Multilingual Keyword Research in Five Steps

exclusive-seo-bWith Chitika reporting that half of Google search traffic is shared by the top two results, we know SEO matters. However, in this age of frequent search engine algorithm changes, finding the right balance has become a fine art.

This is just as true for foreign-language SEO as it is for English-language campaigns. While adding the right keywords is still essential to attract relevant international traffic, overdoing it can earn a site or blog a hefty slap.

A successful multilingual SEO campaign will focus on keywords with a high conversion rate, without the need to resort to keyword stuffing or other risky tactics.

Step 1: Translate Keywords, Avoiding Pitfalls

Tried and tested keywords from English-language campaigns offer a good place to start. When translating, look for equivalents that best capture the specific meaning of a phrase.

Unfortunately, while Web translation tools can churn out quick results, these are often too literal and grammatically incorrect. Your ‘shiny blue widget’ can easily end up as a ‘bright blue’ or ‘light blue’ widget, even in a language with similar roots. Incoherent or embarrassing translations become even harder to avoid with diverse language pairs, such as English to Japanese.

False friends are another potential pitfall. Because these words look or sound like their English-language equivalents, it’s all too easy to use them in the wrong context. The French delai and avertissement might look familiar, however, they respectively translate as deadline and warning. Similarly, be careful with words such as the German ordinär which means vulgar.

Step 2: Focus on Real-World Search Terms 

Besides making sense in the target language, keywords also need to reflect the way people actually search. In our frenzied world, we tend to be as concise as possible. This especially is the case when searching on the small screens of mobile devices.

Seek out the words or phrases a native speaker of your target language would type into a search engine. Take regional variations of world languages into consideration here. Just as U.S. search terms can change in other varieties of English, be aware for example that a Brazilian would search for a tela (computer screen) but someone in Portugal would opt for ecrã. Watch out too for situations where speakers of other languages favor the English term over a translation, particularly when talking about new technologies.

Step 3: Refine using Keyword Tools

As in English SEO, opt for search terms that match high popularity with modest competition. Keyword analysis using one of the SEO tools will confirm whether your translated, real-world search terms can deliver the traffic you want. Be aware that languages with less widespread markets, such as Turkish or Japanese, will not yield the search volumes of an equivalent English-language term. However, there’s an upside to this: the competition is often much lower for those same keywords, making it easier to dominate a niche.

Note that the Google AdWords keyword tool is being retired, and you will need an AdWords account to access the replacement Keyword Planner. Prefer an alternative? Bing Keyword Research is an option, provided you’re signed up for Bing Webmaster Tools. You can refine your search by language, including regional variations to focus on particular countries, such as Spanish used in Mexico or Chinese used in Singapore. Use it in conjunction with the free Bing Ads Intelligence extension to export keywords to Microsoft Excel. Wordtracker and Wordpot are other popular research tools with the free versions to get you started, though you’ll need to pay for full functionality.

Step 4: Optimize for the Top Five Search Engines

The world’s top five search engines include two where the primary language isn’t English. Yandex dominates the Russian market with a 61.9 percent market share and 95 million world-wide users. Baidu has a 78.6 percent share of China’s market, which now totals in excess of 564 million Web users. Optimize to rank well in these search engines for your reach to be truly global.

Keep an eye on rising stars of regional search, particularly in Asian markets. Sogou and Soso are smaller players in China, and Naver dominates in South Korea, followed by Daum. In the Middle East, Maktoob’s Araby search engine provides Arabic search, as does Onkosh.

Step 5: Monitor and Adapt

In Web marketing, it pays to remember there’s nothing so constant as change. Expect to see search terms rise and fall in popularity.

Google’s Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools allow you to analyze keyword performance over time. Alternatives such as Clicky and Woopra offer real-time data imposed on a world map, revealing who visits from which countries, and which search terms brought them.

As soon as a previously popular search term no longer performs, be prepared to seek out a better one. Analytics can be useful here too, revealing actual search terms which you could have overlooked, particularly long-tail ones. Aim to include these in your content and then watch to see if you have a new winner on your hands.

Christian Arno is the founder of translation services provider
of Lingo24, Inc. . Launched in 2001, Lingo24, Inc. now has more than 200 employees spanning four continents and clients in more than 60 countries. Follow Lingo24, Inc. on Twitter: @Lingo24

About the author


Christian Arno

Christian Arno is the Managing Director of Lingo24. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter @Lingo24.


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  • Thanks for sharing these essential tips. I think keyword research should be done with proper care and analysis as these are the main factors that will make you publicize your products and services in an efficient and qualitative manner.

  • Indeed, many translations can not accurately express our true meaning, because it is not the human brain.

  • In addition to the keywords on the surface, we have to tap the potential keywords.

  • is it really possible to optimize for all the top 5 search engines?

    That will be a lil bit difficult cos of language issues and also each search engines has their own personal policy which might not work interchangeably