SEO Localisation: Why you can't simply Google translate your English keyword research

The key to successful SEO localisation lies in understanding that language is more than just a means of communication: it's a gateway to the culture, the feelings, and all the local nuances that make up your potential international customers.

One key aspect of this localisation process is effectively translating keyword research from English into the target language. It may seem like a simple task, but the implications of an improper translation can be far-reaching and detrimental to a company's online presence. By investing in accurate and culturally sensitive keyword translations businesses can unlock the true potential of international markets.

In this article, we will delve into the best practices for SEO localisation, exploring how companies can effectively adapt their keyword strategies to resonate with global audiences at a local level, boost their search engine rankings and forge authentic connections with customers worldwide.

Alberto Garcia-Magdaleno

Senior SEO Analyst

The importance of having a relevant keyword set

Let's take a moment to understand what keywords really are and why they play a pivotal role in SEO localisation.

Keywords aren’t just words, they represent core ideas and concepts about a certain topic, and these ideas are deeply rooted in cultural and linguistic contexts. Some may not have a direct equivalent in other languages, while others might carry entirely different connotations, sometimes even offensive.

Another challenge arises when dealing with synonyms. While certain words may have similar meanings, their usage can vary greatly depending on the context.

Online translation tools can be helpful for simple word-for-word translations, but they often lack the understanding of the broader context and subtleties of language. As a result, relying solely on automated translation tools can lead to keyword choices that fail to capture the essence of the intended message.

Mere translation of English keywords without considering the linguistic and cultural nuances of the target audience can lead to the usage of irrelevant or even inappropriate terms, and therefore, poor rankings, reduced website traffic, and, most importantly, alienation of potential customers.

To overcome these hurdles, SEO localisation requires a human touch — an understanding of the cultural, social, and linguistic intricacies of the target market.

At iCrossing we have an audience-first approach, employing native-speaking experts who are well-versed in both the language and culture. This ensures that your keyword research is accurately adapted to the intended local audience, enabling them to foster a sense of trust and familiarity with your brand.

What to have in mind when localising SEO:
  • Regional differences: Just as there are variations in English usage between countries, the same holds true for other languages. Different regions may have distinct dialects, idiomatic expressions and cultural references that lead to varying keyword preferences. For instance, a term commonly used by British users might not resonate with Americans, and vice versa. Now think of how this principle applies to Spanish speakers in Mexico and Spain, French Speakers in Canada and France, German speakers in Austria or Germany.

    These regional differences are crucial considerations in SEO localisation, as using the wrong terminology can alienate potential customers and hinder the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

  • False friends: False friends are words that sound similar in different languages but have entirely different meanings. Translation tools often struggle to identify such linguistic nuances, leading to erroneous keyword choices. For example, in German, "Karte" can mean both "card" and "chart" or "map" in English.

    Relying solely on translated keyword lists can result in unintentional mistakes and may lead to irrelevant content being presented to your audience. To avoid these pitfalls, it's vital to understand the target language and employ human expertise to ensure an accurate keyword selection.

  • Search Volume: While some keywords may exist across multiple countries or regional variations of a language, their search volume can vary significantly due to cultural differences. Even if, for example, French speakers in Canada and France share similar vocabulary, their search behaviours and preferences might differ.

    A thorough understanding of the target audience's culture and interests is crucial in localising SEO effectively. Tailoring your keyword research to suit the specific needs and preferences of each region ensures better rankings and greater engagement with your audience.

  • The speed of everyday culture: Language is a living entity that evolves with time and reflects the current state of society. New words and phrases emerge regularly in response to cultural events, news, or trends. Online translation tools often struggle to keep up with these zeitgeisty keywords or may provide literal translations that lack relevance. To stay ahead in the dynamic digital landscape, businesses need to be attuned to the ever-changing cultural landscape of their target markets.

    This involves staying up to date with linguistic trends using native-speaking experts, and actively monitoring cultural shifts to incorporate relevant and trending keywords into your SEO strategies.

Investing time and resources in human-powered localisation efforts ensures that your content resonates authentically with international audiences, paving the way for increased website traffic, higher conversion rates and lasting customer loyalty.

Remember, effective SEO localisation isn't just about translating words; it's about speaking the language of your global audience and forging genuine connections across linguistic and cultural boundaries.

Tips to completing international keyword research:
  • Always ensure you have a native speaker complete the research: Native speakers are invaluable assets when it comes to international keyword research. Their innate understanding of the language, its nuances, and the cultural context allows them to identify the most appropriate and relevant keywords. At iCrossing we make sure our native-speaking experts complete the research, as they can discern regional variations, slang, and idiomatic expressions, ensuring that your keywords resonate with the local audience in a natural and authentic way.

  • Analyse competitors in the target market: Competitive analysis is a powerful strategy in SEO localisation. Studying the keywords used by your competitors who are already successful in the target market can give you invaluable insights into the preferences and behaviours of the local audience. By identifying the keywords that drive their traffic and conversions, you can refine your own keyword strategy and potentially discover new keyword opportunities that your competitors may have overlooked.

  • Leverage local customer feedback and reviews: Customer feedback and reviews can be a goldmine of information for international keyword research. Analysing what customers are saying in their own words can provide valuable clues about the language they use, the specific terms they search for, and the pain points they are trying to address. These insights can help you identify relevant long-tail keywords and tailor your content to address the specific needs of the local market.

  • Consider seasonal trends: A successful international keyword strategy also considers local seasonal trends. Staying attuned to local trends and events allows you to adapt your keyword strategy to maximise your online visibility during peak periods. For example, the Winter months in Argentina are June to September, so remember to have this in mind when tailoring your keyword research as your audience’s needs might not include beachwear and sunscreen.

Closing thoughts

In the competitive landscape of SEO, the foundation of success lies in the accuracy and relevance of your keyword research, and it becomes evident that just translating your English keywords into other languages is far from the best approach. The risks of using irrelevant keywords and misinterpreting cultural nuances can lead to missed opportunities and alienation of potential customers.

iCrossing’s approach to SEO localisation includes enlisting the expertise of native speakers to gather a well-crafted list of relevant keywords, tailored for the intended language, country, and region, to show visitors that we not only understand their language but also empathise with their needs and preferences.

The result is content that resonates with the audience on a personal level, cultivating trust and authenticity. As our content becomes more accessible and appealing to a wider audience, the potential for conversion grows exponentially, increasing the likelihood of turning visitors into loyal customers.

SEO localisation is not just a strategic move for any brand; it is an invitation to be part of a diverse and interconnected global community, but make sure you take the time to understand these communities and don’t take shortcuts.

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