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Keyword mapping in multilingual SEO

What Is Keyword Mapping in Multilingual SEO and Why Is It Important?

In SEO, keyword mapping is the process of creating associations between keywords – discovered during your keyword research – and your website’s content, based on the intent of those keywords. In other words, mapping keywords simply means finding the right pages on your website to target each keyword.

In multilingual SEO, keyword mapping involves the additional step of aligning your website’s foreign language content with the corresponding target-language keywords in order to improve your website’s visibility and ranking in international markets.

What is the purpose of keyword mapping?

As a marketer, you can optimise your website’s pages based on keyword mapping – in one or more languages – to make them more relevant to the keywords you want to rank for. This, in turn, will help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for those keywords, helping you drive more traffic to the site in question.

Because incorrectly mapping a website’s content to the wrong keywords can have a negative impact on the site’s visibility and ranking, marketing teams at international companies often involve SEO translators and local-market experts in the keyword mapping process.

By doing this, you ensure that your website’s translated content is properly aligned with the right keywords in each target market, helping you avoid any potential ranking penalties.

Why is keyword mapping important?

There are a few key reasons:

  1. It helps you identify the pages on your website that need the most attention when it comes to optimising for specific keywords.
  2. It helps you focus your optimisation efforts on the pages that are most likely to rank well for your target keywords.
  3. It gives you a better understanding of how your website’s existing content aligns with the keywords you want to target, which can help uncover new keyword opportunities that you may not have considered before.
  4. It establishes the priority of each keyword, so you can focus your efforts on the ones that are most important to your business.
  5. It can help you avoid keyword cannibalisation or duplicate content, which is when multiple pages on your site compete for the same keywords, potentially harming your chances of ranking well for those keywords.
  6. It helps you guide content marketing efforts, e.g. by determining that there’s an old blog post you could update with fresh information to make it more relevant to a certain keyword rather than writing new content from scratch.

The bottom line is that keyword mapping is an essential part of any successful SEO strategy. By taking the time to map your keywords and understand how they relate to your website’s content, you can create a plan that will help you achieve better rankings in SERPs, and in turn, drive more traffic and leads to your business.

What does a keyword mapping document typically look like?

A typical keyword mapping document is usually a spreadsheet that contains several columns, for example:

  1. The first column lists all page IDs, e.g., “Home page,” “About us,” “Contact,” etc.
  2. The second column contains the URL of each page.
  3. The third column lists the primary target keyword for that page, ideally with its search volume.
  4. If the mapping is in a language that the client doesn’t speak, the fourth column could contain a back-translation of the keyword, i.e., what the keyword means in the client’s language. This is so that they can understand the keyword’s intent.
  5. The next few columns show optimisation recommendations for the different page elements such as the page title, meta description, header tags, etc., based on the mapped keywords. In the sample document below, for example, a recommendation could be that the slug for the URL in cell E13 be changed from “womens-wellington-boots” to “botas-de-agua-mujer” to ensure it includes the primary keyword (cell A13).

This is just a basic example; your own document may be more complex, depending on how your website is structured and how many pages you have.

Keyword-mapping-sample-document
Keyword mapping sample document

How to do keyword mapping

To map keywords effectively, there are some considerations you need to keep in mind. Let’s break them down.

Search intent

Up until not too long ago, it was common to see very similar keywords, e.g., “carpenter in Surrey,” “Surrey carpentry,” and “joinery services for Surrey” mapped to radically different pages of a website. The thinking behind this was that as long as the keyword was mentioned somewhere on the page, it would be picked up by search engines and the page would rank.

However, this approach is no longer effective because it aims at gaming the system or “pleasing the engine” rather than creating a great user experience. Today, search engines are smarter and they can distinguish between pages that have been optimised for keywords and pages that genuinely provide valuable information to users.

So, if you want your website to rank well for specific keywords, it’s essential to take a more holistic approach to optimisation that focuses on the user first. To do this, it’s best practice to group together similar keywords (also known as keyword buckets or clusters) and map them to the same page.

What binds a group together is the search intent behind those keywords: What is the user trying to accomplish by typing in those keywords? For example:

  • A user who types in “local carpenter in Surrey” is likely looking for someone to hire. The search intent is “commercial investigation”: They want to research a potential supplier and find the best one.
  • On the other hand, someone who searches for “how to install a door frame” is probably trying to do it themselves and is just looking for information.

The first keyword (“best carpenter in Surrey”) together with others with the same search intent such as “carpentry services Surrey” or “joinery shop in Surrey” should be grouped together and mapped to a page that talks about the company’s services.

The second keyword (“how to install a door frame”) could be mapped to a blog post that gives step-by-step guidance on how to do it.

What Google is already returning for a keyword

When you’re mapping keywords to pages, it’s also important to consider what Google is already returning for those keywords. This will give you valuable insights into how your competitors are ranking, what content is already out there, and what you need to do to outrank them.

By comparing the results that Google is showing for a specific group of keywords (sharing the same intent) with the pages you’re considering mapping them to, you can get a good sense of whether or not the content on your page is good enough to rank.

If there’s no alignment, it might be worth revisiting your page to see if you can improve it so that it better meets user intent, or if it’s worth to just map those keywords to a different page.

Types of keywords

As Maria Scheibengraf explains in The SEO Translation Bible, keywords can be categorised in many different ways. One of those classifications is short-tail vs long-tail, which considers the length of the keyword.

For the purpose of keyword mapping, however, we want to consider the types of keywords in a different way: by their intent.

Just like search intent can be informational, navigational, local, transactional, or commercial, so can most keywords be classified in the same way (at least those where the intent is easily detectable).

By this logic, an e-commerce category page, e.g., “men’s shoes” may have more transactional keywords, such as “buy men’s shoes online” or “men’s shoes sale”, mapped to it, while a blog post giving style tips on what shoes to wear with different types of jeans may have more informational keywords, such as “what shoes to wear with skinny jeans” or “matching shoes and jeans color”.

Manual vs automatic keyword mapping

Once you have a good understanding of your keywords and their intent, the next step is to decide how you want to map them to your pages.

This can vary from project to project and from client to client, but the two main options are manual mapping and automatic mapping.

With manual mapping, you go through your list of keywords and decide which ones should be mapped to which pages. This gives you a lot of control over the process, but it can also be very time-consuming, especially if you have a large website with hundreds or even thousands of pages

With automatic mapping, you rely on tools such as Google Search Console or Screaming Frog to do (at least part of) the work for you. This is much faster, as these tools can automatically determine which keywords should be mapped to which pages, and it also takes the guesswork out of the process. However, inaccurate mappings can (and often do) happen when relying on third-party tools, so it’s always a good idea to check the results manually.

Usually, for foreign-language content, you will ask an SEO translator to perform manual mapping or to review and adjust automatically mapped target-language keywords.

Different keyword mapping workflows when working with SEO translators

Depending on the type of project, there can be different keyword mapping workflows when working with SEO translators. For example:

  1. As a marketer, you send an automatically generated English (or source-language) keyword mapping document to your SEO translator with a detail of all the pages on your website and the keywords that should be mapped to them. Your translator then takes this document and localises the already-mapped keywords.
  2. You send the translator a list of the English (or source-language) keywords and ask them to localise those keywords. Then, you send them a list of all the target-language pages on your website and ask them to map the localised keywords to them.
  3. You have someone else localise the source-language keywords (e.g., an in-house bilingual member of your marketing team) and then you send the SEO translator the list of localised keywords and target-language pages, asking them to complete the mapping.
  4. You ask your SEO translator to research target-language keywords from scratch without any reference to the source-language keywords. After approving them, you group them into clusters and ask the translator to map the clusters to a list of target-language pages that you send them.

These are just some of the many ways that keyword mapping can be done. The important thing is that, whichever workflow you end up following, you make sure that your translator understands the mapping process and knows what is expected of them.

What happens to the mapped keywords

After your SEO translator has finished mapping the keywords to the pages, the next step is usually the content itself. This can be done in a number of ways.

Keyword insertion in pre-translated content

If you’ve already had your pages translated, your translator can “insert” or “inject” the target-language keywords into the translated content in all suitable places. For example, they could be included in the title, in a few subheadings, in the body copy, and in the metadata.

This is a relatively easy way to add keywords to your pages, and it doesn’t require any substantial changes to the existing translated content. However, it does have a significant downside: It can be difficult to inject the keywords where they’ll have the most impact on your rankings without disrupting the flow of the text.

Keyword insertion in new content

If your SEO translator is comfortable with copywriting and content writing, another option is to have them write new content for each page from scratch, based on the target-language keywords that have been mapped to that page. This gives them a lot more control over where and how the keywords are used, which can lead to better results.

However, it’s also a lot more time-consuming and expensive, so it’s not always practical.

Keyword insertion in a hybrid of new and existing content

A third option is to have your translator write new content for the page, but also use some of the existing translated content where it’s relevant and fits well with the new content. This can be a good compromise between the two previous options, giving you some of the benefits of both.

Again, this will require working with a translator who is comfortable with and experienced in copywriting and content writing and who has a good understanding of your target audience.

Keyword insertion in the source language

If you’ve asked your translator to simply localise a list of pre-mapped source-language keywords, you can have your English (or source-language) copywriter “inject” the original keywords into the original text and then send the text to the translator for localisation.

The translator would then have to insert the localised keywords into the target-language text as they translate, making sure that they fit well and are used in the right places.

This option has a lot of benefits: It’s relatively easy to do, it’s less likely to disrupt the flow of the text (after all, the keywords are already in the source text), and it can be more cost-effective than having your translator write new content from scratch.

Conclusion

Keyword mapping is an essential part of any successful SEO translation strategy. By taking the time to map your keywords effectively in every language, you can ensure that your target-language pages are as well optimised as possible for your chosen keywords.

There are a number of different ways to map keywords, and the best approach for you will depend on your specific needs and requirements. However, whichever method you choose, it’s important to make sure that you work with local-language and local-market experts who are well versed not just in translation, but also in SEO and content writing.

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