We analyzed today’s landscape in digital content strategy and we’ll tell you how experts in translation and localization can contribute to making the best out of it.
Search engines are getting better and better in capturing the singularities of natural language and the diversity of users’ preferences and behaviors, making the job of SEO experts increasingly challenging. Gone are the times when keyword stuffing was enough, and the click was the single measure unit of success. Today, SEO efforts broaden on and off the page in different formats, and the strategic variables under consideration keep multiplying and becoming more complex.
However, two certainties remain. The first one is that a working digital content strategy needs to be able to produce content that can be indexed by engines for users to find. The second one is that, to achieve this, magic recipes do not work.
As online search technology becomes more sophisticated, digital strategies need to become more personalized. Each brand must find its own balance of resources, combining investment in technological infrastructure, the talent for strategic communication planning, and in-depth knowledge of its audiences.
Let’s see next what the future of SEO brings and why it’s a good idea to add the perspective of a language service provider when making decisions about global content strategies.
# 1 The evolution of artificial intelligence applied to searches
Traditionally, on-page SEO is about selecting a couple of keywords, thinking about related variants of terms and strategically placing them in certain parts and categories on the page that we know guarantee good indexing and put us in the race for positioning (title and subtitles, first paragraphs, and above the fold content in general).
However, each new step in the evolution of artificial intelligence applied to searches requires us to review and edit the “manual of good SEO practices” to adapt it to the possibilities and opportunities offered by technology.
The latest milestone in search technology leaps has been made by Google (the world’s most widely used search engine) with the launch of BERT (short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). BERT is an open-source neural network trained to process natural language.
BERT affects one in ten searches and allows Google to understand better how the language is used and, especially, how individual words work within searches, not isolated, but in context. This means that instead of word-for-word processing, each term can now be considered in the context of a sentence, relative to those that precede and follow it.
From this point on, should SEO experts optimize content with BERT in mind? No, because there is no such thing as “optimizing for BERT”. Danny Sullivan, Google search expert, explained it after the launch: “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged”.
However, even if you cannot “optimize for BERT,” every small step that artificial intelligence takes towards an optimal understanding of natural language can be used as an opportunity to reevaluate your practices and ask yourself if you are making content that is high quality and aimed to respond to the real search intent of real users.
This review takes two steps. The first is to understand how natural language processing works to produce clearer, more understandable, and indexable content for search engines. The second is about deeply knowing the cultural contexts in which our audiences communicate to provide clearer, more understandable, and more enjoyable content.
The first step is technical and requires mastering the basics for writing content that is compatible with natural language processing (NLP) mechanisms. Writing for NLP requires knowledge of logic and syntax for crafting sentences with a clear and simple structure, and in which the relationship between words is evident and unambiguous. The second step, aimed at creating quality content for real users, requires in-depth knowledge of their cultures, the contexts in which they bond, and their different ways of interacting with the language.
In both areas, the help of a language service provider can add value. Working with highly trained linguists ensures that the syntax of the content in the target languages is appropriate and suitable for the work of the search engines. At the same time, the contribution of native translators allows the content to be delivered in any language with the clarity and appeal necessary to resonate with each audience.
# 2 The growth of voice searches
Hand in hand with the proliferation of virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, or the Google Assistant, added to the increase in traffic on mobile devices, searches are no longer single words typed using a keyboard and became phrases and questions said into a microphone. In a recent survey, 48% of respondents said they use voice search, 79% considered that voice technology improves their quality of life, and 92% affirmed that it saves time.
This change in the searching mode generates a change in the use of the language, giving rise to search attempts with longer and more complex queries. As users gain confidence in the interaction with new devices, we find richer and more varied expressions, both in syntax and semantics.
How can SEO and inbound marketing experts stay ahead of the growing voice search trend? By writing content with a conversational tone and structured in a way that responds to possible questions from target audiences.
In order to build content that answers the questions from real users, it is important to start by identifying what the user’s intention is. There are multiple classifications on the different types of search intents, but, broadly speaking, we can group them into three categories:
- navigational searches, in which the user already knows where he/she wants to go and uses the search engine to find a link to his destination,
- informational searches, in which the user wants to know or deepen their knowledge on a subject for educational or entertainment purposes (or with a possible but distant purchase intention), and
- transactional searches, in which the user has a clear purchase goal and looks for ways to complete the operation immediately.
To this we must add that, depending on the degree of prior knowledge and commitment that the user has with their search topic (which in online marketing is usually presented in the form of a funnel), the structure of the question may be simpler (for example, what is x) or more complex (for example, what is the best way to do x).
As we see it, the transition from written to voice search is not only a change in format but a total change in the users’ behavior and their way of interacting with language. To find creative and competitive ways to join this trend, language experts can be of great help in keyword research aimed at voice search optimization for different target audiences. Their input can be especially valuable in long-tail SEO strategies, proposing new alternatives to explore in low competition niches.
# 3 The optimization for SERP (Search Engine Results Page)
A competitive ranking strategy is no longer limited to the famous “ten blue links.” Now it reaches results in videos, images, news, maps, lists, tables, and product descriptions, among others. The key to achieving efficient and consistent results in all formats is to incorporate a 360° mindset: to abandon arbitrary conceptions about the hierarchy of this or that format over others and to think in terms of objectives and weighing the value of each channel based on a comprehensive branding strategy.
Take the case of video that, according to Cisco, is expected to occupy 80% of online traffic by 2021. A brand that has unoptimized video footage is wasting an immense opportunity, so a good start would be to curate your available content and localize basic indexing data for its target audiences.
Search engines usually take data from the title, descriptions, and tags of the videos to understand the content, index it, and make it available to users, so optimizing those three categories is a good starting point. However, for some industries, this may be insufficient for good positioning. A second step to implement would be to add transcripts. A third step, aimed at expanding global reach on video, would be to include subtitles in the languages of the target audiences. With all these efforts, not only the chances of SEO positioning are improved, but also user experience in a broad sense.
To meet these demands, a language service provider has multidisciplinary teams of translators and editors in all languages, project managers, and technicians in different media to assist in optimizing and localizing content in all formats. This service usually includes the creation of terminology bases and style guides, two linguistic assets that help to strengthen the branding strategy in all channels, ensure consistency in the production and translation of content over time, and, ultimately, save time and costs.
In summary, the growth of alternatives on the search results page is both a challenge and an opportunity for brands to explore new and more engaging ways to connect with their global audiences, and a language expert is an ideal partner to carry it out successfully.
SEO practices evolve hand in hand with technology, in a way that they seek to adjust more and more to the realities and experiences of users. To do so, it is not enough to execute recipes or “shortcuts”: the key is to develop global strategies that involve investment in technological infrastructure and linguistic and cultural knowledge of the audiences in equal parts.
Adding the contribution of a team of language experts will not only achieve successful and meaningful results for each target audience, but will save time and costs, and ensure consistency of the brand strategy in all formats.