How Can I Integrate SEO Into the Chinese Content Translation Process?

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 01:11

Somebody recently asked me:
"We are currently asking a freelancer to do English-to-Chinese translation on the content found on our main website. I wonder if SEO keyword research could be done now so that we can pass on the info to our translator so that he can keep in mind the various keywords he should use when translating the materials. Or is it more efficient to do this as well as rest of SEO when the Chinese website is up and running?
This is a great question, and the short answer is "it depends". I'll go over the different options individually in a way that I hope is useful to any reader, then provide an answer for this specific case at the end of the post.

1) Integrated SEO, Content Creation & Translation

In general, the best results will come from doing content creation and SEO together, and having this done by somebody/some team with expertise in both areas. In fact, I'll go one step further and say that the person in charge of this project should also be skilled with content planning and writing. This is the process we usually use at Nanjing Marketing Group, but we also use the other methods mentioned in this blog post in other situations.

Here's the process we normally use, step by step:

  1. Perform market research, including keyword and competitive research for SEO purposes.
  2. Create a content plan that outlines Chinese content to be created and what source material is required to create that content. For example, will it be translated from English source content, written fresh, aggregated from various sources or something else?
  3. The content creation project manager assigns tasks to writers and translators. For small projects, there may just be one translator involved, but it can be scaled up from there based on the level of complexity and volume of content to create. In our case, those involved know how to integrate SEO research into their writing - this is a key requirement for this method to work.
  4. After content is first created, it's edited by a second individual on the team. Even without any SEO being involved, it's best to have any translated content reviewed by somebody other than the original translator.


  • In most situations, this process produces the best possible content for people and search engines.


  • Could be more expensive.
  • Hard to pull off for teams without the right expertise. Takes a long time to build a team with the right capabilities and training. It took us about 3 years to build a team that meets my requirements.

Recommended For
Most cases. This is our default strategy.

2) Write First, Edit for SEO After

While the above process is ideal in my opinion, it's not the most common method. It's tough to build a team that knows SEO and translation.

Another method is to have the content written or translated first (without consideration for SEO) and then have that content 'SEOified' by somebody with SEO writing experience.


  • Simpler for the translator as they only have to concern themselves with translating the content accurately.
  • Is often the cheapest method.
  • The translator can begin their work immediately, without having to wait for research. Useful if you want content up on the site right away, even if it isn't fully ready yet.


  • SEO'd content may read like...well...SEO'd content! That is, keywords may be injected into the content in a way that does not read very naturally. This is especially true if the SEO expert involved in the project doesn't have great writing skills.
  • If the work is being split between two unrelated parties, there's twice the chance of a quality lapse.

Recommended For
Businesses that need to keep costs down, such as e-commerce sites that have massive volumes of content to translate and do not mind having content of a bit lower quality.

3) Do SEO Research First, Train the Translator to Write for SEO

This is similar to the first option I discussed. The difference is that I'm assuming the translator does not have prior experience with SEO.The trick here is giving the translator an SEO crash course quickly and effectively enough. Of course, the more time there is to train the writer the better.
I recommend this method when the client has a strong content team that will be sticking around, whether that team is composed of one writer or many. The initial investment in SEO training is most likely to be worth it if the trainees are able to apply it over the long run. Also, if the content team is just a lot better at producing this type of content than anybody else would be, it's a good idea to keep them working on the content, but give them the training to optimize it right for Baidu and Google.


  • In the right situation, this will produce the best possible content.


  • Requires time to train translator in SEO.
  • Some writers have a hard time getting a hang of this kind of writing.

Recommended For
Websites where their content IS their business. For example, blogs, e-magazines, newspapers, etc. For websites like this, their own writers are going to be a lot better at producing content for their business than anybody else, even a professional agency.

A Few Tips

  • Remember that people mean different things when they say they know SEO. Some don't know much at all and some are skilled in only some areas of SEO. For more on that, check out this previous post.
  • Have your content checked by a native Chinese speaker that you trust. If you're writing content for mainland China, this person should be a Mandarin speaker.
  • It's possible to use multiple methods for the same site. For example, you might have content for the many product pages of an e-commerce site translated by a freelancer and then optimized for SEO (option 2 above), but have the homepage content written by a team with experience in content creation, SEO and copywriting (option 1).


Now, Back to the Specific Question...

In this case, I know the person who asked the question already has a freelance translator working on the project and I believe that it is quite important for them to keep costs down.
So, in this case I recommend option #2: Have the translator work on the content first, then have it tweaked for SEO.
Another reason to recommend this is that there isn't a lot of room to benefit from SEO keyword research yet because the content to be translated is already determined. They are selling a certain product and that product will not change regardless of the research.
Finally, upon checking the English-language website, I can see that the English source content is friendly for search engines, and this is very likely to be reflected in the localized Chinese content.
After the content is done, a team with expertise in SEO can review the content to make minor edits, as well as plan additional content for key landing pages such as the homepage.



Great post!

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