Are you speaking the same language as your target group?

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englishThe copy on your website may be in English, but are you reaching the right English speaking audience? There are two major forms of English: British and American English. While those familiar with American English will generally have no problems reading a website in British English and vice versa, the form of English you use on your website has a significant impact on whether or not you’ll be found by your target group.

This is especially true when selecting keywords for your website. These can make or break a site because no matter how great the content on your site may be, if it can’t be found by your target group in search engines, you won’t generate much traffic or many conversions.

So how can you ensure you’re attracting the right visitors to your English website?

Get to know your target group
Obviously if you’re located in the US you’ll want to use American English on your website and if you’re in the UK you’ll use British English. But what if you’re an international company? In that case you’ll need to identify which form of English your target group uses most.
This can be done with the help of various online tools:
The Google AdWords Keyword Tool is helpful as it allows you to set both a language and a region when researching keywords. By selecting English as the language and the country or countries your business wants to target, you can get a clearer picture of the keywords your target group is using.
Say you’re a travel agency that wants to target English speakers in the Netherlands and you want to know which keyword would be better – ‘holiday’ or ‘vacation’. By setting the language to English and the region to the Netherlands, you can see which term is more popular in that country (in this case ‘holiday’):

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Google Trends can also help you with this type of keyword research as you can select specific countries and even sub regions within those countries. This is very useful when trying to determine local trends. Here is a screenshot using the same example of ‘vacation’ and ‘holiday’ in the Netherlands:

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Spelling
Along with differences in word choice between the two major forms of English, it’s also important to be aware of spelling differences. You want to make sure you’re using the same spelling for keywords that your target group uses so they’ll be more likely to find you. A few of the common spelling differences between British and American English are:
• -or vs. –our: color (AmE) vs. colour (BrE)
• -ze vs. –se: analyze (AmE) vs. analyse (BrE)
• -er vs. –re: center (AmE) vs. centre (BrE)
There are a number of online sources that can help you identify some of the more common spelling differences between British and American English. Here is an example:

http://www.askoxford.com/betterwriting/us/?view=uk

Same word, different meaning
You’ll also come across words that are pronounced and spelled the same, but have a different meaning, depending on the form of English being used. A common example is the word ‘chips’. In the UK chips are what Americans would call french fries. To an American chips are what the British refer to as crisps. Another example would be ‘pitch’. Usually this refers to a playing field in the UK such as a football (or perhaps you call it soccer) or rugby pitch while in America the word is normally used to describe the delivery of a baseball from a pitcher to a batter. Biscuit, wardrobe, vest, chemist, football, mad- the list goes on and on. All of these words can have different meanings depending on the form of English.

Be consistent

You may be tempted to try to attract as much traffic as possible to your website by using both forms of English. But that’s not a good idea. Using different spellings and/or meanings of the same word on one website looks sloppy and unprofessional. This will cause visitors to lose trust in the website and the company it represents.

Conclusion
English is not the only language that has different forms. This holds true for many other widely spoken languages including French and Spanish. It’s therefore extremely important to conduct proper and thorough keyword research when preparing copy for your international website. Ideally you want native speakers to perform this research as they’re most familiar with the language and any possible differences between its various forms. Traffic4u has a native English Keyword and Content Specialist on staff who can perform keyword analyses and write copy for your organisation’s website.

3 reacties

  • maaike 17 november 2009 at 13:56

    Love the article (&picture!) So what should it be… optimization or optimisation? 😀

  • Chantal Bakker 9 december 2009 at 16:26

    Definitely an interesting subject. But…

    I miss the ‘How to..’ bit on same language, different countries as in both on ONE site.

    What if I want to focus on both American English AND British English? Or worse… native and non-native speaker ‘Idiolect’ and still profit from the value of the same website, in two variations of (nearly) the same language without starting all over again as far as SEO is concerned.

    Especially the non-native speaker bit worries me… mostly because clients expect one magical translation and a new IP-address to do the trick…

    I would love to dive into this subject together!

  • Kristen Leavey 14 december 2009 at 11:36

    Thanks for your comments Chantal. If you really want to target both British and American audiences I’d suggest making separate versions of a website(with unique content of course) for each form of English. This allows you to target different keywords and also alter the tone of your texts for American and British visitors. The Holland.com website uses this technique to target the US, UK & Ireland and Canada (http://www.lekkerweg.nl/nl/) by allowing users to choose their location in the ‘traveling from’ dropdown at the top right.

    If you don’t have the time or resources to make separate pages then you’ll want to select your keywords based on search volume in the countries you want to target. But it’s important to keep in mind that you should not use the two different forms on the same version of a site because it comes across as unprofessional to visitors.

    As for non-native speakers it’s important to keep texts simple and avoid using jargon or sayings they might not be familiar with. This also holds true for copywriting for native speakers too.

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