Keywords and translation

By Richard Seltzer,,

Reprinted with permission from Internet Search Advantage, ZD Journals.

How to translate this article into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, or GermanComment traduire en français, Cómo traducir a los españoles, Come tradurre in italiano, Como traduzir em portuguêses, Wie man in Deutschen übersetzt.

Thanks to AltaVista's new free translation service, people who can't read English will be able to read your Web pages. But will they be able to find your pages? Have you tried this service yet? If not, conduct any search, click Translate next to one of the matches, and choose the language you want the document translated to. Unless traffic to the site is extraordinarily heavy, you should get the translated page with all its graphics and format intact in a matter of seconds. AltaVista will translate from English to French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German, and vice versa. The limit on how much text it will translate is variable right now, depending on traffic, but should normally be in the range of 20 KB. You can go straight to the translation page at

There you can enter a URL or type or cut and paste into the box any text you want translated. That means you can translate email messages, newsgroup items, text that you have on your hard drive, or the balance of Web pages that were too long to translate in a single gulp. Unless the text is idiomatic or laden with slang, you're likely to get remarkably good translations. The translation service is especially good for business communications. Of course, words that are embedded in graphics remain unchanged--only plain text is translated.

How do they do it?

The AltaVista folks have partnered with a company that specializes in automatic translation--AYSTRAN. But the fact that the AltaVista index is truly global makes an enormous difference. The underlying index understands nothing about any language, and that ignorance is a source of tremendous strength. Search engines that are built around the syntax of any given language lock themselves out of the rest of the world. AltaVista just captures all the text it finds. (Actually, within a few weeks of when AltaVista first went live to the public, the developers were surprised to get email from people in Korea who had used their Korean keyboards to enter queries and had gotten results pointing to Korean pages. There are some problems with Asian languages, where there are a variety of encodings of the same language. But you often can get good results in any language, because AltaVista captures and matches the basic code.)

Language tags at AltaVista are based on recently developed software that analyzes the content of the index to determine which pages are in which language, allowing you to limit your search to pages written in a particular language. And the domain: command allows you to limit a search to pages in a particular country (for instance, domain:fr for pages in France), based on the country codes on the end of Web addresses for many, but not all, pages hosted outside the U.S. Using those tools, you can find pages in foreign countries and in foreign languages.

Free translation on-the-fly

Before the new translation service arrived on the scene, there were only roundabout solutions for dealing with the problem of non-English pages on the Web. Now, however, there's no barrier to your reading pages in different languages, and at the same time, there's no barrier to prevent people who speak those languages from reading English-language content at your site.

But how will they find you? They aren't going to translate your page if they don't know it exists. And how will they know it exists if all the words on your page are in English? Apparently, they'd have to do an English-language search to get your page as a match. So what is the benefit to you as a Web site owner? Actually, there are two simple ways to plug into this new capability and make your Web-based business far more global than it was before.

First, use keyword META tags on all your pages to provide translations of the keywords and phrases that potential visitors to your site are likely to search for. A keyword META tag goes in the header of your document, like this:

<TITLE>The World's Greatest Web Site</TITLE>
<META name="keywords" content="cabbages kings oranges apples">

Normally, you'd use a keyword META tag for synonyms of important terms that appear in the document itself--words that people might search for. Many Webmasters misunderstand the purpose of this feature. Misled by the term keyword, they think of AltaVista as if it were a database, as if keywords were the only words that AltaVista indexed. In fact, AltaVista indexes every plain-text word on your static Web pages--unless blocked by forms or frames.

Other Webmasters insert keyword META tags in hopes of improving their rankings on results lists for certain searches. But a simpler and more effective way to do that is to put your most important words and phrases in your pages' HTML titles and first couple lines of text.

A much more effective use of this feature is for translations of your most important terms. Go to the AltaVista translation page and enter these terms one word at a time or one phrase at a time, and submit them for translation into each of the five available languages (if all five are important to you). Cut and paste the translation results to build your keyword META tag. (By using this method, you get the complete words, with accent marks, despite the fact your keyboard isn't set up to type with such accents.)

Once you've made these changes on all your pages, go to AltaVista, click Add/Remove URL, and enter the URL for each page. The new material will be available in the index within a day or two. Then someone searching in French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese will be able to find your pages with AltaVista and immediately translate them to their native language on the fly.

Next, as a reminder to people who find your pages this way, and to alert people who may stumble upon your pages in other ways (for instance, hyperlinks and banner ads), you could put a note at the top of each page, with a hyperlink pointing people to the AltaVista translation service. In fact, because every query at AltaVista generates a unique URL, you could

Then visitors to your site who click on that link will go straight to that page with your URL already in the form, and all they'll have to do is select the language they want the page translated to.

By doing this, you avoid the cost of translation and the labor of continually translating pages as you change them. You also avoid the overhead of the extra disk space needed to maintain your site in multiple languages. If your pages are relatively small, this could be an enormous benefit to you, opening foreign markets at no cost.


As you try these techniques, please let us know about your successes and your frustrations. Send us your tips--the creative approaches you've tried--and your questions. Let's share and learn from one another. You can reach the author directly at

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