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International Keyword Optimization

I was born in Switzerland – a country that has 4 official languages and uses English as the primary business language. So, as you can imagine, verbal communication has played a prevalent role in my life. I’ve always been fascinated with how a single language can differ so greatly from one country to another. And, when it comes to building a global site, it is important to take this into account.

Conducting a quality translation of your website content is the first step in creating a successful global we presence. However, translating a website into another language is not as simple as it may appear. Businesses must understand that converting text from one language (source language) to another (target language) won’t always capture the intended or account for the differences a single language may have in different countries. To ensure your message is being delivered accurately and in a way that resonates with your new audience, you must translate and localize. Equally important to applying these concepts to your website copy, is applying them to your keywords. This will help establish a global web presence and optimize your international SEO.

Step One: Don’t Get Lost In Translation

There are roughly 6,900 languages spoken in the world today, according to the National Virtual Translation Center. This leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation when trying to translate from one language to the next, especially when using slang or expressions that may not exist between countries.

For example, the American phrase, “kick the bucket,” is a euphemism for dying. In many Spanish speaking countries the phrase “Estirar la pata” is a euphemism for the same thing. However, if you did a literal translation of English to Spanish, people in Spain would think you were telling them to physically kick a bucket. And, if you took the literal translation of Spanish to English, it would be telling you to physically stretch your leg. While both expressions mean the same thing, the literal translations would leave your audience confused.

As you can see, a word-for-word translation may not capture the true meaning behind the text; therefore, it is extremely important the translator is fluent in both languages, with the ability to identify these idiosyncrasies, correct them, and maintain the original message.

Step Two: Get to Know the Locals

Surprisingly, many people think creating a global website simply means translating the existing English version. Obviously translation is important, but when you cross linguistic, national, and cultural barriers…things may get lost in translation – as demonstrated above. This is why it’s important to put your message into the context of the particular culture, native to your new audience.

This concept is called “localization”. You must get to know the language, country, and region you want to target and try to find out as much about its culture as possible. Do all the words, sayings, and metaphors translate directly to the target language? Does the content of your website use humor, and if so, will the target culture appreciate or even understand it? Are the colors and images used on your site visually appealing to the target audience, or instead, do they find it offensive?

Step Three: The “Key” (words) to SEO Success

What good is a website that resonates with your audience, if they can’t find it? Once you localize – optimize! Your keywords play an important role in the success of your global site. You must research and select the appropriate words for each targeted region. If your keywords aren’t relevant to what users plug into search engines, it’s likely you won’t be found at all.

Performing local keyword research will give you insight into what users are really searching for on local search engines, and it will allow you to adjust your keywords accordingly. Take for example a car rental site in the U.S. versus the UK. Although English is the primary language of both, there are still many variations between American English and British English. For example, in the U.S. you’d base your research on keywords like “car rental”, “rent a car”, etc. But in the UK you’d “hire a car” and book a reservation with a “car hire”.

If you’re not sure how to find the localized keywords, here are a few tactics to help you out.

First, try to search for your source keywords in the local search engine; especially for keywords that need to be localized from American English into British English. Let’s take the “car rental” example again and search for it on

The results on show both keyword phrases “car rental” and “car hire”, which is a good indication that in the UK users may look for “car hire” instead of “car rental”. As a result, you want to include “car hire” in your keyword research. Also, make sure the newly found keyword is worth researching by conducting and comparing a search on the local search engine to see which produces more results.

A local search for “car rental” on returns 4,850,000 results:

A local search for “car hire” on returns 24,200,000 results:

Another way to find related keywords is by using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool:

Start by setting the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to the language and region you want to research:

After entering the keywords and keyword phrases you want to research, make sure you select “Use synonyms”. Scroll down to the “Additional keywords to consider” and you may find keywords that are relevant to your industry and localized to the region you want to target.

Lastly, if the keywords you’ve translated don’t produce satisfying results, then modify them. Find the synonyms, idioms, abbreviations, idiosyncrasies, and spelling variants of your targeted keywords by visiting online dictionary forums. You can leave comments, ask questions, and ask for advice and opinions. You’ll be surprised how much you can find out by politely asking for help. I’ve listed a few excellent resources below:

* (EN «» ES, FR, IT)
* (EN «» DE)
* (DE «» EN, FR, ES, IT, CN)

A website, and corresponding search strategy, that uses localized keywords will receive quality traffic, yielding more conversions and a lower bounce rate.


When it comes to creating a global web presence there are a million factors to consider; two of the most important have to do with words and meanings. Conducting thorough research of the marketplace and understanding the nuances of each language as well as localization factors and keywords will help you effectively target and communicate with customers across the globe.