Savvy Diversification Series – Multilingual SEO: A booming niche for tech-savvy translators

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

Finding your niche is a process. And sometimes, your niche finds you.

That’s how I came to be a specialist for search engine optimized (SEO) translations. Like many of us, I started my career in translation as a generalist, accepting any decent job that fit my English-German language pair. In the early years, I translated everything from a website for a surface coating manufacturer to juicy copy for some sort of BDSM series.

After a few years in the business, during which I became more immersed in the industry side of our profession through ATA conferences, webinars, and association memberships, I began to realize my passion and talent for creative translations. I narrowed my focus on marketing, advertising, and transcreation. That’s where I came across the need for multilingual SEO.

Rising demand for SEO in translation

A few years ago, I started receiving more inquiries for SEO translations. Some clients would simply ask for a list of keywords to be translated. Others wanted specific keywords included in the translations. Most of them provided little guidance, which made me curious about best practices in modern SEO content writing.

Before starting my translation career, I had spent about half a year as an SEO copywriter for an organic content marketing enterprise. At the time, SEO writing was very formulaic, and many practices employed then would be punished by Google and other search engines today. I knew I needed to catch up on current trends in search engine optimization, so I started immersing myself in the topic through books, webinars, and online courses.

I quickly realized that in many cases, both end customers and translation agencies had at best a basic understanding of SEO. As my expertise grew, I frequently ended up educating my clients about the finer nuances of SEO content writing.

About two years ago, I was contacted by a translation agency that had come across my LinkedIn profile. They were interested in bringing me on board for an account that included a lot of content marketing. Some of it would be transcreation, some would be original content writing, but almost all of it would include search engine optimization. Refreshingly, this agency was truly knowledgeable about SEO and even provided training for their translators. I’ve been working with them ever since, and it’s been one of my most fun and rewarding opportunities.

Need for qualified specialists

While working in this field, I noticed that there is a lack of truly qualified SEO translators. This is dangerous for the client, because incorrectly implemented SEO can result in the opposite of their desired effect: Instead of improving their search engine ranking, they will be penalized by the search engine or, in the worst case, removed completely from the results.

That’s why I decided to share my knowledge with my colleagues. I gave my first presentation at the BDÜ (German Translators Association) Conference in Bonn, Germany, in 2019, and the feedback was overwhelming. Last year, I presented a session at the ATA 61st Annual Conference, and again, it was obvious how much interest there is in this field. I currently offer an on-demand webinar for German speakers on the basics of multilingual SEO, and am in the process of creating two follow-up courses focusing on keyword localization and optimized writing.

Why SEO translations are different

SEO translation is so much more than simply plugging translated – or even transcreated – keywords into the final copy. It requires an understanding of keyword analysis, content marketing, and web writing.

Here are a few common mistakes and misconceptions surrounding multilingual SEO:

  • Translating or transcreating keywords without checking their relevancy in the target market. This requires the use of an SEO tool, such as Ubersuggest, Ahrefs or Semrush. The free Keyword Planner through Google Ads is only helpful to a limited extent, as it does not provide detailed search data. If you’re serious about offering SEO services, you won’t get far without a paid subscription of some sort.
  • Keyword stuffing. Modern SEO is no longer about using the same keyword or keyword phrase as often as possible on the page. In fact, this practice is now frowned upon by search engines and can lead to penalties.
  • Neglecting semantic optimization. Search engines have come a long way and are increasingly able to understand context and natural language. That is why well-optimized copy should include lots of synonyms, word variations and related terms to signal that the content is relevant to the search inquiry.
  • Ignoring the importance of meta elements. The content on a website is important, but to signal its relevancy to search engines, it also needs to have optimized meta elements. These include the page title, URL, ALT descriptions for images, and the meta description that is displayed in the search results listing.
  • Not optimizing for the right search engines. Yes, Google is the primary search engine across the globe, but not all countries use Google, and not all target groups within a country where Google is the market leader may prefer it. For example, Yandex is the leading search engine in Russia, and the largest search engine in China is Baidu. Microsoft’s Bing tends to be particularly popular among older audiences. And don’t forget that YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon are also search engines! Each search engine has its own algorithms and looks at different elements.
  • Writing paper prose for digital formats. People read differently on screen than they do on paper. That’s why web writing is its own art and science. It is designed for easy readability and requires an easily skimmable structure, short sentences and paragraphs, lots of subheaders, lists, etc.

Not all SEO writing is created equal

Even within SEO writing, there are differences. In addition to writing and translating optimized web copy and blog posts, I’ve recently started adapting English Amazon listings for the German market, which required me to learn yet another approach to SEO. For example, there are character restrictions to adhere to and keyword repetitions to avoid. In addition, Amazon has its own product listing guidelines that sellers need to follow.

One of the most important points about translating or writing multilingual SEO copy is that you must stay on top of the latest developments in the search engine world. What gets you on page one of Google today may cost you your ranking in a few months. Anyone interested in pursuing this niche needs to be willing to put in the time and effort to invest in continuous education and self-study.

Author bio

Marion Rhodes is an ATA-certified English to German translator, certified copywriter and multilingual SEO specialist. A native of Germany, she immigrated to the United States straight out of high school in 2001. Before starting her translation career, Marion worked as a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska and as a freelance writer for various English- and German-language news publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications. When she’s not crafting copy for her clients or volunteering for ATA, she can usually be found riding one of her two horses around her home in San Diego County. For more information, visit www.imctranslations.com.

ATA’s Back to Business Basics – Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times

ATA launched its new Back to Business Basics webinar series in September 2020. These webinars focus on a small, practical piece of business advice for translators and interpreters at different stages of their careers. The series quickly became popular: there are usually a few hundred people attending each live session. Members can access these webinars free of charge, and non-members can purchase each recording for $25.

Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times was the second webinar in the Back to Business Basics series. The live event was streamed on October 5, 2020, and a recording is available in ATA’s on-demand webinar library. The webinar was given by Corinne McKay, a French to English translator and interpreter, seasoned trainer, and past ATA President. Corinne explained what diversification may look like for language professionals, shared a few reasons to diversify your business, and provided tips on how to do that.

Diversification refers to having more than one revenue stream, such as more than one type of client or service. By diversifying their businesses, language professionals can spread out their risks and avoid becoming dependent on their one or two top clients. In other words, diversifying gives you the freedom to focus on the profitable part of your services.

Corinne shared a few ways of diversifying your business. She stressed that it is okay to have multiple specializations as long as you don’t stretch yourself too thin and don’t choose too many unrelated subjects. Combining work for agencies and direct clients could also help you reap the benefits and mitigate the risks of working with each type. Finally, Corinne listed some services translators and interpreters can expand into, from purely linguistic to other creative endeavors.

Especially during difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic or a global recession, when translators and interpreters may see some of their work dry up and clients disappear into thin air, diversification can help you future-proof your business.

Check out the recording of this webinar and share it with colleagues who may be interested!

Author bio

Maria Guzenko is an ATA-certified English<>Russian translator and a certified medical interpreter (CMI-Russian). She holds an MA in translation from Kent State University and specializes in healthcare translation. Maria is a co-founder of the SLD certification exam practice group and the host of the SLD podcast, now rebranded as Slovo. More information can be found on her website at https://intorussian.net.

Book Review: Diversification in the Language Industry

By Catherine Christaki

Book Review: Diversification in the Language IndustryFrom time to time, in the translation industry (I’m guessing in many other industries as well), there are trending topics and buzzwords that become hot topics for a period of time. A few years ago, the buzzword that all linguists were talking about was diversification: what it is, do we need it, who it’s suitable for, and ways to do it. Nicole Y. Adams offered some structure and food for thought for those discussions with her book Diversification in the Language Industry (published in 2013, 350 pages).

The book is a collection of essays and interviews from seasoned language professionals offering their views on and experiences with diversifying their services. (Disclaimer: The author of this post wrote the Blogging and social networking article in the book.)

About Diversification
In Chapter 1, Nicole talks about a survey she conducted in July 2013 among 250 freelance translators regarding the services they offer and their views on diversification. She lists the following as the most common arguments that translators cite against diversification (more food for thought):

Diversification is only for bad translators. I’m successful and make a lot of money from translation alone, so I don’t need to diversify.
I’m not an outgoing person; I’m not comfortable selling or putting myself out there.
I have no time to diversify because I don’t want my core activity (translation) to suffer.
I trained to be a translator; why would I want to do anything else?
I’d rather improve my existing translation business and become a better translator.

Nicole includes an article by Anne-Marie Colliander Lind about three major trends in the language industry: volume increase (more content produced = more to translate), technology as a productivity enhancer, and disintermediation (less middlemen between the end client and the translator). She also offers the following recommendations for translators who want to diversify:

  • Add a new language pair.
  • Add another domain of specialization.
  • Become an expert in the fields you translate in.
  • Embrace technology. Learn how to use the available tools.
  • Collaborate; build a network of translating colleagues. They are not your competitors; they are potential co-workers.

In another article, Anne Diamantidis explains her position that diversification isn’t necessary, i.e. not all translators should or need to do it. She writes “If a translator feels they do not earn enough, they could consider increasing their rates and/or diversifying their existing offering, before immediately taking on a second job or writing books. Diversifying in our industry does not automatically mean having a parallel career or a new business branch. It can be as simple as adding a ‘plus’ to your offer.” And (I really enjoyed this comment and I completely agree): “…diversifying too much…can seriously damage your credibility: if you do too much and are too loud, people may think you clearly have too much time on your hands and that therefore you’re probably a terrible translator because your clients don’t give you any jobs.”

Types of Diversification
The book also offers definitions and explanations of four different types of diversification that have been identified in the language industry.

1. Linguistic diversification: Expanding your portfolio around your core service of translation
Chapter 3 starts with an article and an interview on one form of linguistic diversification: machine translation (which is interesting information if you, like me, have never worked on such projects). One author, Jeana M. Clark, believes that “Diversification at the expense of integrity or translation quality is not the kind of diversification we want to pursue.” Then, there are articles and interviews on voice-over, subtitling, transcription, terminology (including a list of available training options), transcreation, copywriting, cross-cultural consulting, linguistic validation (including a list of the typical steps involved in the validation process), online language teaching, and interpreting. This is a really great collection of articles if you want to learn more about a specific industry and maybe start offering those services.

2. Extra-linguistic diversification: Developing new business strategies or areas of entrepreneurship
Chapter 4 includes articles and interviews about extra-linguistic diversification, which includes services such as project management, blogging, social media, and online marketing. In one article, author Valerij Tomarenko writes about diversification through specialization, and in another, Inge Boonen talks about diversifying your client base.

3. Passive and external diversification: Specialized services beyond translation that freelance translators can offer to translation agencies and fellow translators
Chapters 5 and 6 are all about passive and external diversification (writing books and offering training services). Passive income can come from books, e-books or blogs, offering seminars/workshops and online training courses to fellow translation professionals, public speaking at conferences, consulting, website design, multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) and optical character recognition (OCR), and teaching. The book also includes an article on continuing professional development (CPD).

Author Meg Dziatkiewicz suggests the following ways a translator can diversify their services towards passive and external diversification:

  • Career coaching – Be a mentor, advisor and planner.
  • Marketing – Teach people how to market themselves and what tools to use.
  • IT – There are plenty of CAT tools that could be improved and applications, dictionaries, online databases and directories to be programmed.
  • Teaching – Give courses, workshops and seminars on every aspect of a translator’s life, based on your experience.
  • Art/design – Offer web design, promo materials, business cards, banners, posters.
  • Copywriting

4. Distinctive diversification: Creating a unique niche in the language industry with one-of-a-kind product or service
Chapter 7 is about distinctive diversification and includes articles and interviews on Mox’s blog and cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos, the money transferring service Translator Pay by Paul Sulzberger, the non-profit Translators without Borders by Lori Thicke, and branding services by Valeria Aliperta.

Summary
For me, the best feature of Diversification in the Language Industry is that you can you read it all at once as a book on diversification but you can also choose specific articles and chapters if you want to learn more about a specific field and/or skill set. The personal tone of most of the articles and interviews, including a brief background on the author, gives you great insight on how these authors started out and the different paths they followed in their successful careers.

The food for thought this book gave to translators and interpreters–and all those discussions I mentioned at the beginning of this post–have led to many language professionals authoring books and offering training courses and webinars, as well as copywriting and consulting services.

What about you? Have you read Nicole’s book? Did it inspire you to diversify and offer additional services apart from translation and interpreting?

Further reading
Diversification in the Language Industry by Nicole Y. Adams – a review
Books on My Shelves – Diversification in the Language Industry