, you might use the hreflang tag to land users on their native-language landing pages for a higher conversion rate.

In addition to providing you with a platform from which to launch local SEO efforts, localization will also improve your long-term engagement with your audience and enable you to pursue local SERPs more aggressively.

Of course, all of this is contingent on you implementing your localization the right way.

Things to consider when localizing your website

Before you start committing resources to your localization, you need to establish exactly which languages you are going to translate your website into. In some cases, this is an easy decision. If there is one stand-out international market that accounts for the majority of your overseas traffic, this is the obvious choice.

If there is no obvious choice, you can analyze your website traffic to see where the bulk of the audience is connecting from. For example, if you are receiving the majority of your non-English speaking users from France, it makes sense to localize into French. Localize in Brazillian Portuguese if users from Brazil are bouncing from your site in larger numbers.

Localizing your website properly will require an investment of time, effort, and resources. It is always worth hiring a human translator if you can afford to do so. In fact, if you have enough of a budget, you might want to consider hiring a team to take the job on. The best option is to hire locals: do not hire French people to localize your site for visitors from Quebec. Otherwise you won't get the local SEO benefit of truly speaking the local language and its particular turns of speech. These things naturally optimize your site for local search queries.

In essence, you will have to do an analysis of your target audience: do they read left-to-right or in reverse? Do most websites in their country have a different design solution? Does their culture prefer communication through a particular channel? Is an obscure payment provider their go-to solution? Do people in a particular country use smaller, older phones to visit websites?

All of these questions will help you plan a localized solution that will make visitors from other cultures and countries feel comfortable with a good user experience. Think about it: if they can’t find something in your menu logic, they’ll leave the site.

Of course, you must consider compatibility. For example, you might need to install new character sets for your website to handle special characters, bidirectional scripts, and other quirks that exist in many languages.

Testing your localization

Given the potentially high resource cost of localization, you want to be sure that you are getting your money’s worth. More than that, you need a way of establishing whether your localization has been successful or not. Just as websites that use broken English pay a significant SEO penalty, if you don’t localize your website accurately then all your local SEO will pay a price.

Ideally, you will want to do as much testing as possible before your website goes live, but this can be difficult. For example, if you are relying on automatic translation and can’t afford a human translator, you should at minimum hire a local editor to review the texts. Ask them also to take a look at the images you use to avoid any potential offence to your target audience.

The first thing you need to do is to establish your testing criteria – how will you determine the success of your efforts? For example, let’s say you are going to be localizing your website for Hong Kong, where they speak Cantonese Chinese instead of Mandarin Chinese. While these languages are both written the same way, Cantonese relies more heavily on traditional Chinese characters.

Ideally, you would want users connecting from Hong Kong to see a traditional Chinese script, while a user in mainland China would prefer a simplified Chinese option. By using a VPN or a proxy server, you can connect to your own website as if you are connecting from anywhere in the world. This is an invaluable tool for testing your localization. In the case above, you could use a VPN on your smartphone to connect to your website from a Hong Kong-based server and see which script you are presented with when interacting with the site.

Overall, your localization testing can be broken down into three categories:

Linguistic testing is where you ensure that your translations are accurate and your site is readable to local audiences. This is extremely important in terms of your SEO, as it optimizes the site for contextual search and synonymous queries.

With Cosmetic testing you make sure that your website can display characters correctly and that menus are able to compensate for words of different character lengths.

Finally, functional testing ensures that your localized website works properly on an engineering level. This means that the same hyperlinks lead to the same places, any embedded apps are correctly localized, and so on.

Every testing step is aimed at ensuring that your site has a low bounce rate, high local appeal and properly formatted information which enables your site to become more relevant in local search results and so improve its ranking over time.

Your budget will be the main constraining factor with regards to your testing. If you can afford experienced professionals to handle your translation and localization coding, bring them on board. If not, you will have to prioritize your testing. Remember, the costs of investing in your testing will be nothing compared to the costs of a botched or aborted localization attempt.

I18N planning

I18N, industry shorthand for “internationalization and localization”, refers to the process of planning products or services so that they can be adapted for international audiences as easily as possible. Whereas localization is the process of implementing the changes needed to adapt your services to a new market, I18N is where you plan your overall strategy for making localization as simple as possible.

I18N planning is a crucial factor that helps you save time in the long run. If you know that a new website will target various local SERP rankings, this planning stage will be a huge help. Large companies may hire a I18N specialist to do the planning before designers make the website mock-ups.

An example of an I18N plan is ensuring there is enough spare space in your user interfaces to account for languages that will require more characters. The associated localization action would be to test menus with different character lengths during the building process.

There are different aspects to localization testing and internationalization testing. If your localization testing doesn’t go well, an I18N specialist should be your first port of call.

Closing thoughts

If you do it right, localization will open your website up to new audiences and enable you to deploy focused local SEO techniques. However, if you don’t approach it the right way then it can turn into an expensive mistake. Testing your localization thoroughly at every stage is essential if you are going to break into a new market. You only get one first impression - do as much of your testing prior to going live as you can.

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