Expert Interview: Carmen Domínguez, Head of International SEO & Content at The Hut Group

International marketers, content specialists and localisation professionals need to be sensitive to cultural nuances, customs, habits and country-specific market trends but also, increasingly, knowledge of multiple areas of digital marketing.

Social media, PPC, SEO, content marketing and digital PR are frequently interrelated, and can take on special power when combined in international marketing campaigns.  

To explore some of the key themes find out more about the ins and outs of international digital marketing we spoke to Carmen Rodríguez, Head of International SEO & Content at The Hut Group.

In this interview, we specifically wanted to find out more about marketing translation and localisation and the impact it can have on reaching international audiences.

So, without further ado here is what Carmen has to say about translation and international marketing! 

1. Can you give examples of how your brand, and others in the industry, have innovated to increase the effectiveness of localisation and translation?

The most innovative step in my opinion is that we have started applying different types of translations depending on the objective of the content.

Translations, like English content, do serve a very specific purpose in the online world: please google and the users.

However, with translations, we tend to have limited time and a budget. We don't want to go live with our SKUs in English, for example, as we know users won't understand and Google Merchant Centre won't pick it up (rules changed last year and google is getting stricter about it for Paid advertising) so we started running machine translation and post editing by our team of translators for SKUs to make sure the content was correct and to speed up the process.

However, look at on site content in a more curated way, with proper keyword research done before hand to respect the intent and we would send that to the team before we translate anything.

Our team of SEO, copy writers and translators work together really closely to make sure they have the same objective when working on content. The translation industry has always been very strict I think - coming from the translation industry myself – with translating and proofreading.

I think as Google and digital marketing evolves, translation should too, and I’m a firm believer of having an agile attitude towards content of all sorts.

I also think, tracking the performance of this translations has also been really important for us.

2. What do you feel is the greatest opportunity within translation and localisation for2022? Is it technology, techniques, international opportunities or perhaps something else?

As I mentioned above, I think machine translation will continue to play an important role. If you have been keeping an eye on the latest purchases by Alphabet (Google’s parent company), you'll notice that many go around AI - the very core of machine translation.

As machine translation refines and gets better, translation companies should be less scared of using it and promoting it in the right places.

Machine translation will not overtake humans, as it will never be able to 100% understand intent, that is why we do review after translations on a 90% of the cases - but one can be clever enough to use it in the right places to efficiently manage budgets and to promote internationalisation of your website.

I also think translations (if it is for the digital sphere, not talking about books here) has to always go hand in hand with keyword research.

There is no point on translating anything if it is not done with a previous analysis. Even when you are writing editorial content, if it didn't have previous research, you'd be missing tons of opportunities.

Recently, we reviewed the keywords in internal linking added from our blog content to categories and 60% had words with low or no volume - this is a massively missed opportunity.

3. What do global companies need to keep at the top of their minds when catering to multiple audiences worldwide? Are there any key principles to follow?

To keep an open mind. I would recommend any global company to start by reading the “Can't Read,Won't Buy - B2C” to properly understand how international users react to content.

65% of users prefer to have website content in their language and 73% of them want to have product reviews in their language.

Assuming everybody can speak English is a massive error and not understanding the cultural differences is the main reason most global companies fail in their expansion to international markets.

Not only you need to have a digital expert but also a digital expert who is native. The more sophisticated Google gets, the more evident the above will be.

4. What do you believe is one of the most common mistakes you see being made when organisations try to use localisation to go global?

I think, as I mentioned above, not performing a proper analysis of their audiences and the intent behind searches when the content is translated. Most translations go live without the right keywords on the content or with keywords translated when they might not need to.

Thinking of a very specific case, in German and in Italian, English keywords are used very often.

To give an example, cheap flights = “voli low cost” has Average Monthly Searches (AMS) of 135,000 vs. “voli economici” has AMS of 18,100 - translating it into English would be a missed opportunity. In Spanish, by comparison, you need to translate almost everything.

Also, considering the different cultural background is important. I recently came across this situation where on one of our websites – Lookfantastic - we were trying to push fake tan.

In the Spanish market, fake tan uses the same keyword than other types of tanning products but also fake tan is not a very popular product in the Spanish market - so maybe we should be focusing our efforts in pushing SPF for example, rather than following the UK strategy of pushing fake tan products.

5. Are there any localisation challenges you find unique to your industry?

I think understanding exactly how to talk to the users. We struggle sometimes in deciding if we should talk to our users in formal/informal as it depends on the country.

We create our international content marketing plans for the whole of Europe together so sometimes is difficult for the team to find common grounds.

6. How can brands ensure that they can maintain quality and consistency in translation & localisation when working at large scale?

I think it's just a matter of having very clear processes from the beginning and always tracking the results. It does not matter how you look at it, but you have to have clear KPIs and track those KPIs as much as you can for every single type of content.

Ask yourself why you do things: why are you translating emails? Track opening rate to understand if you should be translating or international copywriting the subject lines and track traffic coming from emails to see if people actually convert.

7. What skills do international marketers and language specialists need in 2022 and beyond? Has this changed from previous years?

Completely, in the same way that that digital marketing has changed in the last years completely. Google is getting more sophisticated, more complex therefore marketers need to do so too.

A marketer now is a psychologist and a creative. We need to know a bit of tech and if you look after international market, you need to learn a lot about culture and constantly check with native people if you don't speak the language.

If you do speak the language, you need to understand the whole process. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the user and never ever assume things.

For translators who specialise in website translation or look after international copywriting, understanding the minimum of SEO is a must.

But not only content also minimum of tech - what is an internal link and the role of anchor texts will be important and also understanding the overall marketing and digital strategies.

I see it very often, also in international digital marketing agencies, that people in charge of the blog target the same keywords that a category page. What goes through my mind in the moments like this is “No, that's not how it should work” – this just shows very little strategy.

For these reasons translators and marketers need to work very closely together.

8. For those new to careers in translation/localisation or international marketing,what are the key skills they should work on acquiring? What are the best tools/sources of experience?

I am a firm believer that as a linguist and as a marketer, one must never stop learning.

We work in a very fast evolving industry, so thinking that you have 2 skills and boom you are due a promotion is a very common (and wrong) thing to assume.

However, I would say the basics of data analysis is a very important skill. Excel plays a major role here, my professional life changed when I learnt how to use Concatenate, Vlookup formulas and pivot tables.

I also think that keeping your mind open is a skill.

In digital marketing, you can't deploy a technique thinking that you are always right and always follow the same techniques. Testing and adapting are key thing for me and that should be a skill.

Test an assumption, analyse the data and carry on is my motto.

9. What type of experiences are multilingual audiences looking for from brands? How can brands reflect this through their localisation strategies?

They want to fully trust a brand. They want to be heard by it and feel that the brand cares about them.

Having good content everywhere in the funnel (from Paid, to social, email, the blog and onsite) will be a win for brands and if the user feels understood (the right content is served to them, in the blog, for example) you'll have the most impact.

10. What's the best advice you received in your career so far?

To never stop asking questions - question everything.

Erika Varangouli and I worked together in International Digital Marketing for a while, and I think is one of the people that have inspired me the most to always continue growing.

Summing Up

As Carmen outlines, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to building effective international marketing campaigns. The disciplines of translation and localisation have evolved over alongside technology to become sophisticated components of international campaigns.

Similarly, at ICS-translate we value the power of integrating marketing and translations asan agency that works heavily across multiple highly competitive sectors to get the most out of global campaigns. Indeed, within our own Group our sister agency ICS-digital specialises in global SEO, digital PR, multilingual content marketing and more.

Carmen highlighted how copywriters, SEO specialists and translators should work together to maximise the impact of marketing activities on an international scale.

Analysing keywords, localising content and implementing that through various marketing channels is an effective process to move people through the funnel – so it goes without saying that being open-minded and agile is a skill that many translators and international marketers need to succeed not just in a role of an international marketer but in creating effective marketing plans.

So as Carmen said in this interview never stop asking questions, be agile, challenge your own assumptions and measure everything that you do!