Why Companies Should Not Translate their Keywords!

While Google keeps us on our toes with all the algorithm updates they keep rolling out, one thing has stayed pretty consistent for inbound marketers looking to optimize their websites for search: content and keyword research. 

In this blog, we’ll be defining what keyword research is and why it’s important to understand the local and international market and your audience before you start researching keywords or translating them for your targeted audience. And, despite the title, we are not suggesting leaving your keywords in the original language, but rather learning about how to properly localize them for your markets.  

What is Keyword Research? 

Keyword research is the process of discovering valuable search queries that your target customers type into search engines like Google to look for products, services, and information. Keyword research can uncover queries to target, the popularity of these queries, their ranking difficulty, and more. 

Put it simply, a keyword is a concept that someone uses to find an answer to something that is on their mind and then submits that term to a search engine via text or speech in order to get an appropriate answer to their query or question. 

So why is keyword translation a problem? 

Missing context, misunderstood phrasing and differences in cultural & regional nuances and lack local knowledge are some of the potential issues. Let’s take a closer look.  

Much of today’s business is conducted across international borders, and while many countries share the use of English as a common or even the official language, the nuances and expectations of business communication differ substantially from culture to culture.  

So, for many countries that share the use of English as a common language, it is noticed that end users look for similar products differently, when searching online. For instance, compare the U.S. and U.K. use of English — the same language. A colleague recently described a childcare situation where a young child was asked to make sure to change their pants – meaning those long garments that go from waist to ankles of both legs. In the UK, they call those “trousers.” The child began to change what they understood to be “pants” and it wasn’t their “trousers” but the undergarment that Brits indeed call “pants.” That’s just one quick example, but the list goes on and on.  

Think about trying to sell your brand-new running shoes as a shoe manufacturer. You might optimize your pages in the US to draw in customers who are looking for “sneakers.” You would be on the right track because, in addition to having a lot of online traffic (see US traffic forecast in the chart below), the term “sneakers” is also much more in line with how end users actually speak in the US, and, therefore, relevant to the market. 

Consider the shoe manufacturer as an example again, but this time focus on the UK as the target market. As you can see in the chart below, the keyword “trainers” generates the most valuable traffic. Your page could get more than twice as much high-value traffic and more conversions, if you optimized it for the term “trainers.” 

Failing to reflect how local markets search online balancing between culture and keywords 

A user’s culture has a direct impact on how they search online. Google and other search engines began to take end-user search patterns into account as they developed further. This enables search engines to fully comprehend what end users mean when they conduct multifaceted online searches, including slang, jargon, incomplete and mistyped searches, and more. 

The problem is that Google Translate either does not account for cultural variances of terms or is slower to adapt to them. 

For instance, Google Translate is not set up to understand the nuances of a text and, therefore, can’t understand if a translation it produced makes sense or not. SEO experts deal with this issue on a daily basis. 

Missing out on significant amounts of high value traffic between different countries.  

It’s possible that some words are well understood globally (like “reasonable” or “inexpensive”), but even though, they might not accurately reflect how the local market searches online. 

Consider an example of a multinational hotel chain with locations in the US. They ran into this situation, when they were trying to translate their content and keywords to get higher traffic targeting their audience in France. They had their targeted keywords translated directly from English to French. Their marketing department’s main worries were that the search volumes below wouldn’t be high enough to make the exercise worthwhile. (See search volumes below) 

This indicates that simply translating the targeted keywords would not yield high results. It might save you a few pennies on translation in the short term, but in the long run, the cost of potential lost traffic would be much higher. 

In the same example, this is what effective localized keyword research looks like when taking into consideration the cultural variations compared to simply translating keywords. (See search volumes below) 


There are several factors to consider when localizing keywords for search engine optimization (SEO) and effective marketing. Primarily, you want to make sure to account for local nuances and know how your target audience searches for the products and services you are selling. Keeping these points in mind will keep your website’s traffic volume high and increase your ROI on your marketing campaigns.   

If you would like to discuss your content localization and translation strategy with one of our experts, please contact our team today.