In episode 94, Veruska Anconitano joins the show to talk about the opportunities and challenges within Multilingual SEO.
Veruska shares some insight into the advantages of an effective Multilingual SEO strategy and the impact it can have on revenue for your business.
We also discuss how cultural nuances can influence the results you see from your strategy and what mistakes you’ll want to steer clear of.
[4:14] The Biggest Challenges in Multilingual SEO
[7:17] The Benefits of a Well-Executed Multilingual SEO Strategy
[9:09] The Extra Layer of Multilingual SEO
[11:25] What Should Businesses Consider Before Starting Their Multilingual SEO Strategy?
[14:21] How Businesses Should Approach Local Research
[16:15] Where Do You Begin With Implementation?
[19:05] Education & Accountability
[21:40] Technical Considerations
[23:35] How To Make User Experience Culturally Relevant
[28:22] Don’t Reach for the Stars
[30:41] Cultural Nuances
[32:22] The Champions of Multilingual SEO
[34:18] Is Google Translate Getting Any Better?
[38:22] Rapid Fire Rankings 🔥
Title: Multilingual SEO and Localization Consultant
Bio: Veruska is an SEO consultant specializing in International & Multilingual SEO with years of experience helping companies enter non-English speaking markets and working at the intersection between SEO and Localization. She works at the intersection between SEO and Localization. Having a sociology/sociolinguistics and semiotic background supplemented by a master’s in Data Science, she follows a 𝐜𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐳𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐭𝐨 𝐒𝐄𝐎 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐋𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐳𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧, 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐜𝐨𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐩𝐬𝐲𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐲, 𝐧𝐞𝐮𝐫𝐨𝐬𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐝𝐚𝐭𝐚. As a proponent of a cultural view of International SEO and aiming for equality and removing access barriers for everyone, Veruska often speaks at webinars and conferences while constantly fighting against people butchering Italian food.
Rank your best SEO marketing win:
I was in charge of launching a massive e-commerce website in EMEA and APAC (SEO and Localization together) and succeeded organically in key markets after a few months by strategically tapping into local users’ needs, motivations, and issues and completely driving away from the US website. This drove qualified traffic, leads, and, most of all, revenue and brought me to lead the same strategy for the US.
Rank your top 3 SEO tools:
Rank your best SEO trick or tactic:
Comparison pages for non-competitive players.
Rank what you love most about SEO as an industry:
I work in a very peculiar and unique field: SEO and Localization together, managing people, processes, resources, etc. So, to me, it’s all being able to demonstrate that there’s more to measure than the usual SEO stuff when working in a multilingual environment.
I love being right.
Rank your best SEO learning resource:
Rank the top 1-3 SEOs or Marketers that you most look up to:
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EMERGENCY is an independent and neutral international organization founded in 1994 to provide free, high-quality medical and surgical care to victims of war, landmines, and poverty. EMERGENCY promotes a culture of peace, solidarity, and respect for human rights.
Host: Garrett Sussman
Title: Demand Generation Manager
Garrett loves SEO like the 90s loves slap bracelets.
Each week he interviews the most interesting people in the world (of SEO). When he’s not crafting content, he’s scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.
Get insights, stories, and strategies from a range of practitioners and executives leading the charge in SEO.
Enjoy this podcast? Check out Garrett’s video show round-up of everything search engine optimization: The SEO Weekly
Garrett: Welcome back to another episode of the Rankable podcast. I’m so excited. My name is Garrett Sussman of iPullRank. And today we’re talking about a really interesting, complex, but fascinating topic. We’re going to talk all about multilingual SEO and localization, specifically in the context of the social and cultural impact that businesses can have in various different regions. I’m joined today by Veruska Ancanetano. Hopefully, I didn’t butcher your name, but Veru, she is awesome. She’s an SEO consultant specializing, obviously, in international and multilingual SEO. She’s been doing it for years. She’s a sociologist with a sociolinguistic semiotics background. She also has her master’s in data science. What doesn’t she do? She follows a culturalized approach to SEO and localization, so leveraging cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and data, all to provide a great user experience at the regional level. She’s going to talk a little bit about SEO, but also actual user experience and how you build out a website so it’s a good positive cultural experience. That’s a whole lot to say. Thank you for joining me today, Veru. How are you doing?
Veruska: Good. Thank you for having me. Hello, everyone.
Garrett: Yes. Not only that, a little fun fact about you is we were talking before the podcast, you’re like, it’s okay if you butcher my name, but what I shouldn’t butcher is Italian food because you are a passionate cook, chef. Tell me a little bit about your obsession with culinary arts.
Veruska: Oh, well, we could do an episode just on this, to be honest, because for me, food is like the language, is the foundation of a culture, is a foundation of a country. It’s just what ties up people together over the centuries. I know that food crosses culture, but there are certain things that have to be the same, no matter the location. So if a certain type of pasta is done in a certain way, it has to be done in a certain way. You can do and you can change whatever you want, but please don’t call it in the way it’s not. I’m used to butchering Chinese food as well. And it’s like pretty much killing Chinese culture abroad and not giving Chinese people the credit that they deserve. So my approach to food, to Italian food, it’s the same approach that I have in terms of language and culture. And then I’m also, I really, really love to eat. So there is this other component, which kind of makes up for a lot of things when we talk about food. So it’s just a mix of trying to preserve my heritage and to pass along my heritage to other people and also my love for food and this love for food.
Garrett: I love that. I personally have never been to Italy, but I can only imagine I truly haven’t had like a real Italian culinary experience unless you’re in Italy. I mean, in the States, in America, it’s like we have almost American Italian or like to your point about Chinese, literally like it’s American Chinese is completely different cuisine than actual Chinese food, which is awful and hilarious. And yet I am Jewish and every Christmas we eat Chinese food like American Chinese food like that is part of my culture. So you are all about multilingual SEO. A few weeks back, you wrote this excellent article in Wix kind of detailing the beginning to end nuts and bolts of it. And I want to tap into that. So first off, kind of at a high level, what are the biggest challenges that you see for multilingual SEO?
Veruska: Well, in fairness, there are challenges on different levels. There are business challenges, skills challenges, and also outcomes challenges. Just not to go too in-depth with these, for sure, some of the most impacting and important are the first one probably is telling the idea that it’s not about quantity, but about quality. And it’s not about what you, as a business owner, think will work, but what your users are looking for and what will work for them. And this is extremely hard to sell, especially when we talk about localization and multilingual SEO for websites starting with a very solid foundation in their source language, where there’s basically some sort of fear that you’re basically putting your business at risk if you don’t follow a standard process and you don’t follow what you think you should follow. That’s probably the thing that puts a lot of weight on multilingual SEO. And it’s one of the biggest challenges.
Garrett: And another one that I see pretty much every time in any situation, no matter if it’s a big company, a small one, a B2B or B2C, is the need to put together a project management and cross-discipline plan. That is always something that business don’t think about. It’s just like, this is something that international SEO will manage, but then they don’t think about all the stakeholders that need to be involved. Or this is something that localization will manage, and it’s the same. So lack of project management is extremely huge. And last but not least, but I think this is basically span across all SEO is accountability. Who does what? Why something has been done? Why something is happening? And lack of resources. That’s tied up strictly with the idea of, okay, what happens if I fail? I’m wasting money. While if I follow a standard approach, it’s easier to justify if you are failing.
Garrett: You know, and it makes so much sense of like why a business might oversimplify the complexity of moving into a new market. And you kind of hit the nail on the head where it’s like, you have to actually plan out and project manage market research, content generation, and SEO, and it all plays together. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the business strategy of it too, because that’s almost like the first part before you even consider it. Obviously, it’s not just about translation, translating to a different language. It’s so much more, but what would you say, assuming that you do everything right, you plan and you move into this market, what are the benefits of a well-executed multilingual SEO strategy?
Veruska: So for me, I know that the majority of SEO people and marketing people think that the ultimate goal is revenue. So conversion, the truth is that we have multiple levels of conversion and in terms of multilingual SEO, for me, it’s deepening your relation with your target users in order to kind of create foundation for brand loyalty. If you have brand loyalty, if people start recognizing you just by looking at a page title that appears on Google, then you won them over. And it’s basically multilingual SEO. That’s why I always say that multilingual SEO is the way to understand how people search in other countries, but also to anticipate what they may search for in a specific timeframe, in a specific language, in a specific country. The ultimate goal is to deepen the relation the company has with them.
Garrett: It’s very interesting how important it is to get that right. To your point with SEO, you talk a little bit about the idea of even if you get the title tags and the meta description for your target keywords right for a specific area, once they go to the actual website, if that’s not aligned with it in terms of their expectations of what the page will look like, the kind of that region standards for the offer and the visuals and the placement of the elements, then it’s not going to work, right?
Veruska: Correct. Correct.
There is an extra layer when we talk about multilingual SEO, which is that it doesn’t stop at optimizing on-page and off-page elements. It has to include, of course, it’s not our job, but it has to include considerations about the UX side of things, the conversion rates, and not all the markets behave in the same way. If you go to Germany, for example, Germany is a great, great example. I love working with German people and German countries. If you place a strong conversion CTA on top of the page, they don’t do anything. They may leave. German people, because they are skeptical. The majority of them are skeptical. You need to convince them. To convince them, you may need, for example, a testimonial on top of the page rather than just throwing the benefits of your product, for example, or your offer. They want to see the real value behind the marketing chit-chat. Every market behaves differently. That’s the beauty because we tend to think in SEO that when people see our page ranking at the first position in Google, automatically we are bringing revenue and we are bringing conversion of any kind. It’s not true in international. In multilingual, actually, it is true in international. In multilingual, if this is not followed by a precise multilingual strategy at every level, it’s a failure, a complete failure. The first one to suffer is SEO, of course. It’s so interesting. We’re going to get a little bit into that idea of targeting by country or region as opposed to just language. Right at the beginning, obviously, the C-suite can’t wake up one day and be like, oh, we’re just going to move into a new market. There’s so much planning and thought that goes into it.
Garrett: How as a business, and to your point tied to revenue, how do you conceive your multilingual strategy? Where do you start? What questions should the business be asking themselves considering that they need to take into consideration SEO content market research?
Veruska: Yeah, this is a very hard question because there are a lot of considerations that really depends on the business. The very first thing to understand also for understanding, for analyzing if multilingual SEO would work is to understand if the product is a fit for a specific market. First of all, from what angle, because I can have a product that can work in your market, but what’s the angle I should tackle to make sure that my users feel empowered and they want to try my product and they want to become my customers. And this is a very first superficial layer. Sometimes it’s not up to us. It’s up to the business analyst to decide this, but SEO can actually tap on this with keyword research, for example, with the competitor’s analysis. But most of all, and here comes my weird sociology, sociolinguistic background, nerd stuff, with market research and analyzing the user habits in terms of web consumption, content consumption, product consumption. And there’s something else that I want to throw in this conversation and something that sometimes business don’t think and marketers don’t think about. The biggest question, one of the biggest questions should always be, can I offer the same experience to all my customers, regardless of where they are? Do I have, for example, customer representation in each country that I target? What happens if someone lands on my page because SEO did a great job, but then they need more information? Can I offer them support in their language? It’s where it’s like a concatenated thing. So, you know, everything falls behind everything else. So it’s not just, okay competitors are doing these volumes are high, probably the product is a fit. It’s also how much support can I give to them? It’s so complex. I mean, and then to that point, there’s also the pricing aspect of like, when you do bring it back to revenue, can someone in South America afford this? I remember working for a graphic design company and the way the cultures think about graphic design is going to be different and what they’re willing to pay. And so there’s so much research.
Garrett: So one idea you mentioned is looking at competitors’ perspective for SEO. In terms of implementation, if you don’t already have a presence in a market, do you need to like work with someone locally there to really understand it? Like what do you recommend for businesses to do that local research?
Veruska: Definitely going local. Well, actually, there are two different levels. There is more cross-cultural research that you can do in-house and with resources that you have, starting from sales team, customer team, customer service team, everything basically. Also the consumption of the content on your website, users landing on your website from other countries, simply using analytics or any other tracking tool. But then to me, the real value is in local people because they know what’s going on and they know what can work in terms of research as well. Some countries, for example, for some countries, focus groups are still massive and you can gain a lot of information from focus groups. Others are more used, for example, to online survey because they are at an advanced stage. So you really need to grasp the situation by talking with local people, with local experts, starting from day one. So the process should always include local people from day one, whether it’s an agency, a skilled freelancer, consultant, another company, whoever it is, they’ll just go local, definitely.
Garrett: And to that point, it’s interesting because it makes you understand why a business might do a much smaller in scope pilot program when they’re entering a new market. So once you know your strategy and all of the different components of the business are aligned and how you’re going to market the product and offer support and pricing and all that, when you start doing the SEO component, what does that look like? Where do you begin with implementation? What do you recommend for your clients?
Veruska: So usually that’s probably the hardest part, it’s to sell them what to do from an SEO standpoint, because we are in SEO and in business, we tend to think that the moment you implement HREF Lang, it’s fine, it’s okay, you’re done. But my recommendation is always go from once the strategy has been approved and we are all aligned, let’s start giving accountability to the person or the people in charge of the keyword research, because that’s the first thing. So put them in front of the source website. Let’s say you have an Australian website that you need to localize to SEO localizer to bring to life in Italy, ask the local Italian person or company or agency, whoever it is, to do keyword research, not based on what it’s on the English website, but on what’s on the brand, on the core business, on the product, because this is going to be the foundation. The biggest downfall in multilingual SEO is thinking that translating one-on-one is good and you end up with atrocities, with really monsters. I remember working once for a company, big eCommerce, they really wanted to get a category page that was really strong in the US to EMEA markets. And I fought, fought, fought, fought and just said, we don’t have this thing. We should change it for another, much more performing category and focus on this. They didn’t want to, and then there was, I said, okay, let’s do what you want to do. I tried my best. They didn’t work. Of course, the minute we put the content of that page in Spain, Italy, France, and if I’m not wrong, Portugal, there was a drop in revenue. There was basically no revenue, no ranking, people not looking for it. And so I built basically a case saying you did want this, you made a mistake. I told you, and that’s the result.
Garrett: Well, it’s almost, it’s to your point about accountability, that’s really, not that it’s unfair to the SEO, but it’s like, if you are the in-house SEO, who’s part of this campaign and you’re in charge of it, and the requests or the requirements from the business aren’t properly put in place, then if you’re not seeing the results, that isn’t necessarily the SEO’s fault if they’ve done their appropriate research. So it’s really on the SEO in a lot of ways to educate the C-suite that this, like to your point, this is why it isn’t working.
Veruska: Yes, that’s correct. And today’s accountability also means not just reporting on successes and failures, but also knowing when to stop and where to stop. Because one of the biggest issues that I see, and I think it’s a big issue, is that sometimes people from different teams tend to overlap. And in multilingual SEO, this happens way more often than in other cross-department, cross-team working. SEO crossing over localization, localization crossing over SEO, and then it comes to paid as well. So, to make sure that everyone is accountable for a piece of the project, everyone needs to know when to stop and where to stop. Because every single team has different KPIs and goals. And those goals should always be tied up with the final results you get when you work on a project. The moment you start crossing too much, you screw up your own KPIs and other people’s KPIs.
Garrett: Oh yeah. And especially the bigger the organization, to your point, the more stakeholders that are ultimately involved, the more potential for silos that still require a ton of conversation. I mean, I can imagine, you know, kind of jumping back to the beginning, but that’s why SEO, like an SEO needs to be in the room from the beginning of these types of projects. Like when we were even talking site architecture, you mentioned hreflang and category pages. You wrote in your Wix article about even in Europe, the way that French folks versus Italians and Germans value products. I’d imagine you say Italians prefer to purchase from an Italian company. So it’s like, you’d think that would inform their don’t using a country domain using like a.it as opposed to necessarily doing a commercial domain. I feel like it can get very complicated when you get to some of the technical site architecture considerations there.
Veruska: Definitely. But there’s also another scaling consideration here. I would love to be honest to do everything by the book. But when you work with big companies, it’s almost impossible. And I think that’s where, you know, it’s when the implementing certain it’s not more about the architecture when you work on big projects, it’s more how we implement or how we integrate cultural and local things within our existing and kind of a templatized page. Because if you think about Amazon, Amazon is one of the examples in my Wix article, the template is always the same and you know, you are into Amazon. But then if you go to Amazon France, you see the specific section I like, which is all about French products. If you go to Germany, they don’t have a specific German section, but they have the Italian one because of cultural proximity, but most of all geographical proximity. So sometimes very often, actually, it’s not about the technical nitty-gritty stuff as much, but most about the experience, the local experience and tackling that side. I suppose I think it’s harder than just going with technical recommendations.
Garrett: And so to that point, what do you typically recommend when you’re talking about the content on the site? You know, you mentioned the term like kind of transcreate where it isn’t just obviously a translation. There’s you know, the cultural nuances, whether it’s linguistically or visually and conceptually, how do you think about making that experience culturally relevant? And how, I guess, when you’re talking about strategy, how specific do you need to get to region versus generalize? Like how do you determine?
Veruska: The determination of the region depends mostly by the language. So we have, for example, we have this weird, super weird idea that if you use a neutral, what is called, which is not neutral Spanish for Mexican, you can actually target all the Spanish countries. But it’s not true, because the language is the result of the social, economical, political, cultural changes over time. And the way they use certain types of language differs from the way someone from Colombia uses the same type of word or as different words. So again, in an ideal world, you would like to have every country, a specific domain for every country. And that’s not always possible. So in terms, again, for me to make sure that it works, it’s tied up to two things, the product fit. And also, on a very, very, very basic level, our spending habits and users’ habits in that specific niche that I want to target. The only way to drive social and cultural awareness is to be aware of where, for example, social issues lay. Let’s think about, for example, now that the situation is critical in many countries, an e-commerce website targeting, let’s say, well, we are all in a crisis, so whatever country you find. I mean, let’s say Irish people, they want to bring awareness to make sure that the need of Irish people are met. They need to start using catchy phrases, catchy elements that somehow help them understand the content that they are reading. Here in Ireland, we have a crisis, a house crisis going on at the moment. So everything that tackles this aspect, not just on websites where you search for a house, basically, but pretty much everywhere. Yes. As the responsibility to address this kind of issue, can address this kind of issue using a specific type of language, using specific elements and something that makes people supported and also, you know, empowered if they are searching, for example, for items that cost less than they should search for. I don’t know if it’s clear. It’s kind of a very hard concept to streamline because it takes into consideration a lot of things. And when you think how can SEO bring cultural awareness, to me, the first thing that comes to mind is that we have the power to stop inequalities using appropriate words, and we have the power to stop stereotypes. I’m lucky enough to work in languages, mostly languages that are not gender-neutral. And I strongly, strongly advocate for this. This is a power that SEO has to strengthen certain values from the very first interaction.
Garrett: It’s so interesting because to your point, it’s like you have this opportunity to make change and then, you know, and there’s almost an ethical, like kind of moral sort of like support for that. And yet from a business standpoint, you could see, I think this happened. Miriam Jesse did a great Twitter thread and talk about it a couple of months ago about in France and how, you know, to your point about gendered language. And then there’s the business component. If people are searching in old, anachronistic sort of like, you know, unacceptable ways or gendered or stereotypes that are negative stereotypes, and that is a business value, the business needs to make some tough decisions and be okay with the fact of, well, yes, the search volume might not be as big in this like, you know, old school way. And so and so you have to make those. I mean, I guess you could cover both, but that’s something that you consider a lot with when you’re building out these strategies, right?
Veruska: Yes, that’s true. And one of the biggest challenges and things to do is not to think about the volumes anymore. Yeah, because it’s not that it’s not that anymore. If this is a very kind of holistic and art to sometimes to sell approach. But that’s where I’m saying this very badly, but that’s where the money is in reality, because, you know, you are not reaching for the stars. You’re reaching for the wall, basically. And you need to make sure that even if the volumes are low, you are targeting those specific people that are searching for those specific things that somebody else, nobody else may be targeting so far. And the language neutrality, gender neutrality is one of the biggest talks in multilingual and the localization community, because, you know, we think that we have always been told that at the end of the day, Google is biased, though we know search engines are biased, but it’s up to us as well to change this. We are training artificial intelligence to do certain things in a certain way. Over time, we can train search engines to change how they rank pages. But of course, if it’s just one, two, three companies or people doing this, it’s either and either still it’s a good exercise and brings great results.
Garrett: Well, you make a good point. What’s interesting to me, obviously, beyond search volume is how Google is understanding our content. And this is a little off topic, but it makes me think of mom. Right. And how with the developments of mom and the understanding of contextual sort of content, not focused specifically on language, but almost more entity-focused based on concepts. To your point, the gendered language won’t matter as much as Google understands more effectively the concept and not just like what this one specific word means. But then, on the other hand, you still need to consider the cultural nuances and concepts that might be different from region to region.
Veruska: Correct. And like, if you think about Japanese, for example, there’s also the society rules that you have to take into consideration. So let’s say, for example, for the term you, like the pronoun you, there are four or five different ways to say you in Japan, depending on the level of confidentiality, the level of seniority, the person that you are talking about, and it’s up to SEO to address specifically to the right usage of the you in the right context. Then you can make a mistake and you can just go for the plain or for the most used one or the ones that Google translate to suggest. And Google will pick your choice because Google is becoming smarter and smarter. But then you are doing a bad, bad service to your company and you are not bringing any value to the table and you are not really talking to the people that you want to reach out because you haven’t understood the cultural and social difference in meaning, difference in meanings of the different terms. So yes, Google is smarter, but then on the flip side, we are smarter. We should be smarter. It brings it back to accountability and ethical accountability of all of this.
Garrett: So you’ve worked with a range of clients and just for what you’re watching out there, when you look at these different markets, are there any examples of organizations that you think are doing multilingual SEO and localization really well that you can point to?