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.