A Short Finnish Lesson: Why finding SEO terms in Finnish can be a challenge

I was recently managing a project with the goal of editing keywords for SEO (search engine optimization) on a client’s localized Finnish website. During the project it became clear that Finnish is a unique and complex language with many features that set it apart from other languages I’m more familiar with. For example, many Finnish words couldn’t be edited to their basic simple dictionary form or else they would be meaningless or wrong in the context; this added to the complexity of the project. The process and results sparked my curiosity, so I decided to learn more about Finnish and why a Finnish localized site was the most complex SEO project I have worked on to date.

In speaking with the linguist, I learned that in Finnish, inflection (the modification of words to express different grammatical categories) is frequently used, so words are very seldom written one after the other in their basic dictionary forms. SEO terms tend to be need to be in the basic form but according to my research and the feedback of the linguist, if words are written in Finnish in their basic forms, it is usually not grammatically correct and / or meaningless. For example, most prepositions in Finnish like “at”, “in”, “on”, “over”, “from”, “to”, “through” etc. cannot be used as a separate word, but must be embedded in the word itself. Therefore, depending on the context, the words have to be inflected. In general, they only remain in basic form when used in one of the many cases: the subjective case. The linguist confirmed that in Finnish, there is usually an inflection ending for all words. Secondly, the linguist pointed out that Finnish also uses a lot more compound words than other languages, including English.

In addition to using a lot of inflection and compound words, I was intrigued to learn that Finnish and other Uralian languages (Estonian and Hungarian) have preserved and to some extent expanded flexion (cases for nouns). In contrast, over long periods of time, Indo-European languages have decreased usage of flexion. For example, current day English has essentially just two cases (nominative and genitive) but Finnish has more than a dozen cases and also has a very rich set of verb forms.

In further research, I found this example: the single Finnish word talossanikin corresponds to the English phrase in my house, too. The suffix -ssa is the ending of the so-called inessive case, roughly corresponding to the English preposition “in.” The suffix -ni is a possessive one, corresponding to “my” in English. And the suffix -kin is an enclitic particle corresponding to the English word “too.” The second example I found was the verb flexion kirjoitettuasi, which required nearly an entire sentence when translated into English: after you had written.

Our findings during the project indicate that SEO terms in Finnish are more difficult to find than in many other languages. We believe the above reasons are part of what makes this true. However, in the end some compromises were found and by weaving in additional terminology, the desired results were achieved.



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