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  • Writer's pictureDavid García Ruiz

How to translate and localise keywords for multilingual SEO

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

You have decided to translate your website. But before even deciding whether to use machine translation or human translation, you know it is important to consider the search habits of your audience in the new region or country where you’d like to expand (yes, keywords still matter in 2023!).

You want to discover your English equivalent keywords in Spanish, French, German or any other language, to make sure you use the same terms as your international audience. And while you may have Googled "keyword translation" to learn more about this topic, you might want to do keyword localisation to truly understand what people search for. More about it in a minute.

Keep reading to learn more about keyword translation and keyword localisation, why you may need keyword localisation and what the best practices are to translate your keywords.

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What is keyword translation?

Keyword translation refers to the process of translating keywords from one language into another. The thing is, people do not search for the same things in all languages, which means that word-by-word translation may not be good enough (not if you want to get qualified traffic for your products or services). Here is where keyword localisation comes in.

What is keyword localisation?

Instead of just translating your keywords from the source language into the target language, keyword localisation is the process of researching and identifying language-equivalent keywords that are relevant to a specific local market.

How does keyword translation and keyword localisation work?

Let’s use an example to explain how keyword translation and keyword localisation work, so that you can understand why you may need keyword localisation before doing SEO website translation.

Say you sell cruise clothing and you have a dedicated category and landing page for “evening cruise wear”; as shown below, the keyword “evening cruise wear” has a global search volume of 620 and low difficulty, which makes it a good keyword to target.

keyword “evening cruise wear” with a global search volume of 620

But when we translate the keyword “evening cruise wear” into Spanish, there is no search volume for the Spanish keyword translation “ropa de crucero de noche”.

The Spanish keyword translation “ropa de crucero de noche” has no search volume

But then (almost by magic) we add the Spanish word “gala” to the mix, and we get relevant keywords with search volume that would fit perfectly on a page about “evening cruise wear”. But remember that the term “gala” is not in the original English keyword, so word-by-word translation will not cut it.

we add the Spanish word “gala” to the mix, and we get relevant keywords with search volume

Funnily enough, if we revert this experiment and use the word “gala” in English (which happens to have the same spelling), we do not get any good hits, meaning there are not any evident benefits to using the keyword “gala evening cruise wear” in English (it is better to stick to the keyword “evening cruise wear”).

keyword gala cruise wear

While translating your keywords just provides you with a word-by-word translation, keyword localisation is the process of finding the equivalent terms that your customers use in their native language.

4 best practices to translate keywords for SEO

1) Compile your SEO keywords in a list

Assuming you have done your homework and you or your trusted SEO agency have performed keyword research in your native language, you should be ready to put together a list of all the keywords that matter for your business. You can start with your core keywords, those that bring the most traffic to your website, or add all of them to your list.

keywords list

2) Translate and localise your keywords

Now you need to translate your list of keywords. While using Google Translate or other machine translation technologies can be a good starting point, I recommend hiring a translator who knows the basics of SEO to check and localise your keywords.

Even better, ask your translator to provide 1 or 2 alternatives for each keyword together with the back translation in English for each term, so that you can have a better understanding of related terms that you may be able to target on the same page.

translation with 2 alternatives for each keyword

3) Use a keyword tool to evaluate keywords

Checking your keywords in a keyword research tool such as Semrush will help you understand how popular a keyword is and what the search volume is in a particular country. This step is a must if you want to make sure that you are targeting the best possible keywords for your audience.

Remember that the criteria for keyword selection are

  • Relevance: Only target keywords that are relevant to your page. A term like “swimming costume cruise” might get a ton of searches, but it does not fit well on a page about evening cruise wear.

  • Volume: This refers to the amount of traffic a keyword gets on a monthly basis. Ideally, your keywords will have some search volume.

  • Difficulty: How hard will it be for you to rank for a specific keyword? You may not want to use keywords that have high-difficulty ratings.

​Find out more about the ins and outs of keyword localisation in my SEO Translator Guide.

4) Put your keywords into action

Decide what you are going to do with your keywords. Can you rely on SEO translation services to translate your webpage using the keywords you compiled? Or do you need to adapt your existing webpage so that localised keywords fit better?

As part of your content localisation strategy, you may also explore new content opportunities and create blog posts that are relevant to your customers in different countries.

Wrapping up: getting the right keywords for your multilingual SEO campaign

If you are not familiar with the translation industry, you may still talk about keyword translation with your stakeholders (and that’s fine with me!), but I am sure what you want to get (regardless of what it is called) are the right keywords to increase qualified traffic and revenue from your website.

Roughly speaking, there are three options to translate your keywords:

  • Using machine translation technologies such as Google Translate

  • Hiring a translator to translate your keywords

  • Hiring an SEO translator to localise your keywords

Localising your keywords has many advantages over just translating your keywords because you will be able to find out what words and sentences your audience is really using.

If you need help getting the right keywords for your website in a new language, drop me a line.



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