Excuse my French: How to choose keywords for your regional market



By Anne-Marie Castonguay

As the Spanish-speaking market grows online in the US, as the borders in Europe disappear, as China is on the verge of becoming the biggest world market, we are confronted more and more with particular challenges concerning our target’s real language. It gets even more difficult in smaller geographic regions such as the very distinct French-speaking Quebec in Canada. While we, SEO specialists, know the door to traffic heaven is using the right words, tools available are less than useful for regional markets, and they can downright lead you on the wrong path.

Forget the costly services that will give you an “unbiased�? trend of keywords demand; due to their gathering methods, they will most likely under-represent your market. You are stuck looking through a database of keywords that might never have been used by your potential clients, even though it’s the right “language�?. If you choose those words, you can end up with irrelevant keywords in the heart of your SEO efforts.

Keyword Suggestion Tools such as those offered by YSM (Overture) and Google Adwords allows for regional settings. However, these are based on settings with flaws that could make you miss targeting the right visitors.

Here are some of the problems with current regional keyword suggestion tools:

· Local settings in many Keyword Suggestion Tools are based on user segmentation by IP address, or the regional/linguistic version of the Search Engine accessed. Some Internet Service Providers (such as AOL) are located in other countries, thus changing the results based on IP addresses.

· Language is set by the country/language version you are accessing when using most Search Engines. If I’m using Google in English, but I type in French queries, where is it recorded?

· Overture gives me a French Canada specific tool, but over there, less than 20% of people use Yahoo (according to Mediametrix). How accurate can it be?

For example, a search for “ordinateur�? (the French word meaning computer) in Overture Canada will give 831 demands last month. The same search in Overture US will give 1035 searches. How is it possible that a US database contains more queries for a widely used French term? It’s possible because the Market is under-represented in Overture. With Google Adwords, the estimated traffic for “ordinateur�? in the US alone is almost 2 times the estimate for Canada alone, even though Google is widely used in Quebec and Canada.

I came upon this issue specifically with sites targeting Quebec visitors (Canada), where the majority of the population speaks French (in their very own way). The methods used to choose the right keywords in Quebec would apply to any smaller regionally and linguistically different market.

But, even if it requires more work, nothing stops you from creating a great SEO job in your regional market.

Here are the steps to choose your regional keywords:

1. Start with your own keyword list and their synonyms.

2. Search your subject and filter for country specific results. Take note of the way keywords are used.

3. Read blogs from people in your market. Take note of the way keywords are used.

4. Read local forums or review sites. Subjects that bring along passion (sports, cars, politics, etc.) will have tons of people commenting on them using a very personal language. The keywords used are most likely what they will look for in Searches.

5. Take this new list of keywords and go back to your keyword traffic prevision tools. Start with the local version, whether it’s Google Adwords, Overture or another regional service. Start building your list from there, with the same “caution�? you would use for any language.

6. Go to the other tools (KeywordDiscovery, Wordtracker, etc.) and compare the prevision. Your market is presently under-represented using those tools, so don’t be discouraged by what seems to be a low demand. However, if the demand is suddenly significantly higher, it might be because another market is tapping in to the results (ex: France results would show up while you are looking for keywords used in Quebec).

7. Check Google Trends to see if your country / surrounding cities are represented when researching your keywords.

8. Check the relevancy factor for your keywords (Thank you Dan Thies http://www.seoresearchlabs.com/keywords.zip).

9. If the prevision numbers are very low, it could also mean your subject is “referred to�? differently from person to person, with a wide range of variations in the keywords. Be inventive in your copywriting and use the variations and synonyms.

10. Always use the most “semantically inclusive�? keywords as your title tag and link building hypertext strategy, unless you are sure there is absolutely no demand on those words.

At the end of the day, you might never get the set of high traffic keywords you were looking for in your regional market. However, with a wider semantic optimization, you will end up with traffic from 30 related terms generating 200 visits each (6 000 visits), rather than one main keyword generating 1000 visits.

Et voil� !

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]

  • Michelle Marsolais

    Very Interresting!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/25513148 Bookworm SEO

    Great article from a fellow Quebecker! I can see why Rand thinks we’re so numerous in SEO lol.

    I appreciate the tip about going to forums and blogs etc. This limits you to online sources, though. You can also read trade publications and textbooks if the topic is broad enough to have any. Yet another source can be ads in magazine and elsewhere. For example, in my domaining, I recently found a popular dental keyword available, that I only knew from picking up a dental magazine.

    Another point is that, assuming the titles are descriptive, you can save time by just reading over the table of contents.

    P.s. You should check out Yulbiz, if you’re in Montreal, Anne-Marie and Michelle! Cafe Melies sur St-Laurent (le cafe d’Ex-Centris).

  • Johannes

    AOL Germany uses IP adresses registered to their German branch, just as well as every other American internet service provider in Germany. I guess this is probably similar in most other countries, so this may not be as big of a problem as you think. On my German-language-only web site, 99.9% of users are correctly identified by Google Analytics as coming from Germany, and the remaining 0.1% might really be in a foreign country.

    Also, there is another criterion that search engines can use to determine which language the user speaks: The accept-language header a user’s web browser sends with every request. In fact, if I type in google.com in my browsers address bar, it automatically redirects me to google.de. So if someone types in an English word in the German version of Google, in most cases it will be a German-speaking person searching for an English word.

    The 831 vs. 1035 searches figure given by Overture seems quite plausible to me. According to wikipedia, Quebec has a population of about 7.6 mln people. There are probably more than 7.6 mln french-speaking people in all of the US. Also, it’s quite plausible the many people in Quebec search for English terms as they expect there will be more results for them – at least that’s what a lot of people do in Germany.

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