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Guest post: an introduction to SEO

Today I’m publishing this guest post by Rob Hammond, Account Director for SEO at OMD, who gives some basic pointers on Search Engine Optimisation for translators.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) deals with optimising websites for people who use search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing. If you’re wondering what this has to do with translation, read on…

What is SEO?

SEO is centred around the ‘natural’ (or ‘organic’) search listings shown in a search engine results page. This is distinct from ‘sponsored’ results (coloured red below) also seen on a search results page.


Sponsored results can be paid for by companies that want their website to appear when someone performs a search for a particular word or phrase. However, natural search results are determined by proprietary algorithms, and companies cannot pay to appear in the listings for these search results.

SEO can help websites to improve their positions in the natural results for certain search phrases (or ‘keywords’), which can significantly increase the number of visitors coming to a website.

So why is this important to translators?

As members of the translation industry know better than most, translating from one language to another is not simply about copying a text word for word into another language. As content on the internet grows, the need for quality translation services naturally grows with it.

As with any other discipline, writing for the web requires certain skills that may not be immediately obvious. Firstly, usability is an issue – usability guru Jakob Nielsen sums it up perfectly under the heading How users read on the web:

They don’t

Although this study was undertaken 12 years ago now, the fundamental principles hold true; you can’t write content for the internet in the same way as you do for paper. On the web, reading habits are vastly different, and this must affect the way we write or translate.

Secondly, findability is a consideration; if nobody can find your translated content on the internet, why was it translated? This is where even a basic knowledge of SEO can come in handy. Beyond the technical aspects of a website, SEO also deals with linguistic aspects of a website’s content.

One of the first processes SEOs undertake when optimising a website is keyword research, which analyses the language people use when searching for a particular product or service. By focusing the language used on a website to what people are actually searching for, the website’s content becomes more likely to appear in the natural search results and attract visitors.

As a starter for ten, a couple of free online tools that translators may find useful when translating online texts can be found with Google Insights and Google Trends.


Google Insights for Search

Both of these tools offer international data on searcher behaviour over the last 5 years. Data can be narrowed down to country and city level, and may be useful when researching terminology usage. For example the image above shows that more people are using the phrase “mpv” than “people carrier”, although the gap between the two phrases has narrowed since 2004.

Further reading

There is a huge number of free resources available on the net if you’re interested in learning more about SEO. Unfortunately the quality of information found on a the majority of blogs and forums is at best poor at often misleading if not wrong.

However, the links below are some of the best places to start:

What have been your experiences of SEO? How much do you know about the inner workings of Google? For more discussion on SEO, check out Rob’s blog at Feel free to leave any SEO-related questions in the comments below and Rob will answer them.

In case you hadn’t guessed from the name, Rob is my other half 😉

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User Responses

5 Responses and Counting...

  1. Marian Dougan

    September 23, 2009

    Am finalising my new web site so this is very well timed and contains lots of useful info. In addition, I’m fresh from the Nielsen Norman Group’s “Usability Week” in Edinburgh, so usability and SEO issues are very much in my mind. I highly recommend NNG’s tutorials, by the way – eye-wateringly expensive but very useful (for translators, the content ones in particular).
    Thanks for a timely and informative post!

    PS Rob sounds like a very useful other half to have…

  2. Sarah Dillon

    September 23, 2009

    Thanks for the great pointers Rob, and what a useful guest-post idea, Philippa!

    SEO is definitely an interesting beast. I’ve been experimenting with Google Adwords for a couple of months now by running mini campaigns and seeing what happens. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how satisfying it is to see a jump in conversions after just a tiny tweak to my ad text or title!

    What (admittedly little!) I’ve seen has prompted me to set up a separate website to my blog this past few months, and make full use of my template’s SEO-friendly options for titles, post names, tags, etc. I’ve also been thinking a lot more about how best to use anchor texts within my blog posts and externally on the web… with a focus very firmly on “thinking” rather than any great action, but I suppose every little helps :)

    Above all my short foray into the mysterious world of SEO and SEM has made me realise that I need a firmer plan around who I’m targeting, and what exactly do I want them to do when they do get to my site. I think that’s an incredibly useful insight for just a few hours of tinkering about, and I’m hoping my business will benefit as a result of some of the changes I have planned as a result.

    It was also interesting to hear Rob say there is a lot of misleading info out there, it definitely seems like there’s a lot of hype and I think it would be very easy to get swept away in it all to very little positive effect. So thanks again for the references, I’m looking forward to having a good read!

  3. rob

    September 23, 2009

    Thanks for your comments – it’s great to be working in a field where there is a lot of interest in it across many different spheres of experience.

    @marian – I went to the Nielsen usability week in London a few years ago; definitely a very well run conference with lots of great information. Jakob’s weekly email newsletter at often contain some great insights about a wide variety of usability issues.

    @sarah – it’s great to see you’ve already made some forays :) if you haven’t already tried it out, Google Analytics is a great tool for helping to judge your success in the SEO, PPC and usability worlds, which is easy to use yet has a lot of advanced functionality (and is free.)

    If you have any other questions please comment here or feel free to @ me at

  4. Andrei

    September 23, 2009

    Rob, thank you for sharing it in a simple and easy-to-understand language, as I am just making my first steps in SEO…

  5. Technical translations

    September 23, 2009

    Hi Philippa,

    SEO might be important to translators but there are still many localization companies that don’t use SEO in their daily routine and they still have a lot of customers.
    If you want to get found by customers through search engines, it is essential to do lot of SEO work.
    Although it’s easy to find information on SEO, not many translators know the topic well, that’s why I hope Rob will have lot to do in the future:-)

    Best wishes!


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