Up until I moved to Dubai,, I had very little experience with SEO in Arabic (or any other language for that matter).
But working on campaigns involving multilingual SEO has taught me a lot and I’m grateful for the experience and insights it has given me. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my experiences working on campaigns in other languages so I thought I’d write about 3 main things to keep in mind when you’ve got a multilingual SEO project on hand:
1. Things will get lost in translation
‘water park’ in English makes perfect sense and we know what that is but try converting that into Arabic. There’s no such word for ‘water park’ in Arabic. You could be literal and use the words for ‘water’ and ‘park’ but I’ve been told by Arabic speakers that it doesn’t quite make sense in the Arabic language. It’s been used in that sense though because it’s about as close as you can get. I’ve seen ‘garden’ being used for ‘park’ and vice versa in some Arabic texts so that presents another level of complexity – where there’s so many words for one thing. Did you know that in Serbian, there’s actually word for when you have something on the side of your mouth? That word is: “musav”. You don’t need to say to someone “hey, you have something on the side of your mouth” (in Serbian of course!), you just simply say ‘musav’ and the other person gets the idea.
2. Don’t ignore local customs & traditions
The Chinese are known for many superstitious traditions and place a lot of emphasis on numbers. For example, the number 8 is awesome but the number 4 is bad luck. We all know that hotel star ratings only go up to the number 5 but Chinese keyphrase research reveals that there’s a lot of searches for 8 star hotels (even though this doesn’t actually exist) but you have to factor it in. The Burj Al Arab is touted as the world’s only 7 star hotel due to its sheer opulence, even though that level doesn’t exist (they’re officially a 5 star hotel) but this highlights how important it is to factor in local customs when organising your online strategy. Naturally, you can’t lie and say your 5 star hotel is 8 stars but that’s where you get to be a bit creative with your content.
3. Don’t rely on Google Translate
I really can’t stress this one enough. If you’re just being curious about words in other languages, then Google Translate is great (but not 100% accurate!), but when you’re optimising content in multiple languages, you can’t simply use Google Translate for the job. Using a straight 1:1 translation of content puts a tremendous amount of risk on your brand and that of your clients because of a lack of context. Simply put, it’s just not worth it!
The key to all of this is to find local experts (either in your country or elsewhere) who are fluent in the language, who are then able to conduct keyphrase research and write optimised copy based on that research. Ask to see examples of their work and who their clients are. Larger agencies may attract higher fees but the quality of work is worth it. Of course, it definitely helps if you have a friend who speaks the language to peruse the content for any major flaws. Not everyone is a copywriter but we can certainly tell when something has been poorly written! You may need to guide them with keyphrase research though.
Multilingual SEO is a fascinating line of work. The insights you get into other languages and cultures is eye opening and it certainly adds a great level of depth to my day to day SEO work. I’ve learnt a lot more about localising content and really narrowing the focus down to each specific market, even if the language is the same (eg. Arabic in Lebanon vs Arabic in Egypt). And through all of this, I’m also improving my skills in Arabic!