In today’s interconnected world, multilingual digital marketing has become essential for brands with ambitions to create a global presence and increase visibility in worldwide markets.

An estimated 75% of users online speak a language other than English, meaning brands that are able to connect with audiences in their native language are far more likely to build consideration and trust, as well as dramatically improve search rankings.

Building an effective multilingual strategy, however, requires much more than simply translating your content and keywords to your target language. Below, we explore some of the key considerations for multilingual marketing.

Translation vs. Localisation

Creating a successful multilingual strategy requires several interconnected skillsets. It’s not enough to have someone who speaks the desired language, even at the native level. Expertise in SEO, paid search, local ad platforms and general marketing skills are also essential.

Translating keywords – a key component of a multilingual search marketing strategy – is not as straightforward as merely substituting something in English for something in the target language.

Very often, direct translations are not possible, or don’t have the same impact, usage or meaning. Say you’re trying to target the keywords “PPC agency” in France. A direct translation would give you “agence PPC”, however, in France it’s far more common to use “agence SEA”.

Similarly, content and graphics cannot simply be translated, or you risk losing the entire way the message is conveyed. Different levels of emotion and sentence structure are required, particularly across European languages.

This is the key difference between translation and localisation. While you could carry out a direct translation through Google Translate, localising your keywords requires a deeper understanding of the search intention, and the ability to find a facsimile of the relevant keywords in your desired language, which requires a good understanding of search marketing overall.

Ongoing optimisation

A successful multilingual digital strategy requires ongoing consideration, with continual tweaking to ensure performance.

From a paid search perspective, this is particularly important. If your strategy is to remain relevant, you must be able to identify what search terms are irrelevant and which are gaining in popularity, as well as performing ongoing ad copy tests. This cannot be achieved simply through a straightforward translation.

From a pure SEO perspective, getting hreflang tags right is absolutely crucial. Hreflang is an HTML attribute that enables you to specify the language and geographical targeting of your webpages. For websites that have content in multiple languages, it’s the difference between Google showing your English site to English-speaking users and the French version to French-speakers. Opting for an automatic set-up, such as through the use of a plugin like WPML, will save considerable time as new pages are added and your website grows over time.

Compounding this, there are also other UX considerations. All too often, websites redirect people to a specific language based on their location, without considering the implications this can have on user experience, as doing so can create poor experiences for example, an English speaker abroad, or a non-English speaker in the UK. It’s a better option to redirect people based on their browser language which has been manually selected.

Similarly, other cultural norms and differences must be taken into account. Preferred payment methods, for example, differ across countries, such as bank transfers still being a norm on German websites. Communication methods likewise differ, such as WhatsApp being a preferred method of communication with businesses in Spain compared with the UK.

Selecting the right ad channels

Another key component of a successful multilingual strategy is selecting the right ad channels. While this requires a lot of the same groundwork and expertise as your SEO, it also means thinking carefully about how best to reach global audiences.

While this is fairly straightforward in most European countries where Google has dominance, there are several countries where the preference is on native search engines, such as Baidu in China or Yandex in Russia, where these search engines have been developed to better support specific alphabets.

It’s particularly important to carry out robust research for the specific markets you want to target, as an overriding focus on targeting Google in countries that prefer different search engines will exclude a huge amount of your potential target audience.

Native speakers often have a much better understanding of their native ad platforms than a non-local, so this is an important consideration to bear in mind.

Final thoughts

Ensuring you have the right expertise and combined skillsets when building your multilingual digital strategy is key to demonstrating an understanding of the nuances associated with your target languages, providing a better experience for those users and ultimately, reaching global audiences.

Sam Martin-Ross, UK MD, Eskimoz
UK Managing Director at Eskimoz | + posts

Sam is UK Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Eskimoz, specialising in delivering data-driven campaigns for scale-up businesses. He is passionate about working closely with B2B businesses to help them grow, and loves to see the impact of his work on a company’s growth.