Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's not "Search in English Optimization" (SEO)

We recently had an interesting case with a client who produces a print product that reflects a very culturally-diverse reader base. The target audience and demographics come from all over - India, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, China - you name it. Not surprisingly, the advertisements and reviews of local service providers also reflect some cultural influence and bias, both in the actual business names and descriptions of products. It turns out that a very helpful skill for SEO practitioners (at least in the US) is rudimentary knowledge, or perhaps simple acknowledgement, that keywords and phrases in foreign languages are obviously as important to get correct as those in English.

In this case, the business name of some copy we saw (in French) was misspelled. Now we don't claim to be the Loudoun County Spelling Bee Champs, but it only took some high-school level mastery of the language to recognize a possible problem. Some quick research revealed that, yes, the business name wasn't taking some sort of artistic liberties with the language of Napolean. What was concerning, however, was that this was noticed only by the person with the French language background, and not for others without.

Copywriting, editing and proofing methods do dictate that all proper names be checked and double-checked, especially if these names end up as keywords to be bid upon (with Google pay-per-click, for example). But this obviously doesn't always happen, and may we be so heretic as to suggest that most English-centric proofers (especially on the web) tend to gloss over foreign-phrases and names with some sort of assumption that, if they're in another language, they're either irrelevant or simply not to be taken seriously?

It becomes very apparent to us, especially in local and regional SEO/SEM practices (where cultural diversity is prominent), that talent must be retained for a minimum level of copy-proofing in different languages. This is obviously pretty difficult in areas like Washington, DC, with so many countries and cultures represented, but at least some effort should be made. I suppose we're lucky that our existing staff has background in Spanish, German, French, Latin (!), English and various dialects of the areas near Exit 14 off the New Jersey Turnpike - but it simply might not be enough. We certainly plan to be extra careful with any word or phrase that looks like it wasn't used on the Mayflower...



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