SEO localization: avoiding the pitfalls of keyword translation

SEO-optimized texts are essential if you want customers to find their way to your website, and doubly so if you’re trying to capture a new market. If your keywords are already working well in one language, you might be tempted to just translate them along with the rest of your site. We explain why that’s not a good idea – and what to do instead.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is based on a simple question: what will people type into a search engine to find my product? If the keywords that they enter match those on your website, potential customers will find you. Sounds straightforward, right? But there are still plenty of tips and tricks to keep in mind when writing your SEO content – discover ours here.

Now let’s move on to the translation of SEO texts. If you want to offer your product on another market, you’ll need an SEO-optimized website in the local language. Here’s how to make it happen:

1. Understand the difference between translation and localization

Is this your fall collection, or your autumn collection? Does your snack business sell cookies, or biscuits? The US and the UK are notorious for being separated by a common language, and while “fall collection” will get you plenty of search engine hits stateside, “autumn collection” will do better business in the UK.

Things only get more complicated when you add other languages into the mix. Google Translate will tell you that the German for “bike” is “Fahrrad”, but not if you’re selling to the German-speaking part of Switzerland – there, it’s the French-influenced “Velo”.

Clearly, a literal translation won’t get you the hits your business needs, whether your product is clothes, cookies or cycle gear. Instead, keywords need to be adapted to each market’s idiosyncratic search habits. Which brings us to our next point.

2. Know your search engine

Google may be the most popular search engine in most areas of the world, but in Russia and China – both huge markets – users prefer Yandex and Baidu. And, just like the users themselves, each search engine has its own quirks. For example, Yandex is particularly sensitive to spelling and grammar errors, and Baidu still places significant weight on meta-keywords, which are now less relevant for Google. So it makes sense to hire an SEO specialist who understands the requirements of your specific search engine and can find exactly the right keywords for your business.

3. Employ native speakers

More and more people now speak a second (or third, or fourth, or…) language fluently, but it’s still very difficult to write as effectively in a foreign language as you can in your native one. And readers won’t give you points for trying – they’re more likely to simply consider your text substandard. In the worst-case scenario, it could even lead them to dismiss your product. By contrast, a native translator offers not only a high-level grasp of your target language but also intercultural expertise. They can create a text that’s both grammatically flawless and tailored to the nuances of your target culture.

4. Create added value

Getting people excited about your company should be your top priority – after all, search engines aren’t going to buy your product. That’s why, once you’ve decided on your keywords, it’s time for a creative translation, or transcreation. Unlike a standard translation, which simply conveys the meaning of the original, a transcreation weaves together this meaning with new cultural and linguistic references while elegantly incorporating your chosen keywords.

5. Localize everything

Localized search engine optimization is a fundamental part of taking your business international. But it’s far from the only part: you’ll also need to check whether the rest of your website suits your target market. What cultural connotations do the elements of your corporate identity have there? Do the colors, symbols and images have different meanings for your new customers? If you want to succeed on a global scale, you have to think local.

Title image via Twenty20

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