“I want to do SEO for the traditional Chinese market. I have a list of keywords in English. Can we just translate them and use them for optimization?”
Here at The Egg, we often we receive inquiries like this.
And our answer is always, unfortunately, no.
For SEO, you want to provide high-quality content, and content that reads naturally is one of the most significant criteria for quality.
Therefore, you can’t ignore the language usage and cultural nuances between English and Chinese when optimizing for the traditional Chinese market.
Here are 4 unique language characteristics that you should be aware of when optimizing keywords in Chinese.
Some word usage is different between Hong Kong and Taiwan
Traditional Chinese is widely used in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thus, if you write your content in traditional Chinese, it will be readable for audiences from both places.
Still, there are variations in word choice between Hong Kong people and Taiwan people. Let’s use the term “buy property” as an example:
- For Hong Kong people, they say it as “buy building” (買樓).
- For Taiwan people, they say it as “buy house” (買房).
When you are optimizing keywords in traditional Chinese, think about which audience you are targeting—are they from Hong Kong or Taiwan? This affects the vocabularies that you should use in your content.
Searchers from Hong Kong tend to use Cantonese when asking questions
Traditional Chinese is a set of characters used for writing. When it comes to speaking, however, there is another difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan:
- Hong Kong people use Cantonese when speaking, the words and style of which are completely different from traditional Chinese.
- Taiwan people use Mandarin when speaking, the words and style of which are comparatively more like traditional Chinese.
For Hong Kong people, when they ask a question, using Cantonese is preferred.
Let’s continue to use “buy property” as example.
When asking “which area is the best for buying a property”, Hong Kong people will ask “buy building which area good” (買樓邊區好).
The search suggestion for Cantonese query “buy building which” in Google
When optimizing keywords that target audiences from Hong Kong, sometimes you may want to write in Cantonese, particularly when writing in Q&A format.
Writing in Cantonese makes the tone friendlier
We said that Hong Kong people use traditional Chinese when writing and use Cantonese when speaking. Actually, to be more accurate, people also use Cantonese when writing in an informal context.
For example, when text messaging or writing on social media, Hong Kong people generally use Cantonese. Being a spoken language, Cantonese sounds more casual and friendlier to Hong Kong people.
When targeting Hong Kong people for optimization, write in Cantonese if you want to convey a friendly personality. Of course, you can do the opposite if you want to convey a more corporate tone.
Searchers may use both English and Chinese for some queries
It is natural for Hong Kong people and Taiwanese people to use both Chinese and English when they are talking to one another.
For example, there is a Chinese translation of “search engine optimization” (SEO). Still, when Hong Kong or Taiwanese people discuss “SEO,” they will probably just say S-E-O, not the Chinese translation.
It may be tricky to distinguish which word will be chosen at what time between Chinese and English. The rule of thumb is that borrowed words are more likely to be said in English, especially in Hong Kong.
When doing keyword optimization in Chinese, don’t just think about Chinese words. Sometimes, it is more natural to include English words for your keywords.