How to rank well in French SEO

If you want to reach a wide audience online in France, then it’s essential to incorporate SEO as part of your marketing strategy.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is part art and part science and includes a range of techniques designed to help you rank on the first page with Google for important keywords.[bctt tweet=”If search engines didn’t exist, would it still make sense?” username=”multilingualmag”]

When considering SEO, it’s essential to follow up-to-date advice. Google now uses an artificial intelligence technology (called RankBrain) as a large factor in determining how to rank websites. This and other updates mean that they penalize sites using keyword stuffing, spammy backlinks or other old fashioned SEO techniques. A good logic test is “if search engines didn’t exist, would this still make sense?”

french seo

Put your visitors first

SEMRush completed a study of Google’s ranking factors in September 2017 and found that factors like the time visitors spend on your site and the number of pages they view are now more important than factors such as how often you include a specific keyword on the page. This reinforces the importance of creating a user-friendly website with a responsive design that considers human factors first.

Accurate and easy-to-read translations, attractive images and a user-friendly layout will therefore help not only when visitors arrive at your site, but will also help you rank higher with Google and therefore drive more visitors to your site.

Write good metatags and URLs

The title and description metatag aren’t visible on your page, but appear in the search results on Google and other search engines. They’re the only information that potential visitors have when they decide whether to visit your site. Therefore, you should prioritize them. A good title metatag should include one or two keywords people search for. For example, if you’re an English teacher in Montpellier, including English, teacher and Montpellier in the meta title of your home page is a must. It should also be well written.

If you’ve translated an English site to French, check to be sure that you or your translators have included the metatags in their translation, asthis is an aspect that’s often overlooked.

Similarly, it helps if the French version of your site has URLs (the web address of each page) that are also written in French. A page called “some-english-keyword” will receive less French traffic than a page called “mot-cle-anglais.” However, it’s normal to remove accents in the URLs, as when you copy them into an email (for example), the software often doesn’t recognize accents in the URL and will convert them to a string of what looks like random characters and % signs, which looks messy (though the link will still work).

Complete a professional translation

Google translation is getting better and better, but is still far behind a professional manual translation and if you use Google translate, parts of your content will be complete gobbledygook (or Googledygook, as I like to call it). This has several disadvantages:

  • You will put off readers and make them less trusting of your company.
  • Google treats automatically translated content differently and tries to either not index it at all, or to rank it far worse than professionally translated content.
  • You risk accidentally including mistakes that could have legal or financial consequences.

Given all the above, completing a professional French translation that also takes into account SEO elements is an essential step when creating a multilingual website.

Do keyword research when translating product names

It’s particularly important for SEO that you use the optimal translations of product names in your French translation. For some products there’s only one possible translation. But for others, there could be three or four possible translations of the product name.

Do keyword research using any of a range of tools (AHREFs or SEMRush are two of the most popular ones) to identify how often each possible translation is searched for each month. If you find one version is searched for 1,000 times a month and another only 30 times a month, then it’s obvious which version will generate the most traffic to your site.

Keyword research is also a good way of establishing which product name will make the most sense to the average native French speaker, as a keyword with a higher search volume will also be the more natural sounding one for your translation.

Consider cultural differences

While it’s important to keep cultural differences in mind in general, the ideal is to consider cultural differences when it comes to your website design and even your business decisions.

If you’re translating a site that has other issues, make sure you talk to the person responsible for the functionality or design, as these all play a role too.

For example:

  • French business correspondence tends to be more formal, and it’s not uncommon to receive emails signing off with long expressions like “Veuillez recevoir, Madame/Monsieur, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.” Check any automated or template emails to be sure you achieve the right balance, depending on your target audience.
  • The French care more about who has authorized your company and your payment process than clients in the UK or USA might, and you may find that you receive more sales if you have a series of icons of any governing bodies who have approved your products, plus bank and credit card logos at checkout.
  • Leisure time is more valued in France, so if you’re adding your opening hours to your website, don’t be worried about including a decent lunch break!
  • Switch commas and full stops around in numbers. In Britain it’s £1,500.60 (for one thousand five hundred pounds and 60p). In France it’s €1.500,60 (for one thousand five hundred Euros and 60 centimes).
  • Write phone numbers in sets of two digits: 06 02 22 22 22. The French will also read phone numbers like this aloud, so listen for if there’s any pauses when someone says something like “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” since, depending on the pause or lack thereof, this could either be 80 19 or 99.

Above all, ask French speakers to review your website and give their honest opinion. Overall, they may have different values or color preferences than you, and this is the only way to be sure that you’re appealing to their culture. A short questionnaire really helps facilitate this process, as friends are likely to just say “Yes, it looks good” if they’re not being presented with an actual questionnaire.

In summary, to rank well with Google, ensure that you translate all elements of your site not just the obvious ones. Focus your metatags on well-written titles and descriptions that include important keywords and are written in a way that makes them likely to be clicked. If you’re not a professional translator yourself, then work with one who understands the local culture.



Martin Woods
Martin Woods is the SEO director of Indigoextra Ltd, a multilingual marketing company. He has 17 years of experience in web design, translation and SEO. He was raised in the UK and live in Montpellier, South France, where he homeschools two boys.

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