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May 9, 2012 By

Why you should NEVER translate your keyphrases

Why you should NEVER translate your keyphrases
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So you have spent a good week or so researching keyphrases for the English site of a big international company. The next stage of your multinational SEO campaign is for you to take these words and find their “equivalents” in your respective languages, right?


The aim of keyphrase research is to find the words and phrases that are used by searchers in a specific language and location. Just because you have discovered that your British English audience is searching for certain phrases, it doesn't mean that these phrases will be used by audiences in other locations around the world. International keyphrase research has to take cultural differences into account. It's a localisation process, not translation.

Take the word kettles, an extremely popular search term in Britain, what with us tea lovers. However, in Spanish households, kettles are not nearly so commonplace. They are relatively hard to come by in Spain and the selection is very limited. A very simple and basic example, but such a difference in cultures would need to be taken into account when compiling the keyphrase research.

What's more, even if 'equivalents' of your English phrases are used in different languages, direct translations may not be the most relevant phrases for you to target.

I've used the English term 'mobile telephone' as an example.

A direct translation (and also a “Google Translate” translation) for the term mobile telephone is 'mobiltelefon'. This has a local (meaning in Germany) monthly search volume of 4,400.

However, the word 'handy' is also a direct translation of “mobile telephone” and one which is used far more frequently by Germans in everyday language. This is reflected in its local search volume of 165,000 monthly searches shown below. One aspect of international keyphrase research which is becoming increasingly important is the influence of the English language. English words are constantly creeping into international vocabularies and ways of speaking. A good German example of this is the verb “to download”. The keyphrase 'download music' can be directly translated as 'musik herunterladen', a phrase which has a local search volume of 1,900 per month.

However, when the English-based verb to download 'downloaden' is used, this generates a monthly search volume of over 5,000.

So what do these examples tell us? The reason keyphrases can't be translated is because they need to meet the needs of the local searchers. Keyphrases constantly evolve in any language, in accordance with how linguistic and cultural trends change over time.

Remember it's vital to only have your international keyphrase research carried out by native speakers of the language you are targeting. Their natural linguistic instincts and range of vocabulary are invaluable when it comes to drawing the correct conclusions for keyphrases. Ideally, your translators should be trained in the basic elements of SEO to ensure that their translations target search engines, yet still read naturally and flawlessly for human eyes. This can be done in an in-house training session if you work with freelancers or by sending guidelines and support to agency translators.

Do you know of any translation horror stories in the field of SEO? Get in touch and share them with us.

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