Surfer Dude Tone Doesn’t Work in Japan – AJPR CEO Motoko Hunt on Multilingual SEO

Marketers will spend $540 billion globally on marketing in 2015 with $130 billion devoted to integrated online advertising. Branding dominates online advertising with 45% or $58 billion dollars, according to Ad Age and eMarketer. And as brands continue to invest in global marketing, they not only need to translate and localize their marketing copy, but also other facets of their campaigns such as search engine optimization (SEO).

To better understand multilingual SEO, Slator caught up with Motoko Hunt, President of AJPR, a Japanese search engine optimization, search engine marketing (SEM), and pay per click consulting firm. Motoko gave her insights regarding the market demand for multilingual SEO and shared parts of the process AJPR goes through when advising clients on their multilingual SEO campaigns.

Slator: Is the SEO scene in Japan as developed as in the US where Google’s algorithm updates are big news in the SEO / SEM industry?

Motoko Hunt: Yes and No. Yes, SEO/SEM are big parts of a Japanese company’s digital marketing ecosystem, and Google’s algorithm updates make big news in the industry. However, a large part of the industry is still formed by agencies and consultants, and you do not see many companies with a good size in-house team yet. I think more companies will bring the work in-house in the near future, which will make the industry more interesting. It is always a good thing when website owners get smarter about how SEO/SEM works and what needs to be done.

Slator: Let’s talk more about the demand in the Japanese SEO scene. Global marketing is one of the fastest growing niches in the localization and translation space. Can you tell us about the market demand you have been getting in recent years?

MH: Many Western corporations are targeting Japan and the Asian market through the Internet. Even the smaller businesses are realizing the potential. The demand for search marketing services is increasing year over year as the Japanese market becomes more important and competitive to businesses.

Slator: How do your clients approach multilingual SEO? Is it a must for them or do you usually have to explain their value first before you get their buy-in? Do they ask for it upfront?

MH: All of AJPR’s clients understand the importance of SEO for not just the main geographical market but for all of their target countries. Smart companies know that optimizing a corporate site does not mean that the localized sites would automatically be optimized too. From time to time, I come across companies with some local teams who are skeptical about the project. It is usually because they have had negative experiences during previous SEO projects. As I mentioned earlier…

…having local teams involved in the SEO project is very important to get their buy-ins and most of all to have a successful outcome.

Slator: Does AJPR handle language translation and cultural localization for the SEO campaigns of its clients? What is the typical business model in multilingual SEO?

MH: We do not offer language translation services. Our clients either handle that in-house or outsource to a localization agency. We work closely with a client and their localization team (in-house or agency) by providing the strategies to ensure that the translation/localization process won’t have a negative impact on the SEO. It also minimizes the SEO work that you will need to perform on the translated content.

Motoko Hunt, CEO of AJPR, speaks at SMX Milan 2013
Motoko Hunt, CEO of AJPR, speaks at SMX Milan 2013

Slator: How do translation and localization processes impact what AJPR puts into an SEO campaign for its clients?

MH: The translation and localization strategy we provide clients aims to minimize the re-optimization work after content is translated. It is designed to inject the SEO into the translation and localization process itself. It includes services such as the SEO keyword glossary, web template review, and SEO training for the translation/localization team to increase the odds of proper integration during the process.

Slator: What tools and technologies does AJPR use when implementing SEO campaigns?

MH: Luckily, more Western tools are designed to work for international campaigns. They are designed to pull data correctly from different countries, different search engines, and different languages including the double byte characters. It helps, as you do not need separate sets of tools for different markets. For SEO, you typically start with analytic tools, Webmaster tools, ranking tools, search query mining tool, and site crawling tools to perform diagnostics.

Slator: When it comes to translation and localization style guides, how much flexibility is allowed in the translation as it relates to SEO?

MH: Since we do not offer translation, this is up to our clients. In my experience, some flexibility within the guides helps localized content perform well. By ensuring the site uses templates that pull key phrases from the database, you allow your overall SEO to scale effectively. Documenting those elements in style and localization guides helps enforce compliance.

Slator: What is the return on investment for multilingual SEO? How much less business can international companies expect if they do not engage in multilingual SEO for a market like Japan?

MH: It usually comes down to how good the company’s SEO processes and standards are. Companies with good SEO governance, which includes local teams, are likely to succeed with international or multilingual SEO projects. The participation of local teams is critical in order to be successful in those countries. If a company does not have local teams, I always encourage them to talk to their reps, partners, customers, etc. in each country for business input. Another big problem is not leveraging uniform and scalable templates, keyword glossaries, and global and local link acquisition programs.

Slator: How much do translation and localization affect SEO work? Can you tell us about challenges in translation have you encountered when developing a multilingual SEO campaign?

MH: Usually, the translation and localization work are not the cause of the problem. The problem arises when the company does not ensure local sites have the flexibility to adopt some specific local needs.

For instance: a page template that does not allow the local team to adjust the font size of double byte characters. Or content that is not appealing to some markets. These challenges can be resolved through close communication with local teams prior to translation project kick-off.

One key example was a telecommunications client from Southern California that had most of their content written in “California Surfer Dude” tone that would not work well in Japan if directly translated. While not an SEO issue, their color scheme, calls to action, and other elements were not appropriate for the Japanese market and the rest of Asia, resulting in poor performance. Additionally, they had a very rigid template that did not allow for the expansion and contraction of text after localization, resulting in shorter sentences that did not use relevant keywords or marketing copy that lost some of the impact of the original message.

Slator: In your professional opinion, is multilingual SEO increasingly becoming the norm for companies engaging in global marketing? Will it be a must-have in the future, or is it already?

MH: The Internet is a boundary-less environment and any business is just a click away from any market in the world.

Even if you are not actively targeting the Japanese market, there is a chance that potential Japanese customers may find your website.

Unless you are running a local business that only serves your immediate local market, it is increasingly becoming the norm that your business should be able to provide information in other languages. It is already a norm for enterprise websites and it is a must-have for any business to be truly successful.

Slator: How is the growth of the language services market and global marketing in general shaping the SEO side, especially when it comes to multilingual campaigns?

MH: I believe that it would be for the best for site owners if SEO becomes a part of their entire website management process including translation, localization, web design, and content strategy. It is inefficient when you manage them separately especially for enterprise companies.