Here’s the good news: from a technical point of view, French SEO is pretty straightforward.
That’s because the French use Google almost exclusively – it has a market share of 91.48%. So you don’t need to learn new search engines or tactics to succeed in this market.
However, you still need to refine your French SEO strategy. There may be margin for error in other markets, but not in France. When it comes to the French language in particular, any mistake (no matter how small) could turn customers away.
To avoid costly errors, here are some top tips for French SEO.
TECHNICAL FRENCH SEO CONSIDERATIONS
Having French URLs and French domain names will help boost your rankings. This means that in France, www.mapetiteboutique.fr would be a better URL for your brand than www.mylittleshop.com. There are other factors you’ll also want to consider when creating a site structure that can expand as you grow internationally.
Don’t forget to localize your meta tags, too. They’re often overlooked by brands that have written the tags in their source language but forgotten to translate them into French. Be sure to take this extra step to stand out from the crowd.
A successful French SEO strategy will take these technical considerations into account. But you’ll need to take it even further to ensure your local use of French is on point.
The French language’s many nuances will impact your French SEO. Here are five things to keep in mind:
- WORD LENGTH
On average, French words are 25% longer than in English.
This often means that a direct translation of a meta description, for example, is not possible. Longer words not only make the copy less catchy, but also make it more difficult to fit within the meta description character limit. It’s often better to write French web copy from scratch – or to transcreate your source copy.
A good French copywriter will consider language subtleties to produce compelling copy that integrates keywords naturally and resonates with your audience. A simple, direct translation simply won’t cut it.
Accents are one of the major differences between French and English. There are four different accents in French that can be placed on vowels (é, è, ê and ë).
French speakers don’t tend to use accents when searching online, but most search engines don’t take this into account – including Google. Google normalizes only the acute accent (è). For example, if a user types ‘premiere’ rather than ‘première,’ Google will recognize the word. However, the search engine isn’t as forgiving with the other three accents, so it’s important to account for this.
This nuance can impact your ranking. For example, on google.fr, the search term ‘cinema paris’ returns 199,000 French results. The term ‘cinéma paris,’ however, returns 276,000 results. Therefore, using or not using the accent will factor into your search ranking results.
Keyword research will, therefore, be crucial to determine whether you should target the accented or non-accented version of terms. However, this doesn’t mean your French copy should use accents incorrectly. In titles and body copy, you should still use accents to avoid spelling mistakes. This helps boost content quality and credibility.
In French, there are two ways of saying ‘you.’
Tu is more casual – you’d use it to talk to a friend or family member. However, brands are increasingly choosing to use it to draw in younger users and appear more personable.
Vous is more formal, and you can use it to refer to multiple people. It’s more common for brands to use this term since the French generally prefer formality in business. Customers would, therefore, expect this to be the form of address used.
If you do opt for tu, make sure there’s a good reason for it and that it’s in line with your brand’s personality. For example, it would make sense for a rebellious youth fashion brand to address its customers using tu. On the other hand, using it for a bank could turn away potential customers.
- PUNCTUATION AND NUMERALS
Punctuation and numeral rules for French differ from English.
Exclamation and question marks are preceded by a space, and colons have a space both before and after them. This might seem insignificant, but it’s worth noting because it contributes to a larger character count. Those extra spaces, combined with a 25% word expansion, can really affect the count.
- “Buy now!” (8 characters) → “Achetez maintenant !” (20 characters)
- “Subscribe today!” (16 characters) → “Abonnez-vous aujourd’hui !” (25 characters)
There’s also an important numerical difference. In the US, commas are used as thousand separators and periods as decimal separators. But in France, they use spaces as thousand separators and commas as decimal separators – and the currency sign goes at the end of prices.
This means that on your French site, $2,550.80 should look like 2 550,80 $.
If you’re launching an eCommerce shop, this is a crucial distinction to get right.
Finally, you’ll also need to localize phone numbers. In France, they are written in sets of two digits. So your phone number should look like this: 01 23 45 67 89.
There’s often more than one translation for French product names. So for the purposes of French SEO, it’s important to use the search term your shoppers are looking for. Keyword research will be vital here to make an informed decision.
93% of French people overwhelmingly prefer French websites. And 43% of French people search in French. So if you want your French site to impact your audience, you need to localize it – and at a high standard. Mistakes or literal translations will make you look amateur and turn customers away.
The challenge with French SEO is not technical, but linguistic. The steps are similar to the ones you’d take to optimize any second-language site. However, you will engage more customers with a keen sensitivity for the French language. Taking the time to get this right will ensure that your French SEO efforts are spot on.