Cross-cultural keyword optimization

The most important point in SEO is to find keywords that best summarise what the users of search engines want, in other words, the keywords represent the users’ needs. Therefore, it is important to do some research to find keywords from the users’ point of view.

Whether you are willing to pay for keyword advertisements, or only interested in free search engine optimization work, optimization of keywords is the core marketing activity for your site. The purpose of this section is to highlight the importance of well selected keywords in the translated website.

Translated websites are unlikely to be found by the search engines because of the following reasons:

1)    Keywords are not provided

2)    Direct translation of the English keyword often does not produce a correct keyword in the target language. Powerful English keywords can become less effective in the target language during the localization process. Moreover, keywords people enter are sometimes culturally specific, and can be associated with different concepts.

3)    The use of compound keywords is not carefully considered. The Japanese users of search engines are increasing using compound keywords such as “camera price” or “camera price comparison” According to Yahoo Japan, the average number of keywords per search entered by a user is 1.45. The important thing is to note is that how keywords are combined can be culturally specific, because it represents how people associate with one word to another.

While there are only 26 characters in English, the Japanese language is much more complicated, as combinations of three different types of characters are used. There are 51 Hiragana and 51 Katakana; both of them are phonetic characters, as well as Kanji (Chinese characters that represents meanings). The number of Kanji (Chinese characters) used in daily life is over 2,000. This naturally creates more variations in keywords especially considering the possible combination of words (compound keywords). The Japanese language is said to be one of the most expressive languages in the world due to this complexity.

For example, an Australian natural cosmetic maker is using the following keywords on their website:
“skin, hair, body, beauty, organic, natural, skincare products, beauty products, Australia”

Literal Translations of these keywords into Japanese are as follows:

” 肌、髪、身体、美しさ、オーガニック、自然、スキンケア製品、化粧品、オーストラリア“

As I was unable to identify main keywords for this website, from the above list of keyword for this website (skin, hair, body, beauty, organic, natural, skincare products, beauty products, Australia), I would select “Organic” and “Skincare Products” as the best two keywords that describe the theme of this website by an Australian natural cosmetic maker. This choice is quite obvious, and if I were a potential Japanese buyer, I would enter “Natural” and “Cosmetic Product” into a search engine, if I was looking for natural cosmetic products.

As described above, the Japanese language has more variations than languages that use alphabet, because there are three types of characters in the Japanese system. There are 2 different versions in the translation of Cosmetic Product(化粧品, コスメ), there are more variations in the translation of “Organic” in the Japanese(オーガニック, ナチュラル、自然、天然, 自然派, , 無添加, you need to consider which one of the variations would make the most effective keyword. In addition, as synonyms of “Organic” I would also include 無添加, which means no-additives. In English, perhaps not many people would type in “additive-free cosmetic product”, however, the Japanese equivalent is commonly used in combination with “cosmetic product”.  In Japan “organic” and “natural” is used almost interchangeably, so variations of “Natural” should be considered, too. This is a good example of how people from different cultures associate different words with the same concept “Natural”.  The following table shows the search volume of 6 different keywords in Google’s Keyword Planning Tool.

Keywords Explanation Search Volume
(1 month)
1 無添加化粧品 additive-free cosmetic product 4,400
2  オーガニック化粧品 Organic cosmetic product 1,900
3   自然化粧品 Natural (自然 – Kanji version1)
+cosmetic product(化粧品)
4  オーガニックコスメ Organic(オーガニック – katakana version)
+cosmetic (コスメ – Katakana version)
5 天然化粧品 Natural(天然 – Kanji version 2)
+cosmetic product(化粧品)
6 自然派化粧品 Natural (自然派 – Kanji version plus
extra character meaning “group”)
+cosmetic product(化粧品)

The result shows that the most searched keyword is 4 (オーガニックコスメ). This shows that オーガニックコスメ is the most common word to describe “Natural cosmetic products” in Japan.  Direct translation オーガニック化粧品 is searched 1900 times in a month, where as オーガニックコスメ searched 12,100 times, 6 times more than the directly translated keyword.  Please note that No 6 自然派化粧品 contains an extra character between “Natural” and “Cosmetic Product” The extra character 派 actually means “group, school or faction”. In this context, it means that “a group of cosmetics products that are categorized as natural”, which means really the same as saying “natural cosmetic products” but for some reason, the Japanese tend to like using rather indirect way of saying the same thing. We could say that it is because the Japanese generally tend to avoid expressing their likes and dislikes directly; however in this context, this is a standard expression of saying “natural cosmetic products”. This is a very good example of direct translation not producing the best keyword in Japanese.

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