With delightful pastries, warm sunshine, chic cafés and being just a short hop across the English Channel, France is an appealing choice when it comes to expanding your company into international waters. However, breaking into the French market takes more than a mere Google Translate of your website. If your website’s French SEO is your raison d’être, use our savoir-faire to avoid any faux-pas.

Courtney Cowperthwaite, account executive at Stone Junction.

France has much more to offer than croissants and café au lait. France is the world’s seventh largest economy, and the third largest in Europe, following Germany and the UK. What’s more, there are over 20,000 foreign businesses already established there– so it’s a great choice if you don’t want to take on too much risk too soon.

Do your homework
Keyword research should be the first step to identify potential markets and show levels of competition. One common mistake when researching keywords is to assume that direct translations will work just as well.
This isn’t always the case. For example, say you are an insurance provider across Europe and one of your keyword phrases is "car insurance", a direct translation into French will give you “assurance voiture”. This phrase, however, is not going to drive much traffic to your website. You would be much better off optimising your site for the phrase “assurance auto”, where auto is short for automobile, as this is used over the direct translation.

Work on your accents 
Accents are one of the major differences between French and English. There are four in French, which can be placed on 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.

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. Whether you use the accent or not can determine where you appear on the search results page.

Keyword research is crucial to determine whether you should target the accented or non-accented version of the word. But this doesn’t mean that your French copy should be incorrect. In titles and body copy, you should use accents where necessary. After all, grammar is still important.

Tricks of the trade
Wordtracker is a particularly nifty, free tool that allows you to filter your searches by country, making it easy to view the key traffic-driving words in France
Geo-targeting is also important. To do this, you’ll need to pick out a URL structure that allows Google to correctly geo-target your content. You could opt for a top-level domain, like example.fr.
This option can be expensive, but it makes geo-targeting very clear. Other options are generic subdomains, such as fr.example.com, or generic subdirectories – example.com/fr/URL. While more cost-effective, these can be a little less clear. Google has provided a great tutorial outlining the benefits of each geo-targeting option, which you can view here.

If you fancy dipping your toes into international waters, but would like some help getting started, our multilingual team are happy to help. Why not say hello (or bonjour) on +44(0)1785 225416, or drop me an email at courtney@stonejunction.co.uk  

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