Somebody recently asked me how they should go about creating a list of potential keywords for their Chinese SEO campaign. They already had an English-language website that was tailored for search engines.

I wrote this post to answer their question. Note that some of my advice below is specific to thinking up keywords for a localized Chinese SEO campaign and some is applicable to keywords for any language.

Now, to start, I’d like to tell you what NOT to do. If you’re coming from the background of English-language marketing, you need to get this into your head:

Do NOT just translate your English keywords into Chinese.

Why not?

You can’t assume that Chinese-reading people are searching for the same thing as your English-reading website visitors. They might be interested in topics that are related, but different.
Imagine you are selling chicken meat. I once heard that North American chicken farmers used to throw away chicken feet – until they found that chicken feet are exactly what Chinese consumers want. Well, I don’t know if that’s a true story or not, but it’s still a useful point. If a chicken meat retailer wanted to sell to restaurants online in China, they may find “chicken feet” is a more useful keyword than “chicken breast meat”.
1 English keyword may have multiple Chinese translations. Simply translating it into 1 word could result in a missed opportunity, or the usage of a word that isn’t often used. That would be awkward and result in fewer visitors to the given page. For example, if you used a translation tool, you might find that “chicken feet” is translated as “鸡脚”. However, the more common word for chicken feet is actually “凤爪”, which word-for-word, actually means “phoenix claws”.
Chinese keywords may have other uses. For example, when searching for “chicken breast” (鸡胸), I found the word is used to refer to a type of chest problem. It seems that “鸡胸肉” (chicken breast meat) would be a more relevant keyword for a chicken producer.
Keywords aside, companies that localize for China are a lot more likely to be successful in China than companies that apply a one-size-fits-all globalization strategy to their China marketing. China is a huge market, with tons of competition. So if you aren’t tailoring your business to Chinese consumers, there is almost certainly a competitor of yours that will – or 100 competitors.

Chinese Keyword Generation Tips

OK, so now that you can see why NOT to just translate keywords, let’s move on to some tips on how to generate keywords for your future Chinese website.

Brainstorm – One or two people can brainstorm keywords by thinking like the potential reader. A native Chinese speaker is going to be a lot better at this than a non-native speaker.

Google Keyword Tool – Use Google’s keyword tool to find search volumes and generate further ideas.
Baidu keyword tool – Baidu has a tool similar to Google’s as well.
English keywords – If there’s already an English-language site for this project, check the English keyword list for more ideas. Remember, don’t just translate them, but use this as a source of inspiration.

Web analytics – If there’s an existing website, web analytics reports, such as Google Analytics’ organic search traffic report, can provide great info on what people who found the site were searching for.

Competitor websites – Check competitor websites. They’ll probably have some great keywords, especially in their title tags and meta tags.
Competitor advertisements – Check ads used by competitors, especially pay per click ads.

Customer interaction – Talk to your potential customers. What words do they use? You can talk to them face-to-face, via forums, Q & A sites or social media.
Other tools – The above 8 methods are the methods I usually use. However, there are many more tools out there, such as Google Trends, Google/Baidu search box auto-complete and plenty of third-party tools.

Update: The next step is to evaluate the keywords to choose the best ones. I added a post about that here.

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