American Marketer


Reaching luxury consumers overseas with global search optimization

December 20, 2010



By Liz Elting

High-end brands face challenges and opportunities more than mainstream retailers do.

While the market for luxury goods is necessarily narrow, retailers in these markets tend to know their customers and prospects better than less focused businesses.

That awareness of the customer is a critical element in engagement and conversion rates. Thus, growing luxury online businesses must find ways to replicate customer connections when they expand to foreign markets.

By adopting smart international search engine optimization (ISEO) strategies, exclusive brands can find their target audiences worldwide and communicate in a manner that ensures ample return on investment.

At this point in the history of search engine optimization, brands have experimented enough in international markets to have identified proven best practices for ISEO. These strategies include planning, research, translation and image selection.

ISEO not an afterthought

As luxury brands plan their global expansions and create localized Web sites, they must first consider ISEO.

Smart ISEO hinges on a strategic marketing plan that develops in conjunction with a Web site, not as an afterthought.

Effective content development includes relevant, dynamic copy that is keyword-specific.

When ISEO evolves with e-business expansion, elements such as descriptive tagging, rich media, social media distribution and internal and external links begin working for the brand immediately.

Companies might be tempted to start with Web site translation first and optimize later to keep initial costs down. However, this tiered approach is actually more costly in the long-term.

Building multilingual Web sites should not be done in phased attempts.

Rather, ISEO should guide a company’s entire content development and site-architecture strategy.

Otherwise, the business is building a Web site based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information.

Only when foreign SEO and design are done in conjunction can a business clearly answer the question, “Will this Web site attract customers?”

Google reigns but not over all

In the United States, we have come to equate search engine optimization with Google optimization. This search engine is so dominant in the U.S. and in many other countries that its approach to page rank has driven SEO strategy.

However, some international search engines, which are more widely used in their regions than Google, have different parameters for ranking Web sites.

These services emphasize elements that are minimally relevant to Google. The factors include page load times, top-level domains, hosting locations and density of keywords on a given page.

A luxury brand looking to build a customer base in the virtual neighborhood of one of these engines must take these measures into consideration.

Luxury brands, more than their mass-market peers, rise or fall based on the customer’s attachment to the product.

That attachment depends largely on the efficacy of the words that the brand uses to communicate. Whether those words are in English, French, Russian or Japanese, they are mission-critical and should be treated as such.

Machine translation can be attractive from a cost perspective, but it falls short in terms of authenticity and nuance, both of which can foil entry into local markets.

Get the picture?

Keeping the power of words in mind, luxury brands should consider the old adage about pictures and a thousand words.

The wrong photo can do as much damage as the wrong words, since the connotations of various images can vary regionally.

The pictures that you choose for your international sites signal your knowledge – or ignorance – about those markets.

In almost any market in the world, customers are comfortable browsing and buying online.

Whether they choose one product over another depends in large part on which company speaks most clearly to them.

That clarity in communication is at the heart of ISEO strategy, which is essential to luxury brands trying to reach discerning consumers.

For brands large and small, smart ISEO targets the right customers with the right messages, regardless of market.

Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect and, a New York-based provider of software, Web site, and enterprise-wide localization services, as well as translation-related technology products. Reach her at