However much you can learn from the hundreds of SEO guides available online, very few of them can be fully applied to SEO translation and multilingual SEO, i.e., cases when a product is marketed in more than one language.
We’ve prepared this guide to provide a clear, concise approach to the fundamentals of SEO translation and multilingual SEO, whether you are a business in need of these services or a professional who would like to provide them.
What Qualifies Someone as an SEO Translation Expert?
International companies that are serious about their global marketing invest time, effort, and money in ranking high on search engines in every market they operate in. Experience has taught them that simply translating their content or their keywords doesn’t cut it: they’ve learned that they need to rely on experts.
These experts (SEO-specialised marketing translators and copywriters) will examine things such as the popular search engines in a specific country, local search behaviour, cultural influence on searching habits, etc., to optimise content for each target market (which results in higher rankings, more traffic, and more sales).
Despite many translators and copywriters claiming to be ‘SEO experts’, there aren’t many true experts capable of advising clients beyond keywords.
Backend SEO, Content SEO, and Off-Page SEO
Real SEO connoisseurs are well versed in content SEO (the optimisation of copy with the intention to bring in traffic from organic search), in ‘back-end’ or ‘technical’ SEO (like improving page speed, internal linking, or usability), and in ‘off-page’ SEO (actions taken outside of the website itself, such as backlinks, social media strategy, influencer marketing, etc.)
If their knowledge of technical SEO is not proficient, true SEO translation virtuosos will, at least, be proficient users of content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, which include an SEO-friendly back-end, and of SEO software, which adds to the service that they provide through competitor analysis, site auditing, back-link analysis, and other features.
This comprehensive knowledge will allow SEO translators to advise their clients on whether potential problems with SEO ranking in target markets are due to content optimisation issues (e.g., an unfavourable choice of keywords, which they can fix themselves) or too technical or strategic factors related to web development or the company’s overall marketing approach.
Specialists of this kind are highly sought after and very hard to find because very few self-proclaimed SEO translators or SEO copywriters have the skills and the verifiable expertise (in the form of high conversion metrics in foreign markets as a result of their services) necessary to skyrocket their clients’ ROI.
True SEO experts know where and how to look at how people are finding competitor pages, at dwell time (how long visitors spend on your page), bounce rates (percentage of one-page sessions), how people move through a site, if they’re doing what the client wants them to do, etc.
Who Needs SEO Translation?
International businesses who understand the utmost importance of localisation in a globalised world know that there’s no point in localising their marketing collateral if nobody can find it in the target market. Just like the source language copy needs to rank high on search engines, so do their several localised versions.
However, multinational companies are not the only ones growing an interest in hiring SEO translation. We very often come across business owners who originally expected their market to be regional or national, create a website and find that they are receiving international inquiries about their services, or receiving orders from other countries. They then decide to launch a multilingual website or app and to create content in several languages; this is where we come into the picture as expert SEO translators and copywriters.
Tips for SEO Translation Professionals
We’ve compiled a list of the 8 most important SEO translation strategies that anyone who praises themselves for offering top-quality SEO services should master. These are:
1. Research Like Your Life Depends on It
Research is at the core of any marketing strategy. For example, researching product-market fit ensures that the product under development meets a real customer need and does so in a way that is markedly superior to the company’s competitors in the target market. Similarly, user research gathers insights on users and understands their needs, behaviours, and attitudes as consumers to positively impact the user experience.
When it comes to SEO, keyword research can provide you with essential information related to how you rank for certain keywords, which keywords to optimise for, and which keywords your competitors are ranking for. There are keyword research tools that allow you to do all of this and more, like find topic ideas that people are searching for.
2. Team Up with Your Client’s Copywriters
The ideal scenario for SEO translators is, of course, that the client’s source language copywriting team “write for translation.” This means that they don’t take translation or localisation as an afterthought but, rather, include it at the beginning of the content planning and deployment process.
Once again, that’s the ideal scenario; copywriters should ask themselves questions like:
- Is the meaning clear of what I’m writing?
- Is there room for expanding the text if need be? (there are languages with longer words that might struggle with character limitation, for example).
- Will this topic raise interest at a global scale or just in my market?
- Is this piece of content consistent? Have I used one term to refer to the same concept throughout the copy, or am I going to confuse the translator?
- Are there too many regionalisms, which I should probably try and minimise?
- Are there too many puns and plays of words that might prove difficult to translate?
- Am I using too many acronyms that might not have a 1 to 1 equivalent in other languages?
If the source copy has been produced with all these questions in mind, things will run smoothly. HOWEVER: there’s not much that marketing and SEO translators can do to control this, because it’s ultimately the copywriting team that should be actioning on it. Therefore, SEO translation will very often involve creatively solving cultural and linguistic translation challenges while ensuring that the output remains SEO-friendly.
3. Brush Up Your Writing Skills
It’s no secret that SEO and content go hand-in-hand. You can have a wonderful SEO strategy in place backed-up by great research, but your first-page ranking can only do so much if your content post-click is below par. After all, for Google, users and their experience come first.
In the words of Neil Patel:
Thriving in your online business means that you must go beyond simply “writing content.” Your content needs to accomplish two goals: first, appeal to the end-user (customers, clients, prospects, readers, etc.) and second, solve a particular problem. [The goal is to craft] content that prompts the reader/end-user to either buy a product, subscribe to a list, take a test drive or take some other action that will benefit you.Neil Patel, SEO Copywriting: How to Write Content For People and Optimize For Google
4. Become a Headline and Metadata Wizard
Meta tags (title tags and meta descriptions) and headlines should be basically crafted from scratch in the target language and not just translated. They should be appealing, engaging, and include the primary keyword. As a matter of fact, a lot of website pages with high impressions but low click-through rates (a common SEO problem) can be fixed by replacing their metadata with titles and descriptions that pack a punch.
A true SEO translation specialist will already have done their keyword and consumer behaviour research for the target culture at this stage, so they will know what keywords to optimise for and how to write attractive tags and headlines.
Moreover, this re-writing should be done at the end of having translated or transcreated the rest of the content, so that no critical points are left out of the meta tags.
5. Localise External Links and Include Internal Ones
Any link included in the source copy that points to an external site should be localised. Imagine that users are reading a translated version of a site, e.g. in Italian, and then click on a link and are taken to a site that is in English. That is really really bad for user experience, and bad UX harms your SEO strategy.
Naturally, external link localisation is something that has to be discussed with the client beforehand, because they usually provide the localised version of each link or they provide alternative links in the target language, or they let you find good links to include.
In terms of internal links, they are the ones that point to other pages on the same website we are optimising. Users that arrive in our website from a search engine rarely land directly at the desired page, but they often get close; to avoid high bounce rates, we should have a powerful internal link structure in place.
6. Break the Rules!
We know: breaking the rules is not easy for us, translators, who have trained for years to abide by best practices. On the contrary, we like style guides, and glossaries, and dictionaries, and translation memories. In SEO translation, however, you can (AND SHOULD!) break the rules.
Yes, you can make minor omissions if some content is irrelevant for the target culture or because of character limitation. Yes, you can introduce minor terminological inconsistencies for the sake of synonymity (Google loves synonyms, remember that variations of a keyword are part of SEO optimisation, so you do want some inconsistencies here and there). Yes, you can add information to a phrase to make it clearer. Google loves good readability and clarity.
Good SEO relies on good user experience, after all. And the best UX is connected to copy that provides users with decision-making clarity when interacting with a product or environment. You can’t be writing, or translating, within a set of (industry-imposed?) limitations that narrow down your options and confine your creativity.
The bottom line is that dictionaries, glossaries, and translation memories should only serve as general guidance. Just don’t marry them.
7. Learn How to Pick the Best Images
It’s not just content that should be optimised; visuals should also appeal to the target customers and to search engines. Without proper image optimisation, you’re wasting a valuable SEO asset.
Image optimisation in SEO translation goes beyond writing proper alt tags and file names, choosing the right file types, or optimising image dimensions.
8. Test, Test, Test
Split or A/B testing is the go-to way to assess whether your SEO optimisation efforts are working as well as you’d like. This is also the case in SEO translation — you should join efforts with your client to implement split testing in your target language.
Split testing takes place by dividing traffic to two different versions of the same page. As people interact with the separate pages, you can collect data about which page is more effective in terms of title tags, linking structures, layouts, images, copy length, CTAs, etc.
SEO tester software is generally used to run SEO tests and track the distinct actions of users in each version, but Google Optimize offers free, accessible SEO testing.
Practice and Research Make Perfect
And training in user experience. Excellence in SEO translation can only be achieved if you learn the tricks to make sure your UX is on point.
If you are looking to become an expert SEO translator but you don’t know where to start, you may want to consider starting your specialisation in marketing translation and taking it from there. Check out our Marketing Translation Course to get started!