International SEO Keyword Research: The Complete Guide

Keywords are the starting point for all successful content. Knowing what your customers are searching for – through high-quality keyword research – can help define your content, shape business strategy and, of course, drive the performance of your website in search engines. And this is the case worldwide – as true in international markets as…

SEO International Keyword Research

Keywords are the starting point for all successful content.

Knowing what your customers are searching for – through high-quality keyword research – can help define your content, shape business strategy and, of course, drive the performance of your website in search engines.

And this is the case worldwide – as true in international markets as it is domestically.

Unfortunately, relying on the keyword strategy you deploy locally likely won’t cut it for your international audiences. It isn’t a matter of simply translating your content into different languages – global audiences have differing interests, life experiences, and needs.

If you want your site to perform well globally, you need to start considering your international keyword research strategy.

What Is International Keyword Research?

So, let’s start from the top and define international keyword research.

International keyword research involves identifying foreign language keywords and then optimizing your website content for them. In contrast, local keyword research is for your local market and language.

Let’s say your original website is in English, and you want to target the Japanese and Korean markets. You need to make your website content available in their languages and include language that is colloquial and relevant to that specific locale.

The process is the same for local and international keyword research. Understand what your audience is searching for online. Determine which keywords you want to compete for. And then optimize your content to target those keywords.

Simply translating your existing local keywords would be a mistake.

So, what are the common pitfalls when conducting international SEO keyword research? And how can you improve your keyword strategy for your multilingual sites?

What Are the Best Keyword Research Tools?

There are a huge number of SEO tools out there that you can use to conduct keyword research locally and internationally. A good starting point would be something like Google’s own Keyword Planner.

That said, if you want a more robust tool with many more features essential to tracking SEO performance and delivering improvements globally, then you’ll want to consider tools like Conductor or Semrush.

5 Common Pitfalls of International Keyword Research

Here are some of the common mistakes we see when conducting keyword research for an international audience.

1. Direct Translation

Directly translating keywords to your target language is a good first step – it gives you a starting point. But you shouldn’t stop there, and there are three reasons why.

  1. Direct translations are not always the most accurate. Machine translation, like Google Translate, isn’t always correct.
  2. Some words may not have an exact equivalent in the target language, or they may mean something else.
  3. A direct translation may not capture the intent, humor, or cultural nuance of the original keyword selection.

2. Disregarding Linguistic Nuance

Many countries speak English, Chinese, French, and Spanish. So, you might think you can use the exact keywords in English for your American and British markets. Also, you might not bother changing your keywords for Spanish speakers in Spain and Mexico.

This is a mistake for a number of reasons. Most importantly, there are always going to be differences between how countries spell and use certain words.

Americans write “labor” while the Brits write “labour.” Americans say “apartment” while the Brits say “flat.” And, depending on the Spanish-speaking country you’re in, “car” could be “carro,” “coche,” or “auto.”

3. Looking Only at Keyword Volume

Search volume is essential for identifying what keywords to target. It’s not worth optimizing your content for keywords people don’t search for.

However, you should not base your keyword strategy only on high-volume keywords where competition is high. Also take into consideration lower volume, but still relevant, keywords.

A good example of this is long-tail keywords. Take “kettle”, for instance. At the time of writing, “kettle” has a search volume (in the US) of 49.5k per month and a keyword difficulty of 65%.

Whereas “electric kettle with temperature control” has a search volume of 2.4k per month, but a keyword difficulty of just 26%. So, while fewer people are searching for the long-tail keyword, it is considerably easier to rank for.

Not only that, but the person searching for the long-tail keyword is likely to be further along the path to purchase, making that keyword not only easier to target but more valuable as well.

And it’s particularly important to consider your long-tail strategy when it comes to international keyword research. Translating one or two words should be simple enough, but to get a complex long-tail keyword absolutely spot on will likely require someone with a native understanding of your target languages.

4. Not Conducting Keyword Research Often Enough

What people search for changes over time. This happens naturally as tastes, cultures, and languages develop. It also happens because of national and world events, festivals, and holidays.

That means it’s important to do keyword research continually. You need to understand your audience as their needs and tastes develop.

But it’s also essential to conduct continual research across territories. Don’t assume that a trend taking place in the UK will be mirrored in Spain or France. And even if it is, that trend might unfold differently or reverse altogether.

5. Not Considering Local Search Engines

Google is the world’s most popular search engine. But that isn’t the case in every country globally. In some countries, local search engines are more popular. There is Yahoo in Japan, Baidu in China, and Naver in South Korea.

While what works for Google could perform well elsewhere, the ranking algorithm of each search engine will be different.

Don’t make the mistake of optimizing only for Google and disregarding keyword data from local search engines. You will find it more challenging to rank well for your target keywords in those foreign markets.

5 Tips for Conducting International Keyword Research

What should you do to improve your multilingual SEO keyword research?

Fundamentally, what works for local keyword research also works internationally. There are just a couple of important extra steps

1. Decide Your Scope

Whether we’re talking about local or international keyword research, the first step is to decide the scope of your strategy. You don’t want to just jump in and start building a keyword profile that includes every possible keyword.

2. Analyze Your Competitors

It’s always a good idea to take a look at the competition. Identifying your competitors and understanding how they’re performing and for what keywords will give you a good starting point and highlight potential opportunities that have been overlooked.

And don’t just stop at the overall competitor domain. You can use the SEO tools listed above to understand the performance and successes of individual pages on a competitor’s website.

3. Translate, then Localize Keywords

Translating your keywords directly isn’t an international SEO strategy. It’s a starting point, but you don’t want to stop there.

Instead, take the next step of localizing your keywords for each locale. This includes using different words or rephrasing sentences. The goal is to adapt to local context and cultural nuances.

Of course, if you have a large website with potentially hundreds or thousands of keywords to translate and localize, doing this manually could be a significant time sink. This is why you might consider connecting with a Language Service Provider – like Welocalize – to create and deliver your international SEO strategy.

4. Consider Search Intent

The next thing you want to understand is the viability of your newly localized keywords. Just because something works in your native language doesn’t mean it works elsewhere.

Use your SEO tools to check the search volume and keyword difficulty of your target keywords. And, perhaps most importantly, analyze user intent. Are people looking for information, or are they using keywords that show they are ready to buy? Use this information to tailor your localized content.

It’s also essential to realize that while keywords are important, being overly focused on them can actually damage SEO performance. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing. More and more, search engines like Google are rewarding helpful content written with the audience in mind.

5. Partner with an International Performance Marketing Specialist

The scope of international SEO strategies can get cumbersome quickly. Even going after one additional market can mean translating, localizing, and optimizing hundreds or thousands of keywords. And that’s just one aspect of international SEO.

Your language service provider can help your international SEO strategy as part of your overall localization program to create a consistent and successful global customer experience. They can help to navigate the countless keywords in all target markets and have the necessary expertise and skill to create and deliver a performance marketing strategy that sets you up for global success.

Welocalize specializes in localization and translation in 250+ languages, including website localization and international SEO. If you want to learn more, get in touch with the team.