LinkedIn caused a stir last month when it polled 12,000 of its users to see who would be interested in helping to translate its interface to bring in new users globally. One of the questions asked was what form of remuneration would be attractive -- but none of the options included any form of direct payment. A LinkedIn protest group was formed, topping 300 members.
It's good at least to know that the question has moved on from "Should we bother translating our site into local languages?" to "What's the best way?" But was LinkedIn simply trying to do this on the cheap?
And does it make sense, when search engines' organic results are your most important friend, to outsource your translation, and therefore your SEO, to a bunch of well-meaning volunteers?
Crowd sourcing evolved from the open source movement and is based on the idea that there's greater wisdom in crowds. This approach has been used by many, including Google, but is particularly popular with social networks, for the obvious reason that they have a database of engaged potential volunteers. Facebook and Plaxo have used 'community translation' before -- Facebook is said to have had their site translated into French in just 24 hours this way!
Crowd sourcing isn't all it seems, especially when it comes to international SEO.
Not Necessarily a Cheaper Alternative
There are hidden costs involved that make crowd sourcing more expensive than it initially appears. For example, Regina Bustamente, director of globalization at Plaxo, said they found it necessary to develop a "social translation portal," deploy moderators, and use professional translators to vet volunteer contributions when they increased the Plaxo interface to a total of 10 languages.
This meant that the costs were relatively high for the first language developed, but dropped significantly as the volume of languages increased. So, crowd sourcing, if it's appropriate, is more cost-effective for large-scale projects.
Wisdom of the Crowd
Groups of people can't translate a phrase simultaneously, so it has to be handled through an iterative process, with voting tools that allow certain terms to win over others. The people doing the translating mostly aren't professionals -- their wisdom comes from the collective. If the majority of people think a particular phrase is the most appropriate, then it most probably is.
Now what's good about crowd wisdom for translation is that all participants are generally qualified in one key area; they all speak their own language innately, having learned it at their mother's knee. Not so in SEO.
Here's the irony. Crowd wisdom already dominates SEO in another way -- just not through volunteers giving up their time for free or a slice of prestige.
By definition, if the crowd equals wisdom, then it would follow that the larger the crowd, the greater the wisdom, right? What bigger crowd than search engine users?
Keyword research looks at historical terms that people have previously used in search engines and makes the assumption they will do so again -- umpteen thousands of people. Then by definition, keywords have already been chosen by the wisest crowd, so they definitely should win over the slightly less wise, but very helpful and enthusiastic, volunteers.
International SEO Crowd-Sourced Success
The trick is connecting the wisdom of the keywords with the enthusiasm and language wisdom of the volunteers. The solution: source quality multilingual keyword research first, and then offer those keywords via the appropriate management portal.
The volunteers are offered a selection of keywords and choose the best fit from the list -- with the ability to override where an appropriate term simply isn't available or needs adapting. Even then, the platform should advise administrators what keyword was offered and rejected to enable decisions to be reversed or amended.
But that's just the start, because for most Web sites, you're also going to have to figure out how to do this on an ongoing basis, and it's a well known fact that volunteers come and go. It's likely to be tougher to get volunteers to participate in the ongoing maintenance of your project, unless they're truly fans.
International SEO isn't just about the words on the page, but it's the most important place to start. If you don't have relevant content in the target local language, there will be nothing to link to, nothing to host on a local server, and nothing to buy a local domain for. Yet most articles on this subject start with site architecture, and not with the product or narrative itself.
The world is changing, and for SEO folks it's getting much bigger by the minute -- witness the enormous growth of China. That causes a problem of scale for global marketers reaching new customers in new countries through their Web sites. Crowd sourcing enables you to reach more people more effectively through international SEO, but only if you meet certain conditions:
- Your only motivation isn't cost and your project small.
- Yours is a large multi-language project.
- You can build the keyword research into the process for the best SEO effect.
- Your site doesn't need frequent content updates.
- Your volunteers are likely to be really engaged with your product or service.
There can be other spinoff benefits to crowd sourcing. Bustamente discovered that the volunteers who had participated in developing the site became advocates and promoters of their work. So goes the crowd, if the conditions and process are right.