International Search Engine Optimization: Transcreation is Key

As a provider of international search engine optimization services to companies around the globe, we’re frequently involved in our customer’s efforts to translate and localize their websites. Translating a website is a significant first step in reaching global audiences. However, it’s only the first step. To maximize your efforts and costs in translating a website, you’ll want the appropriate search engines, such as Google, Yandex, Baidu, and Naver, to find those translated websites and place them on the first page of their search engine results. Most people will click on the first three organic (aka natural) search engine results, and this is where your website needs to rank if you’re looking to boost lead generation and sales from your multilingual websites. So how do you make this happen? By implementing an international search engine optimization (ISEO) strategy, which includes the transcreation process. In this article, I’ll discuss some transcreation best practices and how to get started with global SEO.

Optimize Your Source-Language Website First Before Getting Started with International SEO

Most likely, you have an SEO strategy for your English website. If you don’t, or if you’re not sure, I encourage you to use our website audit tool. In less than a minute, you’ll get an 8-page report which also includes a list of action items that you can implement right away:

What’s Your SEO Score?

Enter the URL of any landing page or blog article and see how optimized it is for one keyword or phrase.

If your source-language website is not currently correctly optimized, you’ll want to make sure to get that done before getting started with multilingual SEO. After all, you don’t want to duplicate any existing optimization issues into multiple languages. I’d be happy to review the findings of the report with you in a phone call or online screen share meeting.

An IESO strategy is a similar process as an SEO strategy, with one of the most significant differences being that an ISEO strategy needs to include a transcreation process for your target SEO keywords and also the content on your website. Transcreation is the process of adapting your branded marketing content to another language while keeping the intent and emotion of the content intact. It’s much more than just translating words. Part of the transcreation process is to know how many people are searching for specific keywords in the target market. By properly implementing the transcreated keywords into the web copy, you’ll not only be able to evoke the same emotion and present the same message as the original content for a specific language and locale but you also dramatically increase the chance for your website to rank prominently in the search engines.

By combining localization, which is the process of adapting content to a specific locale or market, and being able to evoke the same emotions for your multilingual websites as for your source language website, you’ve successfully started with the transcreation process.

Localization involves translation while relaying the right message, but it also includes things like replacing graphics, changing colors and adapting the page layout for the appropriate locale. Transcreation can make a big difference in reaching your global audience, as it should accurately reflect your messages, and with the correct keywords, you’re successfully educating the search engines on what your business is all about and what keywords should drive traffic to your multilingual websites.

The Transcreation Process: Start with Keyword Research for SEO

So how does the transcreation process work? It starts with keyword research, which is one of the most essential tasks of your overall SEO strategy. For information on how to get started with the keyword research process, I encourage you to read my Step-by-Step SEO Keywords Guide. This guide explains how to develop and research keywords in detail. Getting your source-language keywords right is crucial to the success of your international SEO strategy. Before you can even think about transcreating your source-language keywords into other languages, you need to be sure that these keywords are correct and adequately mapped to each page on your website.

We usually map (or assign) three closely related SEO keywords to every page on a website. We then optimize these pages for the three target SEO keywords so that we can help the search engines send someone to precisely the right page on our website instead of our home page.

As you can see from the example below, when searching for seo training denver, Google will send that person to the right page on the Boulder SEO Marketing website (for full discloser: I’m the owner of this Denver SEO company) instead of the home page. If Google would have sent this person to the home page instead, that person may not have found the desired information immediately and hopped over to another website:

SEO Training Denver

Transcreate Your Target SEO Keywords

Once you’ve created a list of source-language SEO keywords and you’ve correctly mapped the keywords to every page on your website, the transcreation process can begin. When we help customers with the keyword transcreation process, we work with professional, native-speaking linguists who are trained in the art of global SEO. These professionals must be intimately familiar with the culture of the targeted locale since language evolves.

Transcreation involves translating words combined with using data to make decisions about which translated terms to use. For example, a translated term can be technically correct, but if not very many people are searching for it, it won’t be nearly as successful from an SEO standpoint as another term that gets many hits. This is where the research comes in.

Keyword Transcreation: An Example

When I moved to the US back in the late 90s, I walked into an electronics store and asked an associate where I could find a Natel. The guy looked at me as I had just arrived from Mars. He had no clue what I was talking about.

Back then, Natel was the term that German-speaking people in Switzerland used for what was generally known as a cell phone in the US. As mentioned earlier in this article, languages evolve constantly. In the English language, the term cell phone has now been replaced with the term smartphone.

The image below shows how many people per month search for smartphone-related keywords in the German language in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria:

International SEO Keyword Transcreation Example

Although, the same language, it’s interesting to see that the search volumes and keyword preferences differ vastly. For additional information about this topic, make sure to read article An Introduction to International SEO Keyword Research and the Transcreation Process.


Once you’ve successfully transcreated your target SEO keywords, you need to use them throughout your on-page SEO efforts, such as in meta tags, hyperlinking, keyword placement in the content on every page, etc. SEO and international SEO have become quite involved these days. There are roughly 200-250 main ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. All of these rankings signal can be categorized and placed onto one of these five pillars:

  1. The technical health of a website
  2. The functionality and user experience of a website
  3. On-page SEO and content marketing best practices
  4. Off-page SEO best practices
  5. Social media and influencer marketing and influencer marketing

The better all of these rankings signals are addressed, the better the chance that your website will rank at the top in the search engine results pages. If you don’t know where to start or if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.