Localisation vs English: what’s the best choice?

By | September 2013


Internet expands market capabilities but language translation counts and has a cost.

I am going to present in a very simple way a case of International SEO concerning the opportunity to translate a site content to get more customers from specific countries.

What languages to prioritize, English (considered good for most of the countries) or the local? The best answer obviously is “local”, but it has a cost therefore we should measure its effectiveness.

A typical practice is starting to translate content into the most popular languages. It doesn’t mean getting the best translation ROI though, because smaller languages might be more rewarding than popular languages – not least because in their web environment usually there is less competition, both on organic and paid search.

When going international most digital marketers think that English can be good enough to cover most world areas. English is fine, but what’s the value of translating/transliterating/localising content (including URL’s)?

Let’s have a look at a little case concerning an English website that offers its services also to the Vietnamese market.

Context: a company dealing with cars want to explore if English is ok for its web content or not. Translating content has a cost therefore it’s wise to run a small pilot lasting a certain period (e.g. 6 months, to allow enough time for it to be indexed) on a small relevant part of the site (including the conversion funnel). Then it’s time to find out outcomes.

First, let’s have a quick look at the internal situation through the company’s web metrics to understand how local content (Vietnamese) has been performing against original English content:

Vietnamese content beats English content, but look at page value is higher for English.

Vietnamese content beats English content, but look at page value…

At first look it seems clear that local language performs better than English in terms of visits (about 80% overall) and engagement (better bounce rate, lower exit rate). Page value is much lower though. It means that people not speaking English are not willing to ‘convert’? In this case before assuming conclusions it worth having a look at conversion goals to find out if they are relevant or not. It is the crucial step before taking a decision about translating content: we might find out that despite quantity belongs to content written in local language, quality ┬ácomes from content written in foreign language.

For example let’s imagine that conversion goals are related to online payments (e.g. visit of an after successful payment page). If in the country local people that do not speak English are not willing to do ecommerce, in comparison with people that speak English and are generally richer more accustomed with innovation, therefore a lower page value for local content should not be a problem: the company should focus more on offline when coming to final conversion, but web content still count a lot in terms of getting more engaged customers in comparison with English.

Now let’s have a look at the external search environment to understand how local keywords are more or less popular than their English

Source: Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

In this case it’s clear that the English word ‘car’ has been losing importance in comparison with local translated keywords (many versions, I had a look at the one that seems the most popular and showed a stable popularity). It’s interesting to note that the English KW is more popular in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) where the Western post-colonial influence is still popular, whilst the local version is highly popular in the capital Hanoi located in the North.

If you find that local language is not rewarding after the pilot, therefore your pages should be carefully 301-redirected to the main content (English). Finally a personal view which I’m sure it’s shared by many: local content should be written by local authors rather than translated. Culture, even the invisible part of it, is a crucial element of the engagement process.