Doing Multilingual Keyword Research that Works

So you’ve got your new websites ready to go in dozens of different languages, and it’s time to get down to SEO business…

Anyone with a website knows how crucial SEO is to see that all-important traffic, and it’s no different on the multilingual internet. What is different, however, is the research you will have to undertake to get the right keywords.

Unfortunately it’s not always as simple just translating your current keywords into your target language, word-for-word – different languages use different ways to search for their needs, and unless you’re aware of this, your hits will stay depressingly low.

If you’re optimising your website for a foreign language, follow these tips to make sure you get the traffic you need, whatever language your users speak.

Multilingual Sign

1. Know what your target user is searching for

Don’t assume your foreign language audience is looking for the same things as an English language user. Abbreviations, slang terms and language-specific phrases are all to be taken into account. It happens in English—consider an American’s ‘sneakers’ to a Briton’s ‘trainers’—but one of the only ways to know these nuances is to be a speaker of the language you’re translating into (a human translation service can help you with this one). On top of this, multilingual sites are also multicultural sites, so pick out the best foreign-language keywords according to your target’s cultural interests.

2. Treat translation software and websites carefully

While software and websites such as Google Translate can be a very cost-effective solution to your translation needs, most of them are not up to par. Only a few will give you a comprehensive breakdown of precise sentence structure, and most are basic direct translations. If you do decide to go down this route, however, the best sites will put the word into a sentence so you can ensure the meaning corresponds with what you intend. Indeed, Google SEO guru, Matt Cutts, advises against using Google Translate to do the hard work for you, pointing out that you could find your finely-crafted website ending up as web spam.

3. Use a reliable source to do your translation

The best way to get an accurate translation is undoubtedly a human service. But don’t immediately dismiss this as being a pricey solution – there are many students or keen foreign language learners who can provide translation at competitive prices. A post on Craigslist is bound to attract plenty of candidates, but make sure you get proof of their previously published work to guarantee they are up to the job. The very best translation service, however, will be produced by a human living in the country of the language you wish to translate into. They can help you to brainstorm ideas and point out useful words and phrases known only to a native speaker.

4. Consider a targeted URL

One way to ensure you’ll be targeting people from the right countries is to invest in a country code top-level domain (ccTLD). For example, www.mysite.es for Spain or www.mysite.pl for Poland. Not only will it help your site(s) to appear in search engines within that country, if potential customers think you’re a local company, it’ll automatically help them to put more trust in you and your business. This can be expensive, however, so if this isn’t an option for you, then consider going down the subdirectory route. This fairly easy option involves adding another directory for your chosen country/language onto the end of your English language site (e.g. www.mysite.com/es). However, it holds no real benefit for search engine rankings, so should be used only as a last resort.

5. Keep it simple and use your keywords wisely

Over-complicating your keywords and phrases means you will only have more chance of getting it wrong and losing credibility. Certainly avoid branded keywords when fresh on the market – if prospective users are unfamiliar with your brand and your services then they won’t be searching for you. And you’ll need a good range; overusing too few keywords will inevitably frustrate the reader who won’t want to stick around to read the rest of your site, even if it is in their language. You can check you have the right amount of keywords on any URL using a keyword density tool.

6. Don’t forget about key phrases

As well as a good selection of primary keywords, you should also include some phrases/long tail keywords to bring in extra traffic, but proceed with caution. Dealing with more than just a single word makes correct sentence construction and word order highly important to avoid garbled ‘Spanglish’ text. Do remember to take a look at the kind of keyword phrases your (successful!) foreign competitors are using and tailor your text accordingly—you need to be aiming for the highest number of clicks against the lowest competition from others on the web.

7. Test, test and test again

Using tests and tools to see which foreign language phrases work best for you could really help get your website off the ground, particularly if it’s in a niche area, a complicated language or is a fledgling brand. There are plenty out there to see how many search results your keywords get – there’s no need to rely just on Google AdWords—the  Keyword Discovery is a great resource. Tracking the success of your multilingual keyword campaign is similar to your English language strategy—you’ll still need to take into account the click-throughs and conversions from search engines, but you’ll need to do it on a larger scale and across several search engines. While Google may reign supreme in the USA, Yandex is the search engine of choice in Russia.

Above all, remember that one slip-up in translating a phrase or main keyword could mean disappointing results. So don’t trip over your translations – with the right approach, a multilingual website can bring in all the clicks you need to boost your rankings.

Christian Arno

Christian Arno is the founder of global translation company Lingo24 in 2001 in Aberdeen, UK.

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