Building an online business from zero has never been easy, especially when you have eyes on expanding to a new and overseas market. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is always one of the keys to success. How to get your SEO strategy right if you are a foreign business looking to triumph in Hong Kong?
Localization plays a considerably determining role. No matter what languages people speak, search engine users always want to look for information in their first language. While Google is an international search engine giant operating in more than 200 countries using algorithms to read human behaviors, we are still living in a culturally diversified world that your fabulous products and services may get “lost in translation” on the other side of the planet without naturally written, localized, and search engine optimized content.
6 Essential Elements Lead your SEO Strategy from Global to Local in Hong Kong Market
To kickstart your online businesses in Hong Kong, make sure you follow the right content practices that give your brand online visibility, useful leads, and profitable conversions. Here are the six must-dos for your Hong Kong SEO and localization strategy.
1. Know your customers’ preferences on search engine
Hong Kong is one of the most populated cities in the world, physically and virtually. In 2019, the internet penetration rate in this tiny hometown of 7 million people was 87%, and the figure was predicted to increase to 93% by 2025.
Google is always the number one search engine in Hong Kong, which has occupied nearly 90% of the market. Looking at the data of all Hong Kong websites I have managed, Google is always the primary source of organic traffics. When startups and SMEs are planning their Search Engine Optimization strategy, they should have no hesitation in making Google their primary focus.
Meanwhile, its competitors, such as Yahoo!, Bing, and Baidu, are only used by a tiny proportion of users. The small search volume brought by those non-Google search engines sounds almost neglectable, but businesses should make sure their websites are technically ready so their content can always get crawled smoothly across all search engines.
2. Localize and transcreate your content
Hong Kong is a bi-literate and trilingual city where 88.9% of people speak Cantonese daily. The second popular language is English (4.3%), followed by Other Chinese dialects (3.1% ), Mandarin / Putonghua (1.9%), and other languages (1.9%).
Traditional Chinese is the written format of Chinese characters widely used in Hong Kong (the same as people in Taiwan and Macau), in contrast to the Simplified Chinese written by people in the Mainland of China, Singapore, and Malaysia.
While everyone knows using a translation machine will be a disaster when setting up a website in foreign languages, companies must avoid doing a word-to-word translation of marketing content when they are going international. A slang that is joyful in English may not deliver the same impression when a direct translation into another language is done without considering the local culture, habits, beliefs, and the latest social trends. Use localized phrases and words according to the audience’s cultural background is always the best practice.
For example, if a U.S. investment broker is opening a local branch in Hong Kong, it must change the investment guide according to the local language, taxation system, securities regulations. A U.K. online fashion seller looking for overseas customers may highlight international shipping and return policy and display photos of models from multiple nationalities. The seller should create landing pages depending on what the customers from the targeted location care about, while word-to-word translated content usually sounds far less attractive.
3.Pay attention to bilingual content and mixed language keywords
Hong Kong is a bilingual society in which English heavily influences the way people speak Cantonese. Hong Kong people always mingle English with Cantonese in a single sentence or even a single phrase. Therefore, it is ubiquitous that English keywords are optimized even if you are working on Traditional Chinese content.
For example, Cantonese speakers commonly use English terms like “debit card” (扣賬卡), “facial” (美容) and “email” (電郵), deadline (最後限期) instead of its Cantonese alternative. Moreover, people frequently phrases or terms mixed with Cantonese and English such as “做gym” (hit the gym), “寫app” (making a mobile app), M記 (McDonald’s) in daily life.
This language habit may play a significant role in shaping people’s searching behavior when voice search becomes increasingly popular.
When creating a bilingual website for the Hong Kong audience, you can use the hreflang tags to tell the search engine which language you are using on the page, so people using either English or Cantonese will find their best results.
4.Make your funnel works locally
Understand locals’ search intent and set up effective funnels are vitally important. Marketers should pay extra attention to the high traffic keywords of the local market. That means they should specifically work on Cantonese keyword research when preparing to launch a Hong Kong website instead of simply reusing the U.S. market’s materials.
Checking the keywords’ search volume is an essential step in defining the right keywords for an organic conversion funnel. Marketers may found that many famous international SEO management tools do not have a robust database in Cantonese (Traditional Chinese) keywords. Among all the mainstream keyword checkers, SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool contains more than 78 million keywords in its Hong Kong database and is one of the most reliable for the Hong Kong market.
A conversion funnel’s content may include blog posts, landing pages, videos, social media posts, webinars. Your SEO localization content can always go beyond your website and cover various third-party social media platforms and websites. You will need a Hong Kong content marketing specialist‘s help or do deeper research to determine which channels are the most convertible for your products.
5.Go Local and build local backlinks
Building backlinks is the universal practice that SEO marketers are doing for more than a decade. Backlinks are the ways one website gives credit to another, and hence it tells Goggle how trustable and credible your website is. Here are four useful ways of building local backlinks that make your website closer to your target local audience.
- Google My Business Listing: It’s a free Google service that ensures people will find your content but not someone else when searching for your brand name. It shows your company’s logo, address in Google map, service hours, contact number, link to your website, and customers’ reviews. It’s the most straightforward action to dominate the potential customers’ first impression of your brand. Every local business shouldn’t be hesitant in setting up a Google My Business account.
- Local media exposure: Getting featured in a newspaper or magazine is a traditional but always useful way to connect a brand to the local end-users. You can start by looking up the relevant local media in Hong Kong and then reach out to the press via email or contact the journalist via LinkedIn. When doing media pitchings, make sure you contribute relevant content that both the journalists and their audience care about the most. Journalists have no obligations and interests to promote your brand, so try not to be pushy and salesy.
- Sponsored content: If you want to take the lead in deciding how the media or influencers write about your brand, you may go for buying a piece of sponsored content. You will then gain media and social exposure with your desired writing angle and even decide what anchor texts in the backlinks. However, the major setback is that sponsored content is usually less appealing to the audience if written unnaturally.
- Directory websites: Adding backlinks in local directories or yellow pages give your website link juice and even attract some organic visitors. The impact may not be as strong as having your brand featured by a media or recommended by an influencer, but listing your website on a directory only request a meager budget and time.
6.Hire local experts
On a global scale, it’s no doubt that marketing companies and experts from the English-speaking world are leading the game. However, A local language and content specialist is irreplaceable in creating a successful localized SEO strategy because they are the ones who understand the best about your local customers’ buying and searching behavior, and they are the ones who know which media outlets and social influencers are the most relevant to your audience. A naive Cantonese SEO marketer and writer help you make sure the content fits the tastes of both the local readers and the search engine.
I work with big foreign agencies and companies as a consultant or localization specialist for local clients in Hong Kong on many occasions. Whether you are an agency looking for a localization solution for Hong Kong clients or foreign startups entering the Hong Kong market, feel free to chat with me and share with me your questions about doing SEO in Hong Kong.