Multilingual SEO: The Keyword Translation Trap
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Multilingual SEO: The Keyword Translation Trap

Multilingual SEO: The Keyword Translation Trap

Smart MovePresenter Jon Ritzdorf is Moravia’s Solutions Architect and global SEO expert. He also teaches translation technologies and localization fundamentals at New York University, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the University of Chicago. In his webinar, “Steps to Effective Global SEO,” Jon walked us through some of the current trends in global SEO and how to implement successful multilingual SEO strategies. Here, he shares how keyword translation may not be enough.

So, we’re now ready. We’ve done our research. We know which search engines we’re going to need to research our market. We know which search engines our potential buyers will use to search for and find our products. Now it’s time to start our on-page multilingual SEO initiative.

The Bread Machine Example

Let’s say we are a leading U.S. company that specializes in producing and selling bread machines. According to Google Analytics — the predominant search and keyword tool in the U.S. — search terms “bread making machine” and “bread machine” have very high usage. Moreover, our existing web site boasts a very high level of density of those particular keywords, and our site ranks high on Google’s first page when consumers search for these types of products.

With a bit of additional digging in Google’s analytics tools we also learn those things that Americans are interested in when it comes to bread making: things like recipes, reviews, and supplies. They are also searching with terms like “whole wheat,” “healthy,” and “health conscious.” So, we know the motivation of our U.S. buyers.

Now let’s say that our bread machine company is interested in the Indonesian market. It’s got 250 million residents, one of the most impressive growth markets in today’s economy, and consumers who eat a lot of bread. Not only are there a lot of bakeries in Indonesia, Western bread styles are becoming very popular there.

When we translate “bread machine” into Indonesian and use that translation in search, we find considerably different results. Whereas our U.S. consumers are focusing on recipes, supplies, and whole wheat and other healthy things to put into our bread machines, the Indonesian market wants something else. That is, Indonesian consumers are focused on affordability and use search teams that are related to price, even searching for “where can I find a used bread maker.”

Translation Not Localization?

One of the first things we usually recommend is that clients start with just this kind of simple keyword translation. Notice that I didn’t say localization. It’s a fine start to simply take words, to translate them as best as we can into the target language, and to then see what kinds of statistics and research we can get back from that. Once we’ve seen the results that these terms get from the search engines and their analytics tools we can adapt and truly localize those keywords.

So, now, we have to ask ourselves as a bread machine company, What is our keyword strategy going to be to sell bread machines in Indonesia? Making a very simple choice, we could use “bread machine,” which shows over 18,000 monthly searches in the U.S., but in its Indonesian translation form it will yield 390 monthly searches. We could just do it that way, a one to one correlation.

A Butter-for-Your-Bread Strategy

But this other actionable data — the information that Indonesians aren’t searching for bread machine products like U.S. consumers are — is really potentially useful. Maybe we should go for a different approach. Maybe our keywords — which were focused on what U.S. consumers wanted in the machines —  should focus instead on what Indonesian consumers want of the machines. Namely, we should frame our message around affordability of our product … or the very good reasons for why our particular bread maker is more expensive than competing brands.

When you really get into globalizing search, you start to realize that these keyword differences matter. You can really see buyer behavior through search. While you can see how one particular source keyword translates in the target markets, you also can see that it doesn’t necessarily translate into similar performance results.

So what can you do to improve your multilingual SEO performance for your target markets?

  • First of all, consider that there may be multiple different variants on the keyword in the target.
  • Secondly, consider putting boots to the ground. Work with localization vendors who can provide you an in-country perspective on who’s using the product and, of course, how they are searching for the product online.
  • And, finally, depending on what your market motivation has become for the target country, consider choosing a different set of keywords altogether. Just as we covered previously in a post on transcreation (also called marketing localization), delivering effective multilingual SEO will mean seeding your content with keywords that make sense for your target market as well as ensuring that the marketing approach is right for both your brand and your target market’s local buyers.

With a smart translation, localization, and transcreation approach, you’re arming your web sites with the multilingual SEO tools to get the job done right. Of course, let us know how we can help!

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