Blog post dated May 13, 2019

Keyword Research vs. Keyword Translation

To translate or not to translate keywords for SEO purposes? That is the question I often hear not only from my clients but also from many translators working in our industry. That’s because many translators are worried about how to handle keywords vs. “normal” terminology in their projects.

An Article by

Udo Leinhäuser
Managing Director,

The following tips will help you successfully localize your websites for your international target groups and open up new markets.

Localizing a website for international audiences comes with many challenges. Among them, international SEO and its best practices give quite a bit of grief to linguists and marketers. In particular, targeting the right keywords for each local market seems to be one of the most common pain points in this niche.

Here’s the thing. There’s little room for approximations when targeting keywords. Here as well, a word-to-word translation is closer to guessing than to actual SEO. When you translate keywords, you just give clients what you think they might need. However, you don’t provide content optimized for local markets in line with what users actually are looking for online.

Why Multilingual Keyword Research?

The simple translation of keywords can only do so much, without proper keyword research. That’s because people who are speaking different languages rarely have the same way of relating to products and services.

It’s like putting together a translated version of your website without considering SEO at all. Terms without a consistent search volume in the target market aren’t keywords, but just some specific terminology that may or may not bring traffic.

For instance, I used to work with the European headquarters of an Asian client that was looking to expand its electronics business in Europe. The company needed a professional to optimize its site for several languages to consolidate its position on the European markets.

The German version of the website immediately caught my attention. I was surprised to see that translators had suggested the German word “Projektor” to name a projector. Don’t get me wrong; it was the correct translation of the English word “projector.” But, from my experience, I knew that Germans rarely called it that way—when I tell a friend that I have bought a new projector, I use the word “Beamer.”

The keyword analysis revealed that the search volume for “Beamer” was 2.5 times higher than for “Projektor.”  What we did was that we changed the term to “Beamer” for the projectors meant for individual use and kept the word “Projektor” only for the high-end devices that targeted corporate buyers.

This small change allowed my client to improve its reach thanks to more organic traffic to the company’s website.

The simple translation of keywords can only do so much, without proper keyword research.

Consider the Target Audience

When doing web localization, you should consider that people speak differently even within the same language. As a guideline, you should trust your translators and local specialists on this. They are aware of how every language has its distinct ways of expressing concepts that change with each region and group of people.

A successful international SEO strategy includes keyword research for each new language you localize for, as well as for every segment of the population you have an interest in.  

Multilingual keyword research goes beyond the mere translation of terms and expressions. Besides excellent language skills, you should look for cultural insights to do international SEO the right way. In simple words, you need to know how people speak in everyday life and what specific words they use when searching for information online to target the right audience to increase traffic.

Every language has its distinct ways of expressing concepts that change with each region and group of people.

Make sure you research your audience to understand the behavior and characteristics of the people you target—not just demographics, but also their linguistic and cultural profile. This part of the job has less to do with dictionaries and more with “listening” to each audience to find out how people use words in real life. It’s the only way you can adapt your keywords to the local market efficiently­—which is by considering the language, culture, and geography to maximize the return on your localization project.

Going back to my example, in no bilingual dictionary is the term “beamer” at the top of the list. Even though the term is listed as a synonym, the chances are small that a translator who doesn’t live in Germany would choose this specific term to describe the product.

Moreover, the specialist should know well the market to decide when to use one term and when to rely on its “academic” synonym, to maximize traffic. In this case, alternative sources to dictionaries could be forums, social media, and, why not, even a local competitor’s website.

Keywords Are Also Terminology

During the translation process, keywords can be treated just like any other terminology that you store in your terminology database. This way, every time your translators needs to translate keywords from the source language, all the information necessary is right at their fingertips.      

Not only will a glossary of keywords speed up the translation, but it will also help you keep consistency across the content—you’ll use the same terms when translating, whether it’s for the company’s blog, website, social media, or PPC campaigns.

Moreover, the final version of the translated content will already include all the right keywords in the right places for the page to rank high in search results.

A Word on Keyword Cannibalization

When performing keyword research, you should make sure that every page or URL has its own unique keyword that it’s optimized for. This way, you avoid using the same words and phrases on too many localized pages of your website.

That’s because targeting the same keyword across multiple pages can harm SEO due to what we call “keyword cannibalization.” This usually occurs when various pages on a website rank for the same keyword, which means you become one of your main competitors for traffic.

Final Thoughts about Multilingual Keyword Research

Keywords are an essential element when doing international SEO, and you need to target the right ones to attract the maximum of attention (i.e., traffic) and capture the attention of the right audience. Multilingual keyword research allows you to identify the right words and phrases to improve your ranking in search results.

When doing website localization, don’t stop at translating keywords like regular content. Just like the keywords in your source language that you have chosen carefully, the keywords for foreign markets need some extra attention too! This way you maximize your chances to get traffic because for how appealing the translated content could be to human readers, it also has to work for the search engines.

After all, it’s just replicating what you’ve already done for your original website, but in a different language. That’s why you need a native speaker that has the cultural insights necessary to identify the right keywords to target.

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About the Author

Udo Leinhäuser is a translator, author and pilot with over 20 years’ experience in the language services industry. He acts as an independent consultant with a strong focus on strategy, International SEO and online marketing. As the founder of, he has extensive experience in the field of International SEO and has shown in numerous large-scale projects that successful International SEO lives to a large extent from linguistic and intercultural competence.