If your website’s French SEO is your current raison d’être, use our savoir-faire to avoid faux-pas and clichés.
Here’s the good news: from a technical point of view, French SEO is pretty straightforward.
That’s because, despite spending nearly five hours per day online, the French use Google almost exclusively – it has a market share of 91.48%. So you don’t need new search engines or tactics to succeed in this market.
However, don’t let this make you complacent. 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) will put customers off.
To avoid costly errors, here are some top tips for perfect French SEO.
Using the French language is essential when optimizing your site for a French audience. And this doesn’t just apply to page copy.
French URLs and French domain names will boost your ranking. Which means that in France, www.mapetiteboutique.fr would be a better URL for your brand than www.mylittleshop.com.
But of course, there are other factors you’ll want to consider when creating a site structure that can expand as you grow internationally. Check out our Head of Digital Gary Reilly’s advice here.
Don’t forget to localize your meta tags, too. They’re often overlooked by brands who’ve written the tags in their source language, but forgotten to translate them into French. Take this extra step and stand out from the crowd.
A successful French SEO strategy will take these technical considerations into account. But you’ll need to work even harder to get your use of language right, as the French are a demanding audience.
Any French learner can tell you that the French language contains complexities that don’t exist in English. And these all have an impact on your French SEO. Here are five things to bear in mind:
1. 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 make the copy less catchy and it can be difficult to fit the copy into the character limit. It’s often better to write French web copy from scratch – or to transcreate your source copy.
Stemming is used to get around character restrictions in the UK. This is a technique used to deliver both singular and plural word spellings in response to a search. But it’s not widely used in France because there are fewer systems available. This makes keyword research even more important to help you choose the correct version of the word. In turn, this will affect your word count.
A good French copywriter will manipulate the subtle nuances of the language to produce compelling copy that integrates keywords and resonates with your audience. A simple, direct translation won’t cut it.
Accents are one of the major differences between French and English. There are four in French, which can be placed on the vowels, e.g. é, è, ê and ë.
French speakers don’t tend to use these when searching online, but most search engines don’t take this into account – including Google. It normalizes only the acute accent (è) and leaves the rest.
This can have an impact on 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. And whether you use the accent or not can determine where you appear on the search results page.
Keyword research will again be crucial here to determine whether you should target the accented or non-accented version of the word. This doesn’t mean that your French copy should be incorrect, however. In titles and body copy, you should use accents where necessary. Poor grammar puts people off.
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 appeal to 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, as the French generally opt for a formal business style. 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 could make sense for a rebellious youth fashion brand to address its customers using tu. For a bank, avoid using it or you could end up causing offence.
The punctuation rules for the French language are different 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 bearing in mind, as it contributes to a bigger character 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 UK, we use commas as thousand separators and full stops 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 e-commerce shop, this is a crucial distinction to bear in mind.
Lastly, 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: 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 term your shoppers are looking for. Keyword research will be key here, to make an informed decision.
93% of French people overwhelmingly prefer French websites. 43% of French people carry out their searches in French. So if you want your French site to make an impact with your audience, you need to localize it – to a high standard. Mistakes or literal translations will make you look amateur and put customers off.
The challenge with French SEO is therefore not technical, but linguistic. Technically, the steps are similar to the ones you’d take to optimize any second language site. However, your customers will be won and lost by your sensitivity to the French language. Taking the time to get this right will make sure that your French SEO efforts are never in vain.
If you’d like to find out how our approach could benefit your brand, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
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