TT Features: Lukasz Zelezny on Localisation & SEO

Our first special guest in this series will need little introduction for the tech-savvy amongst our audience. Lukasz Zelezny, Head of Organic Acquisition at, is a thought leader in Search Engine Optimization. A regular guest speaker at top SEO summits, the depth of his experience has made him one of the more sought-after names in the industry, and his wisdom on the ever-changing intricacies of SEO is relevant to a range of people that cuts across all professions and all sectors – in short, if you have a website, he knows how to maintain and improve its visibility for you.

He kindly agreed to an interview with Today Translations, and we quizzed him on the shifting processes of SEO practice and localisation in 2016.

What are some of the important things to consider before getting started on a project? What does the planning process look like?

You can’t have an effective strategy for any SEO project without taking into account some proper planning measures. I know that the very first step that must be taken is to define the target audience and identify its key characteristics. From there, I’ll then begin to look at what specifically should be built in order to create a competitive and effective strategy – which types of content will be necessary, how best to build internal links, and what design elements are ideal.

From there, I seek to define my competition and identify them, invest substantial energy into keyword research and create a simplified strategy summary that explains all of these ideas in easy-to-read language. Whether I’m working by myself or with a group of people, that last step in particular helps keep focus on what needs to be done.

Should companies translate their whole website? If not, how should they select which pages and content to translate?

It has been my experience that different brands have different needs when it comes to the translation of portions of website content versus all of their website content. If budget constraints allow for it, then it is definitely recommended that you proceed with translating the entirety of your website. However, selecting portions of the website that deal with brand descriptions, mission, frequently asked questions and other critical components of information should be given top priority.

It is important to note that I highly advise against using “automated” translation services. Not only do search engines view this negatively, but the user experience will be dramatically reduced due to translation errors. A professional translation firm with native speakers is always the best way to go, but you’ll also need assistance in making sure that the content is not merely translated in a straight-forward fashion: this can lead to duplicate content issues.

Besides translation, what other factors are involved in the localisation process?

It’s always important to focus on speaking to your local audience in a native language, but localisation is much more than that. The origin of inbound links and the signals they send, anchor text, keyword usage in titles and sub-titles, and citation volume all matter immensely.

Local signals from reviews are another important concept. It’s not just the number of reviews that a website enjoys, but also the frequency at which they’re accumulated and the diversity of the review distribution across multiple sites. Social signals play a big role as well; the amount of authority and engagement that is being generated on sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – in conjunction with keywords and the overall conversation – affect localisation. I’d also point out that up-to-date and thorough contact information (phone numbers, addresses, references to relevant cities, etc.) on your website and social media platforms makes a huge difference in how search engines view you.

What are some of the greater challenges posed by website localisation?

I always remind businesses and brands that localisation struggles are not just technical in nature: they’re also cultural and social. Well-meaning people can make some pretty big mistakes when it comes to building presences in different communities and cultures where they’ve had no prior presence.

Images can be a big challenge. Not only is it essential to properly attribute each image with descriptive text to ensure its auxiliary effects are felt in search engines, but there are cultural considerations as well. When using people in particular, it’s important to remember that what is OK in one country to show in one country is not in another.

Text formatting and length when localising content (particularly when translating it) can wreak havoc on design elements. Content can change quite dramatically in terms of length; you may need to adjust your site design in order to account for this. Additionally, trouble areas like dates, phone numbers, area codes and other area-specific concepts can throw off localisation efforts if proper care isn’t taken to format them correctly.

What are some of the common mistakes brands make when they first localise their website?

Where to begin! I’ve seen so many mistakes from first-time local SEO enthusiasts, but there are a few particularly egregious ones that need to be addressed. The first is domain name usage: you can’t have truly successful localisation in other countries (or even in different domestic markets) without domain names and URL structure that reflects the situationlocation.

Another major issue is that all too many rush to translate their websites before researching how best to utilise language in foreign markets. Even with professional translation services, I advise brands to figure out exactly what they’re selling, to whom and how the local language differs from straightforward conversation in that language.

Failing to provide legitimate and widely-accepted global payment options, neglecting a physical address/contact information on the site, building websites on servers not located in a specific country and massive grammatical errors with a total lack of local blog content are some other common problems I see often.

Why is it so important to get grammar and context right?

I know that everyone makes mistakes, but when it comes to grammar and context as it pertains to localisation, there isn’t much room for error. I’ve seen plenty of projects fail to take off because the content does not resonate with local audiences due to this problem.

People are naturally sceptical. They’ll be even more sceptical if your content – particularly if you’re trying to sell them something – is riddled with grammatical errors. Shopping from foreign sources remains a point of content for many shoppers. Likewise, it’s hard to close the sale or make the deal when valuable context is lacking due to weak translation and marketing services.

Search engines are pretty picky about this stuff, too. A lot of people with whom I’ve worked fail to understand that Google is just as picky about grammar and context in foreign languages as they are in English. Even when working with domestic audiences, it’s crucial that you avoid any misspellings or cultural confusion when referring to local places, figures, and customs.

How do you measure a localised website’s success?

Any time that I need to observe progress being made through localisation efforts, I always find ways to generate KPIs. These key performance indicators will help with measuring concrete changes in performance in a number of ways.

Some of the basic KPIs a brand will want to inspect on a periodic basis include the cost of the localisation project, the overall productivity and gains earned from it, the quality of the effort (translation services, engagement, shipping, etc.) and how well the project team is working together.

Other, more specific measurements that help determine overall success for localisation efforts obviously increase changes in web traffic, increases or reductions in products/services sold, SEO ranking in select niches, and social media engagement. I’ve noticed that these two sets of measurements usually go hand-in hand: elements such as traffic and profit almost always improve when productivity and teamwork are running smoothly.

In your experience, what kind of businesses see the most return on website localisation?

It has been my experience that return on investment is largely based on individual brand efforts more so than industry placement. With that being said, some industries are naturally better suited to perform well via these strategies than others.

Digital content in general has been a strong performer in different markets when combined with localisation. It all depends on the target demographic and the specific content being offered, of course, but content that can be easily translated and instantly transmitted has a clear advantage with this strategy.

Generally speaking, Asian businesses have had greater success at breaking into western markets than vice-versa. I believe this is in part due to relative imbalanced costs of operation and management, as well as a cultural narrative that has made it easier for Asian markets to adapt to western customs and English than vice-versa. This won’t always be the case, however, and it is certainly not an absolute.

What countries and regions are currently being targeted the most by US and Europe companies? And which emerging market do you think will become increasingly targeted in the coming years?

American and European companies are currently infatuated with the idea of breaking into East Asian markets. The sheer number of potential consumers that exist in these countries has fuelled a dramatic spike in interest among my clients about doing business here. As nations such as India and China begin to see significant portions of their populations enter the working class and middle class, more and more consumer opportunities are created. Even though per capita spending in these markets is lower, the larger number of shoppers makes up for the difference.

Much how like formerly poor Asian countries used manufacturing to supply the western world with a variety of products and increase their standards of living, I expect that the shift in coming years will focus on Africa. As Asian markets enter the middle class in greater numbers, there will be a demand for cheaper products from the only region of the world that is capable of operating with a lower bottom line. This will result in massive localisation efforts throughout many African nations by businesses.

Can you tell us about Language or Country detection, and 302 redirects? What’s the best way to approach these?

Language and country detection can be very useful in the world of localisation, as it helps automatically identify where a visitor lives or what language he or she speaks, and then proceeds to show them relevant content. There are some flaws with several methods of detection used out there, and I admit that it can be difficult to develop a full-proof, automated solution.

JavaScript functionality can provide seamless identification of a country or language, but it may not be entirely accurate (for instance, somebody may be in a particular country visiting, or may speak a language different than the dominant one). I would say that the best overall metric to use for identifying language and country is a combination of geo IP detection and browser language.

302 redirects are often misused by individuals. 301 redirects are used for permanent page moves; 302s for temporary moves. Unfortunately, many people use 302s in lieu of 301s, which only confuses search engines. Google and other search engines will struggle to understand whether the old page needs to be kept or not. This can affect SEO and localisation in a number of ways. There are very few reasons why 302 redirects need to be used; I rarely recommend them.

If you would like to follow Lukasz, his homepage and social media handles can be found at the following addresses.