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How Terminology Can Help a Multilingual SEO Initiative

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Written by subject matter expert Malena Duchovny, Terminologist at Akorbi.

For a few months, I have been watching Mad Men and there was recently an episode which stuck with me. In it, Don Draper is selling a marketing campaign to the owner of the Hilton hotels, who wants something that will show how far and wide his hotels are making their mark. Draper’s response? A set of billboards that ask, “How do you say “ice water” in Italian? Hilton,” “How do you say “fresh towels” in Farsi? Hilton,” “How do you say “hamburger” in Japanese? Hilton.” The tagline is punchy: “Hilton. It’s the same in every language.” 

This is a campaign that draws attention to how globalization, and particularly the predominance of English as a lingua franca, can take over every language. Multilingual SEO aims to do exactly the opposite and it is a prime example of the importance of localizing content, as opposed to simply translating, to fit your target audience’s needs. This means adapting your content to how the users you are trying to attract search the web. 

What exactly is SEO? It’s about quality 

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a multi-discipline process that aims to optimize web content creation to improve organic traffic to a website. In order to be able to serve updated results to users, search engines are constantly crawling and indexing. In lay terms, this means downloading text, video and images from different webpages and storing them in a database, which is where search results actually come from.  

There are many ins and outs to SEO, but for the purposes of this article we are only going to focus on how you can apply it to a website’s copy. In other words, content SEO. What this basically amounts to is organic use of certain words that users search for when they want to find certain content, otherwise known as “keywords.” How can one know what these keywords are? There are plenty of free keyword planners online where you can input different search terms or keywords to see how each of them performs (and even get some good suggestions). For example, a company selling hamburgers might find out that using “burgers” in their copy is a better choice than “hamburgers.”  

Hamburger Versus Burger Average Monthly Searches Comparison

Google’s Keyword Planner, a feature of Google Ads, suggests that “burger” gets a lot more hits than “hamburger.” Source: ads.google.com  

One thing to note here is that SEO techniques are about quality and not some kind of black magic that makes your blog always appear on page 1 or your tweets go viral. “Keyword stuffing,” which Google defines as the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results, is punished by search engines because they get in the way of their declared objective: getting the user a list of results for their query, in order of relevance. The trick for keeping to best practices is to sprinkle the keywords throughout the content in a way that will feel natural to human readers. 

Irrelevant Hashtags

A tweet that uses clearly irrelevant hashtags in an attempt to be seen by more users. Source: twitter.com 

Multilingual SEO: localization and transcreation 

Localization and transcreation: in Mad Men, Don Draper was trying to sell the idea that wherever you go, you are at home in a Hilton hotel. A (potential) client wants comfort and ease. Translators know that some projects require not only localization (that is, adapting the content not only to the language but to the cultural context in which it will be received), but also, at times, transcreation, which means maintaining the intent of the message even if that means making some big changes to the literal words of the source material.  

The translation scholar Eugene Nida wrote about the importance of this (he called it “dynamic equivalence”) and came up with a great example. When translating the Bible into Inuit, the translators thought that, because there weren’t any lambs in Alaska, they needed to produce a natural equivalent for “Lamb of God” (agnus dei) that would symbolize innocence in the context of sacrifice. And thus, the Seal of God was born.  

Seal In The Clouds

Talk about a seal of approval! 

Multilingual SEO is one place where localization and transcreation are not merely a good idea, but absolutely necessary. The copy needs to reflect the ways users search in each target language. Here, alternative translations need to be ranked in order of how likely they are to be typed into the search bar by users looking for the product you are selling. So, how do you say “hamburger” in Japanese? As you can see in the following screenshots, we tried three possible translations, and two of them have the clear advantage, in that they have the highest average of monthly searches. 

Google Keyword Planner Screenshot of Japanese Terms

Google’s Keyword Planner, a feature of Google Ads, suggests that some synonyms might work better than others in Japanese. Source: ads.google.com 

The termbase: a perfect solution for the challenges of multilingual SEO 

Say you have been sold on the importance of multilingual SEO and are ready to apply it to your website’s copy. You want to make sure that all translators working on it are aware of the best ways to translate keywords according to the keyword planner you chose. What you need, then, is a reliable, dynamic database that can provide linguists with the most up-to-date and convenient translation for any given term. Enter: the termbase.  

A termbase is a database where you can store terms and their translation. The Akorbi Terminology team does concept-based terminology, which means we base every entry on the definition. This is especially useful when doing SEO terminology, because you can change both the source-language and the target-language terms without changing the concept. 

Concept-Based Terminology

How a termbase entry would look. 

Termbases have, as we said before, the advantage of being centralized storage that can be continuously updated. But that is not all. Within a term, you can have a parameter that classifies it as “preferred,” “accepted,” “obsolete,” or “rejected.” This makes it very easy for translators to see which keyword is best, and which synonyms they should avoid. The ability to store obsolete and rejected terms would also make it easier to go through the copy and change those terms when keywords need to be updated.  

Multilingual SEO and Terminology are, as you can see, quite a good match. If you are planning on embarking upon keyword localization and transcreation, do not hesitate to contact the Terminology team. That way, the next time you are wondering how you should say “hamburger” in Japanese, the answer will be: “It’s all in the termbase!” 

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