French SEO – 6 steps to translate a website into French

A 6 step process on how to translate a website into French, and rank well with French search engines like through effective SEO and content marketing. The tips and techniques also apply if you’re interested in translating your site into another language to drive more traffic to your business.

Though English is now the lingua franca of the world, French is spoken by over 270 million speakers around the globe and French used to be the lingua franca of the world and was the standard language used for international trade everywhere so it is important to have good SEO on your French site.

In France, Google is the leading search engine used by 93% of the population. But marketing to the French isn’t as simple as translating some words and using the formulas you applied to be successful in your own country. You have to carefully adapt and adjust your business, your message and your SEO strategy to the French people, their culture, and their habits.

Moreover, Google’s algorithms have completely changed over recent years, so it’s important that you stay up-to-date. In 2020 Google uses an artificial intelligence technology, called Rankbrain, as one of its core algorithms to determine how to rank websites, and improve the relevance of the results. Typically, it means that old fashioned strategies like keyword stuffing, low quality backlinks, and automated translations no longer work and may even penalize your site making it harder to find, not easier.

Here are some tips to mastering French SEO and increasing your business’s visibility in the search results.

1. Avoid automated translations

Like most languages, French has its singularities and its nuances that no automated translations can recreate. If you want to reach more French customers with your website, it must be fully translated.

While 39% of people in France speak some English, native speakers will search in French, therefore an English only website simply won’t rank for the keywords with the highest search volumes. Given that the French are a people that greatly appreciate a proper use of language, the translated content must be perfect and error free. A slight mistake may make your website look less professional and the resulting loss of trust could keep them away for good. Google also takes correct spelling, grammar, accents, and conjugations into account for SEO as well.

Therefore, you need to make sure that your website is correctly localised in French by avoiding automated translations and working with professional French native translators. Double check by having it carefully proofread, and be sure to include keywords occasionally, but not excessively.

2. Choose French keywords

Choose your keywords carefully. French people don’t use English words when they search for something on Google, even if they speak enough English to understand the keywords. They only type phrases in their native language. So, avoid using English keywords. The only exception to this is for certain technical terms where an English expression has fallen into common use in France.

To demonstrate this we’ve looked at some of the most searched for non-branded keywords that (one of the most visited business sites in France) ranks for in January 2020 and compared each word with the equivalent English translation, looking at the search volume of the English traffic, then showing what percentage the search volume is for the equivalent English word compared with the French.

As you’ll see the best keyword is “Happy Birthday” which has around 30% the number of searches that “Joyeux Anniversaire” has. The worst is “Private sale”, which has less than 0.01% the number of searches that “Vente privée” has.

3. Create content with local SEO in mind

Content is everything. It tells prospects what you do, who you do it for, where you do it, and why they should buy your product or use your services. Above all, your content should help your potential customers achieve their goals, answer their questions, and give them advice.

It’s important that you write appropriate content for a given keyword that addresses the questions someone has when searching for that keyword. By far the easiest way to do this is to search for that keyword on Google or another search engine (Ecosia, for example, a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees), and look at the results that appear.

If most of the results are news articles or how to guides, then a useful and in-depth blog post is likely to be the best way to rank well for that keyword. If results tend to be product pages or service descriptions, then a more sales-orientated page will be likely to rank better.

Translating existing content is good but creating new and original content is even better. French, however, can be a complicated language. Think slang, accents, syntax, regional and cultural specificities and the big difference between the spoken and written language. Doing keyword research in French to identify the priority topics, then writing pages with local SEO in mind aimed at the local audience is an excellent way to target your visitors from France.

4. Use URLs, Domain Names and Metatags in French

When it comes to SEO, URLs and Metatags are just as essential as page copy to get right.

Having a French URL will definitely boost your rankings and credibility with the French audience. If you use a keyword rich domain name in English, then it’s also preferable to translate your domain name into French and ideally purchase a .fr domain name, as this informs site visitors and Google that you’re targeting people in France.

If a .fr isn’t available, instead use a .com, .net, .org or other international domain name and use Google’s International Targeting tool to specify that you’re specifically targeting visitors from France.  This will mean that you rank higher in France, but lower in other countries.

The Title and Description Metatags describe the content of a web page. They’re part of the page’s source code and help search engines know what a web page is about in order to index it properly. Modern CMS systems like WordPress or Drupal make it easy to edit the Metatags for every page on your site.

The Title and Description Metatags are the only information that appears in the search results about your website. This makes writing them a priority when wanting to increase your chances of being found by potential French customers. Don’t forget to include one or two keywords particularly in the Title.

One other thing to keep in mind is that French texts are usually 10% to 20% longer than their English version. Therefore, you may need to transcreate, and not just translate your Metatags as Google will only show the first 57 or so characters of your Title and the first 157 or so charters of your Description (more on a mobile device).

5. Translate custom reviews

According to Bright Local, 76% of website visitors trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so online reviews are a great way to help improve your conversion rate, online reviews are also excellent for your SEO.

For legal reasons it’s particularly important that online reviews are translated accurately and it’s worth adding a ‘View original’ option that can be clicked to allow visitors to see the original review.

6. Focus on content marketing

Did you know that content marketing in the form of generating quality backlinks from articles, or other in-depth content is critical for your SEO? Indeed, for Google, building quality links is as important as creating quality content, and optimizing your website.

In order to rank a page or a website, Google and the other search engines look at how many links are pointing to that page from external quality websites. The more quality backlinks you have, the more popular you are, and the higher Google will rank your website.

Guest posts placed on relevant French sites with a healthy Domain Authority and traffic that link to your site are likely to give you the maximum benefit, however having a natural pattern of links to your site including from social media, top directories, image sharing sites and if appropriate advertising sites all contribute and also help generate traffic to your site, which after all is point of SEO in the first place.

On-page SEO is something that your in-house team can master. Link building, particularly for a country like France where it’s not as widely done, requires a network of contacts, so if you’re considering outsourcing one aspect of SEO, you may wish to outsource your link building to an SEO agency like Indigoextra Ltd.

Your approach for success in France

To sum it all up, French SEO in the modern world can be quite the challenge. If you want your business to rank high on the results with, make sure that as much of your website as possible is translated by a French native speaker who understands the culture, that you translate content using keywords with a high search volume in France and create original and optimized French content with translated URLs and Metatags.

Once the on-page SEO is complete, build quality links to your site from relevant websites in order to become recognised as a high authority site.