How good is keyword translation for the localization of a website? Assuming you have a good translator. The response is simple: In the vast majority of the cases, plainly lousy.
Last week I had some international keyword research request for a customer. I got 45 keywords from the customer, and was requested to find the corresponding keywords in French and German. Now, while I do not usually offer the website translation into these two languages for quality reasons (though I have a degree in German & finished the French high school), keyword research is a different story. I performed the translation of the keywords, then just for double-checking I paid some native language colleagues to also translate the same keywords. No big surprises, my translation was correct, but they came up with 3 different keyword translations for German and 4 for French. Good, so I had some more. Unfortunately, 5 of the English keywords had the same translation in German, so I had to discard them.
So I had the plain translation of the keywords, and I went to see how suitable they were for the search engines. I checked first the German keyword translation. Disaster! Of the 40 translated keywords, not less than 22 (over 50%!) had absolutely NO searches. The rest amounted to some 255,000 searches/month, but unfortunately 99% of those searches were based on just 11 of the translated keyword. I attach below the table, obviously with the keywords removed so as not to impact my customer.
Now, I was paid for keyword research, not for translation. My research found some 86 additional keywords, with a total local search traffic of 309,000 searches/month. Disregarding the low traffic keywords (as this customer is not a newcomer that needs to scrape the bottom of the barrel), I ended up recommending a total of 46 keywords for main targeting, with a total local traffic of 458,000 searches/month. Of these, just 24% were the direct translation of customer-provided keywords.
Are these keyword translation results an anomaly? Well, let’s take the second set, this time translated into French. Of the 44 translated keywords (some were repetitions, but we got alternative translations), fully 30 of them (68%!) had ZERO searches! Even worse, for the remaining 14 keywords there were a measly 40,000 searches/month, with 5 keywords taking 91% of those searches! I show the table below, again with the keywords in question removed.
The results were truly amazing. Perhaps there was no market for the products of this company in France? Of course I had to do the keyword research to find out. I eventually found additional 147 keywords directly related to this market, with around 400,000 local searches/month. After removing the non-commercial keywords and low search traffic ones, I eventually recommended a total of 58 keywords, with a total local search volume of 351,000 searches/month. Of these, only 5 keywords with around 10% of the total traffic came from the translation of the original customer keywords.
Summarizing the used translated keywords:
The usefulness (or lack of it) of the translated keywords becomes more evident in the following table:
It becomes evident that the translation of keywords in the original language does not necessarily provide useful keywords in the target language. But it is more interesting to see the local search results for the different localized keywords:
Thus, the results of this exercise show that the direct translation of keywords is usually not providing the necessary SEO juice. This is consistent with my professional experience, but I am slightly surprised that the German translation actually achieved such high results.
Basically, what happens is that a translator is not necessarily knowledgeable in SEO, and may not be capable to identify high-search terms that one could target in his localized web pages. And to target barely 10% of the possible keywords is -to say the least- a waste of money if you are going to translate your website. Thus, you need someone that is capable not only of translating the website, but also who can do the necessary keyword research that will allow you to target the whole destination market and make your website translation a success.