People often ask me how to break into international markets. Big companies struggle with this all the time, but the great thing about the Internet is that small companies have a better chance of going global than ever before. But when you're planning that new country Web site, have you thought about search engine optimization? Sure, you want the free traffic, but have you thought through the steps you need to take? It might be more complicated than you think.

To prove my point, I will walk you through what I typically see. The marketers for an Internet gourmet foods company decide that they are going to begin selling in Mexico. They're excited because they have already have labels on the packages in both Spanish and English, so they don't need to retool any packaging. Also, it's not that expensive to ship the products to Mexico and the existing e-Commerce system can handle pages written in Spanish and show prices in Mexican pesos. They hire an expert in the business set-up and the contractual language, they find someone who speaks fluent Spanish to translate all the pages in the catalog, and throw open the doors.


Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps you can hear the crickets from where you are.

No searchers are coming. But why? We carefully optimized our U.S. site with the right keywords and get tons of search traffic. We know the pages were translated properly because our translator is not only a fluent speaker but has copy writing experience also.

Here's what might have gone wrong:

  • The pages weren't indexed. You might not know this, but search engines don't automatically know which country your pages belong to. If your servers are in Mexico, or your domain is Mexican (ending in ".mx"), that usually gets it done, but your e-Commerce system might need it hosted on the same server as your US pages and shown in the same US .com domain (such as ""). You should use each search engine's Webmaster tools to see how much you have indexed.
  • The keywords were translated correctly but not optimized. Just because your pages used words that were correct translations of the English words does not mean that you used the most popular words and phrases that Mexican searchers are looking for. There are many different words that mean the same thing. You need to pick the words that people use the most, the same way you did in English.
  • You might not have any links. This can hurt you more if you are in a popular category, but it hurts every search somewhat. You are unlikely, in your first few weeks, to have attracted links from the important foodie sites in Mexico. You remember how long it took you to get the right links to your U.S. site, right? You can't short-cut this step for your Mexican site. Focus on writing helpful or entertaining Spanish-language content that explains your products in ways that foodies care about—then they will start to link to you, just as they did in the U.S.

If you focus on the same basic steps (get pages indexed, select the right keywords, use those keywords on your pages, and get links to pages) that helped your U.S SEO, you'll find that your SEO does indeed translate.

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September 15, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Actually fewer people have realized the importance of translating keywords into other languages. This would be a common problem in the future as bigger companies would be planning to expand into newer cultures and languages.

This is a great article, especially as we work in international markets.

This is really a great article when it comes to keyword translation relating to SEO. I agree that it's more hard for sites to rank having different language other than english.

Good article. To increase your ranking in another region, you are much better off having a local domain, local hosting, local keyword research not just an exact translation and local link building.

Thanks for the post - I've been researching how to use keywords in different languages to reach out to internet users in other countries - as far as I can tell, not very people try this kind of stuff. It seems like it could be very helpful, though, especially for online businesses looking to go international.

Nice and informative post. Thanks for the post.

But don't you think Google Instant will affect this local domain and local keywords ? As per Google Instant, small phrases will affect more on SEO.

Thanks, but this is great article. Cheers! :)

I don't think anyone really knows how Google Instant will affect searcher behavior, Alish. I wrote an article about it ( but everyone is merely speculating. It makes sense that people will type less and use the results shown (especially if they are searching on a cell phone where it might be hard to type), but a lot of searches are done in other ways.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Does your SEO get lost in the translation?