International SEO keyword research is the passport to your traffic share on the global stage.
I’ve worked with more than 100 companies all over the world and closely studied their keyword strategies to reach international markets.
I noted the most effective international SEO keyword strategies and I’m now excited to share this tailored guide with you. Dive in and learn the steps to take and the tools to use so you can engage and convert potential clients around the globe.
Let’s get right to it.
What Is International SEO Keyword Research?
This is your map for an effective international SEO strategy. It’s all about finding target keywords that resonate with audiences in multiple countries. Think of it as a way to speak your customer’s language, no matter where they are in the world.
Understanding The Importance Of International SEO
International SEO and its keyword research are your tickets to tapping into a worldwide audience, for a broader reach and more revenue stream.
It lets you connect with your target markets in their own language, culture, and search intent.
Your keyword strategy becomes a powerful tool, helping you find relevant keywords for different international markets your business is targeting.
However, don’t mistake this as merely translating your existing content. This is about understanding and meeting the unique needs of diverse audiences.
For example, let’s say you want to expand your organic food business to Spain. You can find out what “organic food” and related terms are commonly searched for in that country.
Through international keyword data, you’ll learn that Spanish people search for “comida ecológica” and its relevant search terms include “comida ecológica a domicilio” and “tienda comida ecologica.”
Then, you can optimize your content using these search terms, making sure they align with your target market’s search intent. Search engines will reward your efforts with higher visibility in search results, making your brand more accessible to people across the globe.
But the benefits don’t stop there. This also means international SEO boosts your website traffic, enhances brand recognition, and increases sales. Now, that’s a win-win!
To further boost your international SEO keyword research knowledge, we’ll discuss key elements you should consider. Keep them in mind so you can navigate your search term research confidently, ensuring your site is on the path to gaining international traction.
3 Key Elements To Consider For International SEO Keyword Research
Knowing the 3 key elements of international SEO keyword research is like having a compass for your global journey. They’ll guide you on how to conduct keyword research effectively, ensuring your website content resonates with audiences worldwide. Let’s get started.
A. Language & Cultural Differences
It’s not just about using specific search terms; it’s about understanding local cultures and speaking their language – literally and figuratively.
But direct translations often miss the mark. When you consider cultural nuances and use native speakers for your keyword research, you hit the bullseye. You connect with your audience on a deeper level, making your brand more relatable and trustworthy.
Take Netflix for example. It invested in making original content to serve the international market.
This includes the original Korean series “Squid Game” and the Spanish hit series “La Casa de Papel”, more known as “Money Heist.”
Additionally, they hired native speakers to translate and adapt their content, ensuring it resonates with local audiences.
There’s also Airbnb, a language localization champion. They offer personalized experiences in 26 foreign languages, adapting to local currencies, credit cards, and even listing descriptions. They collaborate with local content creators in each target country, ensuring language accuracy and culturally appropriate images.
B. Search Engine Preferences In Different Countries
Not all countries use Google. Some prefer other search engines, especially those that cater to their native language.
Take China, for instance. Baidu is the most popular search engine there. If you’re targeting Chinese audiences, you need to optimize your content for Baidu. This means understanding its unique algorithms and preferences.
Here’s an overview of the 6 countries with the most online users and their preferred search engines:
|Countries||Preferred Search Engines|
Considering search engine preferences in specific countries lets you tailor your SEO strategy to what works best locally. This boosts your visibility on the most popular search engines in your target markets, connecting you with more potential customers.
C. Legal & Regulatory Considerations
Each country has its own rules and regulations that will impact how your web pages appear in search engine rankings.
What’s more, you should pay close attention to banned words or censorship rules in countries like China. Breaking censorship rules will bring your website down and get you in trouble.
So while keyword research is a good starting point, understanding the legal landscape of your international markets is equally important. It helps you create content that’s not just engaging, but also compliant. When you’re ready to go global, remember to check the rulebook.
With the 3 key elements in mind, you’re ready to conduct international keyword research for your SEO strategy. This tested guide will help you avoid missteps and maximize your resources.
8 Steps To Conduct International SEO Keyword Research
Your international SEO strategy won’t be as effective if you’re not using the right search terms or even if you are, if the local context is missing. Go through this step-by-step process to make sure you cover all the bases.
1. Identify Target Markets
This is a cornerstone of international SEO keyword research because it’s about knowing who to target best for better conversion potentials.
How do you know what part of the world is knocking on your business?
You can leverage Google Analytics to analyze data and spot where your traffic is coming from. If you notice new users from Canada, it could mean a potential target market. But of course, you have to monitor if you’re consistently getting traffic from there. Then, you can tailor your content to resonate with Canadian audiences.
Moreover, you can research market trends or check where your products may be a good fit. If you’re selling winter clothes, then the Philippines, Indonesia, and other tropical countries should be out of the question for expansion.
2. Understand Audience Language & Search Habits
International SEO keyword research is about speaking your audience’s language and knowing how they search online.
How do you do this?
Start by identifying the target language. Then, leverage local SEO to find potential search terms in that language. Don’t simply translate those search terms because direct keyword translations might not always hit the mark.
For instance, while Americans search for “movie tickets,” the French look for “billets de cinéma”. But if you put movie tickets in a translation tool like Google Translate, the result shows “tickets de film.”
You should also consider cultural nuances, spellings, common phrases, and local slang. For instance, in the UK, people search for “holiday deals,” while in the US, they look for “vacation deals.” The British audiences use “colour” instead of “color.”
You can hire a native speaker or engage with local online communities, observe their discussions, and learn their lingo. When you understand their language and search behavior, you can create content that resonates with them.
3. Utilize Keyword Research Tools For Different Countries
These tools help you generate search term ideas, understand keyword difficulty, and gauge search volume, all tailored to your target country. So, what’s the secret?
When conducting keyword research start with a broad term related to your business. For example, let’s say you’re targeting the French market for your fashion brand. Search terms like
“vêtements” (clothing) or “magasin de vêtements” (clothing store) are highly competitive, with established brands dominating the search results.
These tools also let you uncover less competitive niches like “vêtements femme grande taille” (women’s plus-size clothing), where you have a better chance of ranking higher.
4. Assess Keyword Competition & Search Volume
Assessing keyword competition and search volume helps you understand the keyword difficulty and where your content can rank against your competitors.
Use SEO tools like Ahrefs and Moz to check your chosen search term’s search volume in the local language. High search volume means high interest, but also high competition.
Next, analyze your competitors’ rankings for these search terms. If top-ranking pages are authority sites, ranking might be tough. For the competitor analysis, you can use the same tools that you leveraged for your keyword research.
For example, in Ahrefs, you can review content gaps between you and your competitors based on the search terms they’re currently ranking for but you still aren’t.
5. Identify Long-Tail Keywords
These search terms are specific and often longer phrases (at least 3 words) targeting niche audiences more effectively than broader terms. They have lower search volumes (around 250 monthly searches or below), often have less competition, and target users with clear search intent.
How do you find these golden nuggets?
Use Ahrefs or Rank Tracker. Input a general SEO search term in your target market language. The tool will suggest longer, related phrases. For instance, if you input “shoes” for the French market, you will get “chaussures de randonnée en montagne” (mountain hiking shoes).
6. Translate & Localize Keywords
International SEO keyword research is not just about translating a foreign language; it’s about resonating with local audiences. While translation tools can help, professional translation ensures your website content aligns with the local language and culture.
Here’s an example:
As you can see, simply translating your content without localizing could mean missing out on potential UK customers searching for “jumpers” or “flats.”
Understanding cultural context is key. A direct translation might miss nuances or even be inappropriate. A slogan that works in English might sound odd or offensive when directly translated into another language.
Collaborate with native speakers to review and refine your translations.
7. Strategically Implement Keywords In International SEO
Effectively implementing search terms across on-page, off-page, and technical SEO is the backbone of international search engine optimization.
On-page ensures your content resonates with the right audiences. Off-page boosts your credibility through global backlinks. Technical SEO makes sure search engines understand your site’s structure for different regions.
Together, they make sure your brand doesn’t just speak to an international audience but also rank well in their local search engines.
7.1. On-Page SEO:
Consider these 6 factors for on-page SEO.
7.1.1 Search Terms Everywhere
Place your best keywords prominently in title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags, especially H1 and H2. However, practice front-loading your primary search term, making it the star of the show.
Doing this gives international search engines a clear signal: “Look no further; this is our core content!” Plus, this gives readers a clear indication of your content.
7.1.2 Content Is King
This means your website’s content should resonate authentically with your target audience. Thus, when integrating search terms, it should feel like a natural conversation, not a sales pitch.
Additionally, seamlessly weave keywords into your content, ensuring it resonates with your target local audience. For example, humor that works in the US might fall flat in Germany. So, tailor your content, considering cultural context and local nuances.
7.1.3 URL Matters
Include region-specific keywords or languages in the URL, signaling to both users and search engines that the content is tailored for a particular audience.
Here are some examples:
- For Italy: www.yourshoestore.com/it/scarpe-pelle-artigianali
In this URL, “it” denotes the Italian version of the site, and “scarpe-pelle-artigianali” translates to “handmade leather shoes.”
- For China: www.yourshoestore.com/cn/手工皮鞋
Here, “cn” indicates the Chinese version, and “手工皮鞋” is the Mandarin translation for “handmade leather shoes.”
These URLs are not only keyword-optimized but also localized, signaling to both users and search engines that the content is geared specifically for their region.
7.1.4 Images Speak Louder
Using alt text for images in international SEO is like giving a voice to your visuals. It ensures search engines understand the image’s context, boosting its searchability in different regions.
For example, an image of a beach might have the alt text “sunny beach” in English, but in Spanish, it’d be “playa soleada.” Tailoring alt text to your target language ensures your images resonate globally.
But how do you add these alt texts? When uploading an image to your website or content management systems (CMS), you’ll typically see an “alt text” or “alternative text” field when you click on the photo. Simply type a brief description of the image including your target search term there.
7.1.5 Internal Links
These unsung heroes of SEO guide users seamlessly through your site, ensuring they discover content tailored to their region. For instance, your blog post on “French wine regions” could link to a related article you wrote about “Bordeaux wine-tasting tours.”
Moreover, internal linking can help search engines identify and index your web pages correctly, ensuring they appear in relevant regional searches.
7.1.6 Page Speed & Mobile-Friendliness
Globally, many users access the web primarily via mobile. That’s why having a mobile-optimized website is vital. Additionally, search engines like Google reward mobile-friendly sites with better rankings.
Here are the resources to ensure our website is good to go on mobile phones:
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
- Google’s in-depth guide about the best practices for mobile-first indexing
But it doesn’t end there. Page speed is also crucial since slow-loading sites can frustrate users, especially in regions with varying internet speeds. You can use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights to test your loading time for both mobile and desktop.
Here’s an example of what a web page with a fast loading time looks like:
Here’s an example of what your results should NOT look like for mobile:
In countries like Japan, where internet speeds are blazing fast, users expect near-instantaneous site loading. A slight delay can send them to a competitor.
7.2. Off-Page SEO
Here are 4 things to check for off-page SEO.
7.2.1 Reputable Backlinks
When a trusted site in the same language links to you, it’s like a local stamp of approval. For instance, if a renowned French blog links to your French content, local users see it as an endorsement.
Plus, local backlinks can boost your credibility in the search engines’ eyes, helping to cement your website’s authority in that region.
How do you get these backlinks?
You can research popular local websites in your target region. Engage with their content, offer valuable insights, or collaborate on projects. You should also attend local events or webinars and network.
Most importantly, create shareable, culturally-relevant content that local sites would naturally want to link to.
7.2.2 Social Media Magic
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok can be goldmines for sharing your content, engaging with audiences, and letting your international search terms shine. After all, It’s not just about visibility; it’s about creating global conversations.
To utilize these platforms, simply share content related to world events or local trends to tap into regional audiences, boosting your brand’s visibility and engagement.
However, be wary because popular platforms vary by region. For example, in the US, Facebook reigns, while WeChat dominates in China.
7.2.3 Reviews Matter
Positive feedback on sites familiar to the local market, like Yelp in the US or Zomato in India, can significantly sway local perceptions. If locals see rave reviews about your business, they’re more likely to trust and visit your establishment.
These reviews not only boost your online reputation but also enhance your visibility in local search results. But how do you encourage your customers to leave reviews?
After a purchase, you should send a friendly email or SMS nudging them to share their experience on platforms like Yelp or TripAdvisor. You can also offer incentives, like discounts or giveaways, for those who leave feedback.
However, the most important task is to give them genuine engagement. You should respond to reviews, thank customers for positive feedback, and address any concerns
7.2.4 Guest Posting
Guest posting on popular blogs in your target countries builds trust within your target local audience. To do this, start researching authoritative websites in your target region. Craft a compelling pitch, showcasing your expertise and how it benefits their audience.
When you get approval, write tailored content to resonate with local readers and with consideration of cultural nuances. Once published, promote the post on your channels, giving their site exposure.
Engage with comments and feedback to build genuine relationships and offer more value. However, before diving into this tactic, you should educate yourself on cultural contexts and local slang.
Just think about the travesty if you write a guest post for a South Korean blog about festive foods and you highlight a dish traditionally eaten during funerals. This misstep could alienate readers and harm your brand’s reputation.
Or if you write about your new collection of pants in a UK blog, only to find out that “pants” in the UK means undergarments. You might get a few laughs, but readers may find that a reason not to take your website seriously.
7.3. Technical SEO
SEO also involves technical aspects so make sure you also comply with these.
7.3.1 Hreflang tags & URL Structures
Hreflang tags and proper URL structures are the dynamic duo of international SEO.
- Hreflang tags act as traffic directors, guiding search engines to serve the right content to the right audience. For instance, Spanish speakers see your Spanish content, while the French audience gets the French version.
- Without hreflang, search engines might see your English and Australian English pages as duplicates. With hreflang, they understand it’s the same content tailored for different regions.
For URL structure, there are a few methods:
- Country-specific domains: e.g., example.fr for France.
- Subdomains: e.g., fr.example.com for French content.
- Subdirectories: e.g., example.com/fr/ for French content.
When using hreflang tags, you’d add a line in your HTML like <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”http://example.com/fr/” /> to signal the page’s French version.
Aside from language and cultural context, having the right content directed to the right audience also means giving users the right prices, currencies, and shipping information. Thus, creating a seamless, global user experience.
8. Monitor & Adjust Your Keyword Strategy
Global markets evolve, and so do search habits. For example, what’s trending in Brazil might not be hot in Japan. So that’s why regularly analyzing keyword performance ensures you’re always in tune with local preferences.
But how do you do that?
Start with analyzing search term performance. Use tools like Google Analytics or SEMrush to check which of your search terms drive traffic, lead to conversions, or fall flat. You need to look at metrics like click-through rates and bounce rates.
Once you identify underperforming search terms or new trends, it’s time to make adjustments. You should dive into search trends, seasonality, or local events that might influence search behavior. For example, if “eco-friendly attire” is gaining traction in Germany, pivot your content to reflect this.
But if you notice some of your search terms performing strongly, you should consider related terms or phrases to capitalize on traffic.
The process doesn’t end there. You’ll need to regularly update and revise your international SEO keyword strategy.
This isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it game. You need to make sure it aligns with current search patterns and user intent.
Always ask, are there new market trends? Has the local language evolved?
Here’s an example: You’re selling winter gear and your initial primary search term is “winter jackets.” But when analyzing the search volume, you find “thermal winter coats” is gaining popularity.
With new insights, you can adjust your content to this new search term and you cater to the Canadian market’s evolving needs, making sure your brand stays relevant and visible.
Following our discussion of the steps you should take to conduct international SEO keyword research, it’s time to get the nitty-gritty of the tools to help you. Consider what tools fit your needs best.
5 Must-Use Tools For International SEO Keyword Research
Global expansion is daunting, but with the right tools, the journey feels less bumpy. These international keyword research tools provide insights and data, ensuring you make informed decisions every step of the way.
I. Google Search Console (GSC)
Google’s very own is a free platform that lets you monitor and analyze your website’s performance. It breaks down traffic data, showing you clicks and impressions. Plus, it also shows you your site’s average Google ranking for specific queries.
Want to know how you’re performing in France versus Japan? Or gauge your mobile presence against desktop? This tool lays it all out, helping you fine-tune your strategy for every page, country, and device.
The dashboard provides a comprehensive snapshot, so you can assess your website’s performance at a glance. It shows an overview of your:
- Clicks: The number of times users clicked on your site’s URLs from organic search results.
- Impressions: The number of times a URL from your website was displayed in organic search results.
- Average Position: The average ranking of your website’s URLs for specific search queries.
Say you’re running an eco-friendly clothing brand. Using Google Search Console, you notice a surge in clicks from Germany for the target search term “biologische Sommerkleider” (organic summer dresses).
Delving deeper into GSC’s country-specific data, you see that your site traffic from Germany has grown by 30% in the last month. You also notice that “nachhaltige Mode” (sustainable fashion) frequently pops up under search queries.
What does it suggest? A growing interest in sustainable fashion in Germany, especially during the summer season.
Considering this data, you could launch a summer campaign in Germany, highlighting your brand’s sustainable values, and perhaps even introduce a special summer collection tailored to German preferences.
II. Google Ads Keyword Planner
Another one of Google’s own, this Keyword Planner platform can do the following for you:
- Location-Specific Data: Target specific countries or regions to uncover popular potential keywords.
- Search Volume: Discover how often a search term is searched in your target location.
- Keyword Ideas: Beyond just volume, get suggestions related to your primary search term, expanding your SEO horizon.
You can also use this keyword research tool to identify long-tail search terms with lower search volumes. While it doesn’t pinpoint exact search counts for terms, it offers a handy range. For a strategic edge, filter results by average monthly searches, starting from low and working your way up.
Let’s say you’re launching an online vegan bakery in London. First, you need to select the country you’re targeting.
Using the tool, you spot: “vegan gluten free baked goods.”
It shows that it has a 10 – 100 search range, and that this specific search term targets a niche audience actively seeking your specialty. Optimizing for this search term helps you attract a dedicated clientele, eager for gluten-free vegan delights.
III. Google Search
Google Search is more than just a search engine; it’s a goldmine for international SEO keyword research.
- Autocomplete: As you type, Google suggests search terms based on real searches. If “sustainable fashion” autocompletes to “sustainable fashion Paris,” there’s a buzz in the City of Lights.
- People Also Ask: This section reveals related queries. Dive in to understand user intent and expand your long-tail search term list.
If you’re launching an online yoga course, you can type in “yoga classes.” Then, you’ll see the related queries for it in the “People Also Ask” section. You can use these queries as your long-tail search terms and optimize your content around them.
For example, since “What is the most popular yoga class?” is included, you can write a blog post revolving around that topic.
To do this for your target country, all you have to do is go to “Settings” once you’re on the Google Search homepage:
Then, click “Search Settings” to find the “Other Settings” and “Language & Region.”
In the “Search Results,” you’ll find the regional options:
Ahrefs is a digital toolset designed for SEO and content marketing. It’ll provide you with comprehensive data on backlinks, search terms, and competitor analysis, helping you optimize your site’s online presence.
Here’s your quick guide on how to use this for international SEO keyword research:
- Keywords Explorer: You can dive into global databases to see which search terms are ranking high.
- Search Volume & Clicks: Beyond just volume, Ahrefs shows how many clicks those searches get. A high search with low clicks? Maybe there’s a content gap you can fill.
- Keyword Difficulty: Ahrefs rates how tough the competition is. A lower score? That’s your green light.
Here’s an example: You’re thinking of launching a sustainable clothing brand in Australia.
With Ahrefs, you delve into the local search landscape and stumble upon a gem: “sustainable clothing for men.”
In fact, there are several search terms related to “men’s sustainable clothing” and a few have low keyword difficulty.
This suggests fewer competitors are vying for these search terms. Armed with this insight, you could craft engaging content or even launch a product line centered around sustainable men’s clothing.
Use the “Questions” feature in Keywords Explorer. It’ll show queries people are asking related to your search term – perfect for FAQ sections or blog topics.
ChatGPT4, while not a traditional SEO tool, can be a game-changer for international SEO keyword research.
It can offer search term suggestions, helping you to get ideas for relevant search terms for your topic. Additionally, GPT4 can give you content ideas centered around your search terms. It can also give you outlines or write full-blown articles.
Not to mention, it can generate hreflang tags and help with your URL structures. All you need to do is provide the languages and regions, and it can produce the corresponding meta tags.
Here’s a sample prompt: “ChatGPT, I have a website in English targeting the US and another version in Italian for Italy. Can you help me with the hreflang tags?”
Here’s the reply:
Now that you’re armed with the proper tools, you’re set to dive into the nuances of international SEO keyword research. This journey will steer you clear of pitfalls, making sure your resources are well-spent. After all, global expansion is an investment you want to get right.
6 Best Practices In International SEO Keyword Research
Navigating international SEO keyword research can be intricate. Knowing the best practices ensures your global strategy hits the mark, avoiding common mistakes, and maximizing your reach.
a. Consult Native Speakers
Who knows the local lingo better than someone who’s grown up speaking it? They’ll clue you into colloquialisms and slang that often slip past traditional translation tools. These terms can be goldmines, capturing the local search habits’ essence.
To get started, hire local content creators and collaborate with regional influencers. When you integrate their insights, you’re not just translating; you’re resonating.
b. Adapt To Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI tools can analyze vast amounts of data faster than any human, pinpointing emerging trends across different regions. This means you can stay ahead of the curve, tailoring your content to what global audiences are really searching for.
Predictive AI solutions also help… well, predict shifts in search behavior, giving you a heads-up before a trend even takes off. It’s easy to do this since you can just start integrating AI-driven SEO tools into your research process.
c. Comply With Voice Search Trends
Voice search is rapidly becoming a preferred method for users worldwide with the likes of technology like Alexa and Siri. However, the search behavior for this differs from the usual.
When people speak, they use natural, conversational language. This means keyword research needs to shift from short, typed phrases to longer, spoken queries. For your global audience, understanding regional accents, dialects, and colloquialisms becomes crucial.
To do this, put more focus on long-tail search terms and create FAQ sections that answer common voice queries.
d. Avoid Direct Translations
While direct translations may seem efficient, they can lead you down a path of miscommunication. Languages are intricate, filled with nuances, idioms, and cultural contexts that a simple translation can’t capture.
In doing this, you risk using terms that either make no sense or convey a different meaning in the target language. So, invest in localization rather than blowing up your expansion plans.
e. Be Aware Of Regional Differences
Don’t paint all regions with the same brush, even if they speak the same language. For instance, Portuguese, while shared by both Portugal and Brazil, has distinct variations in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and sometimes even grammar.
In Portugal, the term for “car” is “carro.” In Brazil, while “carro” is understood, the more commonly used term is “automóvel.”
Dive deep into regional vernacular, slang, and popular terms. Acknowledging regional nuances gets you a step closer to resonating with your target audience. Tailoring your content to specific regions ensures you become more relevant and build better engagement.
How To Keep Up With Ever-Changing SEO & Industry Trends
All SEO types, including international SEO, are a continuous process as search engine algorithms are always evolving. Doing this as a one-time thing can only cause disaster for your online presence.
How do you keep up?
Subscribe to reputable SEO blogs like Novum, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. These sites regularly share insights, updates, and best practices for SEO.
In addition, attend webinars and conferences. They also provide networking opportunities with experts in your niche.
You can also join online forums or communities like SEO Chat or Webmaster World, where professionals discuss the latest trends and challenges.
More importantly, invest in SEO tools because they constantly update their features based on the latest trends, giving you a competitive edge. All these let you stay proactive and informed, making sure that your international SEO strategies stay effective and that you can stay toe-to-toe against your competitors.
In-House Or SEO Agency?
Deciding between these two to complete your international SEO keyword research can be challenging, but worry not, we’ll break it down for you.
While having an in-house team means direct control and easy communication, it often comes with limitations. Building a team with diverse SEO expertise can be time-consuming and costly.
On the contrary, an SEO agency brings a wealth of experience from working with various clients. They’re equipped with the latest tools and strategies, especially when it comes to conducting international keyword research.
Not to mention, SEO agencies stay updated with ever-evolving SEO trends, ensuring your international SEO strategy remains top-notch. Plus, they also offer scalability; you can tap into different expertise as your needs evolve.
Therefore, while both have their merits, if you’re aiming for comprehensive, up-to-date, and efficient SEO solutions, leaning toward an SEO agency like Novum is your best bet to increase your organic traffic value. Get started today and let’s form that SEO roadmap!