Keywords: A Translation Practice for Digital Marketing

“The surpassing confidence of any particular use of a word, within a group or within a period, is very difficult to question.” -R. Williams, Keywords

Words circulate; they mirror and forge societies, disciplines, empires and eras. Hence, the selection thereof should be a meticulous activity that entails contextual knowledge, reception prediction, and interpretation. Translation is one of the most diligent and profound professions, since its purpose is to presuppose the deciphering not only of a word, but of its connotations, history, sounds i.e. it’s socio-cultural value, and consequently, the attempt to provoke the same affective response to a speaker of another language. The obscureness of this activity lies in the fact that there are no two isomorphic languages (not even dialects) that share the same organisation of meaning. The words μεράκι (/meraki/), შემიმედჯამო (/shemomedjamo/), остранение (/ostranjenje/) do not have a straightforward equivalent in other languages*, since each word emerges out of its own social-cultural environment.

It’s not a matter of poor-rich languages [sic], but of communicational needs and functionality. At the same time, even words that are considered equivalent (e.g. “shop”, “αγόρασε”, “achète”) don’t have the same connotations and uses in every linguistic community — something that is considered engaging in one language might sound cheap and populist in another. Hence, each language pre-supposes a way to perceive reality and create meaning; the translator engages with the task to re-create a message, originated in a particular context to resonate with another linguistic “reality”.

Translators have developed various methodologies to tackle the issues of this babelian activity. The most relevant for digital marketing is the pragmatic approach, according to which what leads the translator is the aim of the source text. In other words, translators endeavour to recreate the same experience that the source text intended to convey, taking into consideration the character and medium of the text and its needs (e.g. marketing material, manual, scientific text, literature etc.).

Within this framework, one could include the emerging practices of ‘Performance Linguistics‘. In particular, keywords and their search value seem to regulate translation choices in the digital milieu. Keywords are words or phrases that describe a product/service, attempting to predict a search term i.e. how a user will search a product/service, using a search engine. Keywords have different search values, since some are pre-emptively marked by Google’s algorithms as more probable to be clicked (when included in an ad copy). In other words, there is a terminological hierarchy, where “heels” are more lucrative than “stilettos”. As a result, there is an online linguistic monopolisation that stems from this ranking and infuses marketing campaign with the same words.

Keywords are surely useful tools that helps us plan and predict user’s behaviour. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t be followed impetuously and uncritically. The agency still lies on the translator and the intended aim of the message. For example, if the brand wants to diversify itself as unique and luxurious, it will not use keywords with the highest search value consistently, in an attempt to create a defamiliarising and eclectic effect. Other brands might want to follow a different tone of voice, drawing their vocabulary from local dialects, idioms or slang.

Overall, automated systems are a significant addition to the translator’s toolkit that amend and accelerate the translational process. However, the translator is the one that conducts the process and still needs to take into consideration brand identity, tone of voice, aim, audience, and the channel among other factors to create truly localised copy instead of poor-quality translations solely led by search value.

Some things to keep in mind while implementing keywords into your international marketing campaign:

  • Do not directly translate English keywords
  • Do not solely rely on search value, since words encapsulate other (communicational and cultural) values as well.
  • The agency should still rely on the informed translator that will coordinate the various technologies and automated systems with their linguistic and cultural awareness.



Meraki: To do something with devotion, care, love and meticulous attention, putting a part of yourself in the work.
Shemomedjamo: The act of not being able to stop eating, because everything tastes very good.
Ostranjenje: Defamiliarisation, presenting things in an unexpected way, rendering the familiar unfamiliar.