When it comes to creating websites for foreign language markets, a few necessities are immediately obvious.
First, the websites need to be in the native or primary language of the country you're targeting. Also, you'll need to take into account consumer behavior and culture in that country -- where's your gap in the market and what's your unique selling proposition (USP)?
You'll also need to work out your search engine optiimization (SEO) strategy, because what's the point of spending all that time and money developing multilingual websites if they aren't ranking in the search engines?
Where to Concentrate Your SEO Efforts
The tricky point to consider here, though, is that while you may be well attuned to the needs and vagaries of Google, the Internet superpower isn't the dominant search engine in every country.
You've likely heard of Baidu, the Chinese search engine, which leads Google China on searches by 52 percent to 33 percent.
There are a few theories on why Baidu is the Google-killer in China. Some pundits believe it's due to Chinese patriotism (despite the fact that Baidu started in the U.S.). But the more likely reason is because the Chinese love to search the web for MP3s (55 percent of Baidu users are MP3 searchers). Baidu is better for illegal downloading because it's held to less strict legal standards than Western search engines.
Among the other Google-beating local search engines, popularity is attributed to their being optimized for the alphabet and language of the country.
For instance, Yandex succeeds in Russia (with a 64 percent market share) where Google.ru fails, largely because it's built around the Cyrillic alphabet and recognizes Russian grammar and inflection.
Then, of course, there's Seznam, the dominant search engine in the Czech Republic. In South Korea, Naver has 70 percent of the search market (compared to Google's 2 percent). Meanwhile, the Japanese inexplicably prefer Yahoo Japan to Google.
Naturally, then, it makes sense that you if you have a Russian website, you would want to concentrate most of your SEO efforts on Yandex, and Baidu for China, and so forth.
Changing Your SEO Strategy for Market-Leading Search Engines
Sadly, there isn't enough space here to outline every difference and similarity. Extensive research can be found online that goes into SEO strategies for each search engine, but the general consensus is that they all operate in largely the same way, with a few key differences.
Baidu doesn't seem to take into account inbound links -- one of the integral parts of effective Google SEO -- so building links with Chinese websites would seem to be a waste of your time. Your money might be better spent on increasing your Baidu PPC advertising budget, as Baidu apparently doesn't take relevancy into account with PPC -- higher rankings are achieved with higher spend.
Yandex, meanwhile, counts inbound links as relevant, and also highly rates relevant geographic location. Interestingly, Yandex will also penalize you for having spam-like roll-over and pop-up ads on your site.
Fortunately, each search engine offers its own keyword research tools, so you're obviously far better off using the data analysis tools of the search engine you're trying to game, than, say, applying your Google China keywords to Baidu.
With Great Effort Comes Great Possibility
Clearly, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to SEO strategies for different countries.
The crucial lesson here: developing SEO specific to each country's dominant search engine is just as important as creating language- and culture-specific websites in the first place. Mastering the tricks of each market's search engine is the key to success.