Global CMOs: Here Are 6 Reasons Why You Cannot Manage Search Through Translation

Sometimes it feels like a one-man crusade. Now in my 15th year of search marketing (yes, I started young) I have been trying to explain to Global SEOs for much of that time that translation is not a perfect process.

But it appears I have been talking to the wrong people. I should have been addressing myself to CMOs as it appears there are still many, heading global corporations, who believe that translation is a direct, universal and single click business and that they can use it to manage their businesses.

So I decided it was time to address them directly. My message is very simple; if you think you can drive a global corporation’s search marketing by relying on translation and translation support, then you might as well throw darts at a dart board blindfolded – except that the dart playing will cause much less damage.

Aspects Of Translation Are Imperfect

There are many aspects of translation which are imperfect. However, today I plan to discuss just one — and that is the fact that that there is no one-to-one relationship between keywords.

In fact, there is no one-to-one relationship in translation full stop, but let’s just consider keywords for now.

Have you ever seen one of those magic spreadsheets of keywords? You know the ones, they have say 500 English keywords listed from top to bottom and then there is a column for French and German and Japanese and whatever other languages may be needed.

The idea is that for each English keyword, an equivalent for each of the languages listed at the top should be added. This is an extremely common approach so if you’re guilty of this — don’t be.

Let me try and explain why this is not only not best practice (some people actually do believe this is best practice) but an approach which effectively blindfolds the client.

Let me begin by describing some of the keyword patterns which cause this blindness.

Alternately Spelled Keywords

Alternatively spelled keywords are actually the same core concepts or even the same words just using different characters to spell them out, usually legitimately.

For instance, did you know there are at least four ways to write “Venice” in Japanese? So when you leave one space on your list for “cheap flights to Venice”, how will you cope?

Keyword Arrays

A keyword array happens when you try to translate an important keyword to one equivalent and find that there is an “array” of keywords all having a similar importance whereas the start keyword was all important.

When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that the direct “translation” of any keyword can have a significantly different level of importance in the new target language. But just as common sense isn’t always “common”, so this “obvious” fact is routinely ignored.

Grammatical Variant Keywords

People make many assumptions about keywords that are based on their own knowledge of their own language. Yet even simple things like singulars and plurals can vary dramatically from one language to another with huge consequences.

It’s not uncommon at conferences to hear the statement “When people search with a plural keyword, they are looking for a list”. That may be so in English, but suppose the language is one where the formation of plurals is complex or has a different meaning.

Some far eastern languages, for instance, create the plural by repeating the word to be pluralizes. That would make “cheap flights to Venice” into “cheap flight flight to Venice” but mostly they opt for “cheap flight to Venice” when searching.

Divergent Keywords

Some keywords to search for a common idea have a completely different derivation making them widely divergent from the original ideas.

The example I always give is if you ask a man to build a house, he’ll build it with the materials around him. An Eskimo creates an igloo, a desert tribesman a mud hut.

They are both “houses”. Keywords work in exactly the same way — they are built from the available concepts in the language lying around the speaker.

Long Tail

All of the additional above are affected by long tail variants. Just imagine the exponential impact.

As a CMO, these patterns are handled intuitively if approached in the right way so you only need to handle this in two ways:

  • Don’t ask for keywords to be translated — keyword researchers who speak the language natively handle the above issues intuitively.
  • Never ask for keywords to be matched to keywords in an existing list. Ask for “back translations” instead. A back translation is a translation to convey the meaning of the keyword somewhat literally as a guide to management.

If you follow the above two rules, everything will work swimmingly.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Outside US | Multinational Search


About The Author: is a linguist who has been specializing in international search since 1997 and is the CEO of WebCertain, the multilingual search agency and Editor-in-Chief of the blog You can follow him on Twitter here @andyatkinskruge.

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  • igl00

    definately true. Nothign scares more than badly translated offer.


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