While it is often regarded as the lingua franca of the internet, English is not quite the dominant online force many imagine it to be. It is still the single most widely used online language, according to Internet World Stats, but Chinese is now running a close second – and three-quarters of all web surfers speak a native language other than English. Clearly, a multilingual approach is required to truly reach the global market the internet puts within reach.
There are many issues of design and accessibility to be addressed when it comes to localising your websites for foreign language markets – design, images and colours – but the translation of your content and the search engine optimisation of your sites are undoubtedly the most important.
Ideally, you’ll have your content translated by a native speaker of the target language, as this helps retain the nuances of the content and eliminate the mistakes that machine translation is liable to throw up, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far you can opt to add a widget such as Google Translate to your site.
However, even if you do go for the machine translation option for your web content, you should never leave your SEO to chance by just directly translating your keywords and leaving it at that. The popular keywords in one country may bear no resemblance to those used in another country, as synonyms, colloquialisms, abbreviations or even appropriations from another language might be more popular alternatives. There are three simple steps that can be followed to make sure that your foreign language sites are using the most effective keywords for their markets, which I’ve detailed below.
Translate and brainstorm alternatives
A literal dictionary translation of a keyword should not be relied upon as the final word, but it can serve as a jumping off point. You have, presumably, spent time and effort researching keywords for your English language site, so there’s no point letting these efforts go to waste. Translate your English keywords into the other language, and then brainstorm some alternative terms in the foreign language, or think of English alternatives and then translate these.
As an example, a literal French translation of ‘car insurance’ would be ‘l’assurance automobile‘. However, Google’s keyword tool shows that this is not a popular search term, with ‘assurance auto‘ and ‘assurance voiture‘ being far more successful. At this stage, the assistance of a native speaker can be invaluable in brainstorming popular alternative terms.
It’s worth bearing in mind that some languages, such as German, retain a lot of English words for popular usage, especially technical terms. Your English keywords might work better in some instances than the translations. You should also remember that languages vary from one territory to another. In Spain, ‘coche’ means ‘car’, while in Latin America, the same Spanish word means ‘baby-stroller’ – quite a difference if you happen to be marketing automobiles or prams!
Research using data analytics
Once you have a list of potential keywords, you’re ready to check them with Google’s keyword tool. Ideally you’re looking for search terms that have relatively high traffic and relatively low competition. The bad news is you’re unlikely to find both in a single keyword. The good news is that, as mentioned above, English is still the most commonly used online language, so this means that there will be less competition for keywords in, say, French or Czech.
Check out how often each of your potential keywords is used in each market, and then decide on a mix of popular ‘short tail’ keywords and more specific ‘long tail’ keywords, to be used in your content and AdWords campaigns.
Also, while Google is the most popular search engine worldwide, in some areas, local competitors are dominant. Baidu is the most commonly used search engine in China, for example, while Yandex is the market leader in Russia, so you’ll need to refine your SEO approach for each search engine and use their data analysis tools (Baidu Keyword and Yandex Wordstat) to check your keywords – a native speaker will definitely come in handy here.
Refine your results
Keyword trends can change with alarming speed so don’t forget to check your performance at least every month, and refine your keywords, casting aside those that are not bringing in traffic and boosting those that are. Check your competitors to see what keywords they’re using, and look at your own stats to see what search terms people are already finding you with. Keyword research is an ongoing process but, if you put in the effort, you should also reap the rewards.