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September 9, 2013

Multilingual Keyword Selection: The Importance of Cultural Adaptation

Cultural adaptation is very important in today’s business environment. The main idea of cultural adaptation is to have all the information localized completely from the original language to the target language without losing any of the meaning or context. This usually requires knowledge and

familiarity with specific business practices and communications in both of the languages in order to facilitate correct articulation. The better the understanding of both the social and business language of a particular country, the better the result.


An important factor that is sometimes overlooked is the adaptation of keywords to suit the cultural environment in which they will be used. Different countries and regions use different terminology to describe the world around them. This means that when somebody from one country says something, somebody from another country may understand it differently, even if they speak the same native language. Talk to a person from the U.K. and the term ‘mobile’ would be used to describe a portable telephone, whereas ‘cellphone’ is the preferred term in the USA, ‘Handy’ in Germany and ‘GSM’ in Belgium. All of these phrases are different ways of describing the same object but are relevant to their specific country or region. It’s very important to take these factors into account when marketing your product to different audiences around the world, even if they do speak the same language.

For example, French speakers in Belgium would use the term ‘GSM’ but French speakers in France would use the term ‘portable.’ If you wish to gain the most returns from your marketing investment, using the correct keywords for the localization of your website is very important, but all too often underestimated.

If you wish to attract the right target audience, keyword selection is vital for web page search engine optimization (SEO).


When choosing keywords it’s important to consider two factors:

  • Is this keyword relevant to my page?
  • Will people enter this keyword into their Web browser?

The effects of good keyword selection won’t be felt immediately and this is worth keeping in mind if you wish to use the SEO approach. If you are looking for instant results, it may be a better option to investigate SEA and PPC techniques to boost your website’s position, though this comes at a cost to your wallet. If we look at the previous example in more detail, you can identify whether Belgian users are more receptive to ‘GSM’ or ‘téléphone mobile’ and optimize your website accordingly.

If you do not take the necessary measures to culturally adapt your keywords, you may risk neglecting significant audiences and losing traffic to your website. The table below demonstrates the vast differences in the usage of terms across different countries:

GSM 550,000 450,000
Téléphone portable 8,100 823,000
Téléphone mobile 9,900 823,000
Téléphone cellulaire 110 2,900

Table comparing the differences in terminology between two French speaking counties, France and Belgium (Source: Google, 2012)

Finally, when providing content to an audience it’s vital that you use the terminology and styling suited to the region you wish to target, taking cultural sensitivities and differences into consideration. Taking this approach when selecting keywords is a sure-fire way to demonstrate your understanding of the needs of your customers, readers or viewers.

James Norman is a copywriter, MO Group International,  an award winning multilingual SEO provider, offering services in keyword optimization, copywriting and social media management. With linguistic expertise in more than 40 different languages, MO Group International delivers high-quality Web content, written by native speakers. MO Group International has experience in both small and large-scale projects, catering to the cultural and linguistic needs of both its clients and its customers. For more information, visit