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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (April 2006)

Search Engine Optimization for Translators and Interpreters

Frank Dietz

I have given a number of talks and workshops about building websites for freelance translators and interpreters, most recently together with Rainer Klett at the 2005 ATA Annual Conference in Seattle. During the question-and-answer period, there is usually someone who asks "How can I make sure that people will find my website?" or

"How can I get more people to visit my website?" The standard answer is to promote it in as many places as you can think of-on your business cards, as a signature in your outgoing e-mail (in MS Outlook, go to Tools/Options/Mail Format), on your invoices, in your profile in discussion groups and online directories, in your blog, and so forth. Read on to find out what you can do to promote your website, including using search engine optimization (SEO) methods to gain a higher ranking from the major Internet search engines.


Take Stock

If you have just finished your shiny new website, you can skip this step. However, if your site looks the same as it did when you first put it up several years ago, you will probably want to pay attention.

You might have a website, but have no idea how many people visit it or whether it can be found when using a search engine. If that is the case, try the tactics listed below.

Install a hit counter. A hit counter allows you to count visitors to your site and generates statistics concerning the domain they came from, the amount of time they spent on your site, and more. Check with your Internet service provider (ISP) first. You might already have access to these data through your ISP, but if not, you can find free programs, such as Site Meter (www.sitemeter.com), that you can easily install on your website.

Analyze your site. There are numerous online tools that let you analyze various aspects of the popularity and importance of your site. The Google toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com), for instance, installs into your browser and, among other things, tells you the so-called page rank of a website, from 0/10 to 10/10 (the higher, the better). There are also tools that analyze your standing in other search engines, the number of sites that link to yours, and much more. Luckily, there is one place where many of these tools are combined: GoLexa (www.golexa.com). Just enter the URL of your site and click on "GoLexa Search." The GoLexa interface is crowded and might be confusing at first, but just move the mouse pointer over a button, and a pop-up message will tell you its function.

On-Page Activities

On-page activities improve the structure of your website so that it is easier for search engines to find and categorize it. If you have a new website, you should definitely perform the following activities before registering with any search engine.

Take out the bells and whistles. Search engines are text-oriented. Flash animations or text that is really in a graphics format cannot be found by search engines. Therefore, all important elements should also exist in text form. If your website shows an image of a Swedish and a German flag and the word "Translator," a visitor will probably figure out the fact that you are a Swedish-to-German translator, but a search engine spider (a program that "crawls" the Web for information to be used in search engine databases) will certainly not understand this. The same holds true for the use of icons on navigation buttons.

Find keywords. Think how you conduct a Web search: you go to a search engine page and enter keywords . Consider which keywords a potential client might use to look for your site. Should you use "Hungarian translator" or "Hungarian translation," for instance? Here are two tools that tell you how popular certain search keywords are: www.seochat.com/seo-tools/keyword-suggestions-google and www.seochat.com/seo-tools/keyword-suggestions-overture. Depending on your language combination, you also have to expect that users might misspell your language, so using variant spellings of "Czech interpreter" or "Portuguese translator" in your meta tags (see below) might bring some extra traffic.

Make your keywords work. Once you have decided on certain keywords, make sure that they appear in prominent locations. For instance, use the title of your homepage to your advantage. "Welcome to my Site" is obviously a much less effective page title than "John Doe, English-to-French technical translation and software localization." Use your major keywords in document names, and also give them special status in the text by using them in headings or bolding or italicizing them. One thing you should definitely avoid, though, is so-called keyword spamming . Filling your site with unrelated but highly popular keywords (Free iPod! Low mortgage rates!) will not only annoy visitors, but can also get you penalized by search engines in the form of lower rankings.

Insert meta tags. Meta tags are pieces of hypertext mark-up language (HTML) code that are invisible to those who visit your site, but help tell search engines what your site is all about. Here is an example of some meta tags:

<meta name= "Description"
content= "German translation and software localization (computer hardware and software, consumer electronics, computer and video game translation)"

<meta name= "Keywords"
content="German translation, German software localization,computer game translation, video game translation, computer game localization, video game localization, localization consulting, technical translation,Texas, Austin, localization"

</head>

The following online tool lets you enter your text for the meta tags and then generates the code that you can paste into your site: www.scrubtheweb.com/abs/builder.html. As in the case of visible keywords, you should definitely not engage in keyword spamming in your meta tags.

Improve navigation. Take a look at the navigation structure of your website. Is it easy to find your way around? Are there any "dangling" pages that lack navigation elements to lead back to your main pages? You might also consider including a site map that lists all your individual pages. This will not only make it easier for search engines to catalog your site, but also for visitors to find what they need.

Add content. I have seen translators' sites that contain less information than the average business card (a name, a language pair, and a phone number). Other sites consist of more elaborate online résumés that provide the translator's or interpreter's qualifications, resources, and services offered. However, you should consider adding even more content. Use your expertise to create this content. As an experienced translator or interpreter, you may know something about German patent law or doing business in China, or about French agriculture. You can write articles about these topics and post them on your site. You could also submit them to relevant online publications, making sure that a link to your website is included in the article. As an alternative, you could create a resource area with links to export/import regulations for Country X.

All these activities take time, of course, but in the long run, they make your website more attractive, bring in more visitors, and induce others to link to your site (which, in turn, improves your search engine ranking). Moreover, if you keep adding content regularly, this will create an incentive for people to revisit your site.

Off-Page Activities

Off-page activities concern your site in relation to other sites on the Web. The following are some steps you can take to improve the standing of your site.

Avoid the "154,000 Search Engines" trap. There are numerous services out there that will submit, for a fee, your site to a number of search engines. These services range from the serious to the ludicrous. I have even seen one that promises to list your site in "154,000 search engines and directories." While there may be that many search engines and directories, there are certainly not that many important ones. You should also be wary of services that promise you a "# 1 spot" on Google within a few days or pretend that they can get you ]"avalanches of traffic." You might not only waste money using some of these services, but a link to your website could also end up on a link farm that contains only numerous links, without any content, which is a practice that some search engines frown upon.

The important search engines. Together, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search (and the Open Directory) provide the vast majority of all search results, either directly or indirectly. The good thing is that you do not have to pay to be included. If your initial analysis showed that you are not listed in one of these places, go here:

Google:
www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl

Yahoo!:
http://submit.search.yahoo.com/free/request

MSN Search:
http://search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx

Open Directory:
www.dmoz.org/add.html

Being listed in industry-specific directories. While these directories are much smaller, they are likely to bring you visitors wanting to employ your translation or interpreting services. First of all, go to your ATA online profile (www.americantranslators.org/tsd) and update it to include your website URL. Then, contact any local translator/interpreter organizations or other professional groups you belong to in order to have your website included in your online profile.

Receiving links. Having links point to your website helps your standing with search engines and can bring additional visitors to you. There are one-way links and reciprocal links (i.e., you will have to place a return link on your site). How do you get these links? Here are some methods:

  • Exchange links with other translators or interpreters. You could create a complementary strategy here-if you are an Italian medical translator, you could, for instance, link to medical translators in other languages.
  • Use your website URL as part of your posting signature in an online forum.
  • Write articles for online publications and include your URL in the author's bio.
  • Be selective in your linking strategy. Having numerous and totally unrelated sites link to you will not help much. Also, be skeptical of link exchange programs that promise thousands of links (for a fee, of course).

White hat vs. black hat SEO. These terms indicate that search engine optimization ranges from legitimate techniques that enhance your position in search engine results to rather shady methods (such as keyword spamming) meant to boost a site's ranking to artificial heights. Do not forget that the major search engines quickly become aware of these tricks and adapt their ranking methods accordingly to penalize the perpetrators of these scams.

Conclusion

As you should know by now, you cannot suddenly catapult your website to a top ranking. Search engine optimization takes time and effort on your part, but the reward can be that phone call or e-mail from a new client that starts with the words "I found you through your website."

Resources

Kent, Peter. Search Engine Localization for Dummies (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, 2004).

For more information

www.selfseo.com
http://se-tools.com
www.seochat.com
http://searchenginewatch.com
www.webmasters-cavern.com

Frank Dietz, Ph.D., is an ATA-certified English-to-German translator living in Austin, Texas. He specializes in technical translation and software localization, particularly of computer and video games. His website at www.frankdietz.com contains a glossary page with links to over 2,500 online glossaries. He is currently working on a search engine optimization of the site www.lovebeadsunlimited.com, which is where most of his Internet search engine optimization experiences come from. Contact: mail@frankdietz.com.