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Multilingual SEO Essentials: Research Your Keywords

Christian Arno
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As everyone who has been involved in running an online business or website knows, if you don't get the right keywords to correctly signpost your site, you won't get any traffic diverting to your corner of the web.

Figuring out the right keywords to optimize your site is a tricky science, involving a balance between putting yourself in the shoes of your potential consumer to figure out what phrases they're likely to use to search for your products, and researching the frequency of keyword usage with tools like Google Keyword to see which are best to push through the competition to the top of the rankings.

But when it comes to deciding on the best keywords in other languages, the whole game changes. Different languages and cultures will approach the expression of their desires in different ways.

Simply taking your English keywords and then looking up their dictionary translations in each of your target languages won't yield effective results. Indeed, the most effective keyword for a product or service could be anything from a direct translation of the term into the target language, to a colloquialism, a synonym, or an adopted term from English or another language.

As an example, let's say that you're selling weekend holidays and want to start a French language website. The direct dictionary translation of your keyword "weekend holiday," as Google Translate would have it, is "week-end de vacance," but this doesn't show up on a keyword search in Google Keyword. However, "holiday rental" (a.k.a., "location vacance") gets more than 4 million hits, while other high ranking keywords for the French market include "maison vacance," "séjour," "sejour" (without the accent) and "vacance piscine."

Therefore, you need a three-pronged approach when working out your keywords for foreign markets.

Translate

The first step is to get your English keywords translated into their target language -- but don't just use a dictionary or Google Translate. To really get the proper literal translation of a term in the particular idiom of your market, you'll need the assistance of a professional translator who lives in the country you're targeting, who'll be up to date with the shifts in language and cultural references.

Brainstorm

This same translator can then help with stage two, and use their specific in-country knowledge to brainstorm other terms that their fellow citizens would be likely to use to search for your product. For instance, sticking with the "weekend holiday" example, a French company employing a British translator to brainstorm synonyms for "location vacance" into English would be told that "city-break" and "weekend getaway" are another two popular terms that express the same idea.

Research

The last stage is to thoroughly research your new list of keywords with a detailed data analysis of search trends in your target market. This should involve analyzing the keywords being used by your competitors -- which ones are working and which ones aren't -- as well as checking the data on usage for all your keywords and their variants.

The aim is to get a balance of the most popular keywords and the long-tail ones. Your super popular keywords are the most likely to be used, but there'll also be a lot more competition for rankings, while your long-tail keywords -- phrases consisting of three or more words -- will be searched for less often, but will be more likely to lead searchers directly to your site (e.g., "weekend holiday" is short tail, while "budget cottage holidays Britain" is long tail).

Employing a good mix of thoroughly thought-out and researched short- and long-tail keywords throughout your foreign language sites and PPC campaigns will mean you're ready to tackle any market, because you've been inside the minds of your foreign customers.

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