International SEO keyword research: The definitive guide (2022)

If you’re reading this, you may already have some basic knowledge of keyword research – from brainstorming keyword ideas, analyzing them in a keyword research tool, and shortlisting your target keywords. This general framework can achieve spectacular results when applied to a local SEO (search engine optimization) campaign, but it needs some adaptation for the international scene.

That’s because when you start targeting international website traffic, there are entirely new considerations to cater for. For one, such website visitors may speak languages that aren’t the same as yours. Cultural differences may also affect the keywords that global searchers use for their online searches. Do you typically take such issues into account during a local keyword research exercise? Probably not.

To enhance your website’s rankings in the international markets, you will hence need to conduct not just regular SEO keyword research, but international SEO keyword research. Keep reading as we explore its importance for reaching a global audience, and the four stages for conducting effective international SEO keyword research.

What is SEO keyword research and why should you do it?

SEO keyword research is the process of identifying search terms, phrases, and questions that people key into search engines to look for information.

For example, a person deciding whether to buy an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy smartphone might use the keyword “iphone vs samsung” for their online search. On the other hand, a person keen to know the average lifespan of a golden retriever might type the keyword “average lifespan of golden retriever” into a search engine.

If either of these keywords were helpful to your business, you’d want to identify them as you conduct SEO keyword research. That’s because as you generate relevant keywords for your business, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand what potential customers are looking for. They wouldn’t be searching for something if they didn’t need it, after all! Armed with such information, you can then develop your products and services to make them more attractive and useful to customers.
  • Create content that targets such keywords. If your content ranks for your chosen keywords – and ranks well for them – it might help bring in a steady stream of organic traffic for your website. Such website visitors may also buy from you and boost your sales figures!

SEO keyword research is thus an important process in any content marketing strategy. And likewise for international SEO keyword research, which is SEO keyword research but applied to the global market. If you are undertaking a global SEO strategy, international SEO keyword research is one step not to be neglected.

How do you conduct international SEO keyword research?

Carrying out international SEO keyword research naturally involves identifying keywords for which you want to optimize your website content. And if you are creating digital marketing content for users who speak a foreign language, it’s also logical that you may need to translate your keywords.

But a comprehensive international SEO keyword research strategy involves more than just executing these two processes. If you don’t localize your keywords and ensure their viability for the local market, then your website may rank more poorly on the international search engine results pages (SERPs) than you may like.

Let’s discuss the four main stages of international SEO keyword research in more detail:

1. Identify your keywords

As with any keyword research endeavor, whether for international or local SEO, the first stage is to identify potential keywords worth creating content for. Below, we’ve listed some international keyword research considerations that help determine whether a keyword is a “good” one. You’ll likely find them familiar if you have some SEO experience:

  • Search volume: How many people are conducting searches with this keyword every month? A higher search volume indicates that more people are using it for their searches. Accordingly, you may be able to receive more website traffic if you have a piece of content that ranks well for this keyword. That said, a keyword with lower search volume may still be worth targeting if it is a “bottom of the funnel” keyword that is more likely to generate conversions.
  • Keyword difficulty: The keyword difficulty metric tells you how difficult it may be to rank for this keyword. Keywords with a lower keyword difficulty score are generally easier to rank for. However, keywords with higher keyword difficulty are also worth going after if they are extremely valuable to your business.
  • Search intent: What are people looking for when they use this keyword? If you aim to increase conversions and sales, then you may want to prioritize keywords that imply transactional intent. That’s because such keywords indicate that visitors are already primed to buy. On the other hand, if your primary goal is to educate readers on a certain subject – rather than convince them to buy from you – then you could look into keywords with informational intent.

Use a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs, Moz, or Semrush to get insights into the above considerations as you carry out international keyword research.

2. Translate your keywords

As mentioned, directly translating your keywords to the target language isn’t a complete international SEO strategy. However, it still does form a necessary part of the process.

Once you’ve compiled a list of target keywords, translate them into all the different languages for which you want to create content. Doing a manual translation may be manageable if you have only a handful of keywords to translate. But what if you have hundreds or even thousands of keywords? Manually translating them all can take quite some time. Your translations may also not be the most accurate if you aren’t well-versed in the destination language.

This is where using an automatic translation tool such as Weglot will come in handy. Weglot uses sophisticated machine translation technology to instantly translate the content on your website, including your keywords. The quality of your translated keywords will also be high, as Weglot uses a proprietary mix of machine learning translations to produce the best translations for any given language pair.

After Weglot has translated your keywords, you can review them and make further adjustments to ensure their suitability for your target audience. You can also engage Weglot’s partner translators directly from the Weglot Dashboard if you’d like an expert to review your keyword translations.

And once you’re happy with your translated keywords, you’ll want to:

3. Localize your translated keywords

Simply translating your keywords doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a perfect fit for the local context of your target country. That’s because your translations may not have captured societal and cultural nuances present in these specific countries. Here are two instances where this may be the case:

  1. Different dialects of the same language use different words to express the same concept. In American English, for example, you might talk about going to the “grocery store” if you needed to pick up groceries and other household goods. In contrast, a native speaker of British English would say that they are going to the “supermarket” instead. Same place, but called two different things in two different contexts.
  2. Certain words and phrases simply aren’t used in certain languages. A projector, being the equipment that projects images onto a screen, can be referred to as either a “projektor” or “beamer” in German. But if you’re in Germany, you’ll want to say “beamer” because that’s what the Germans use to talk about projectors. The alternative term of “projektor” is rarely used there.

In situations where doing a direct translation of your keywords will not accurately reflect how your new market uses them, you’d need to go one step further and localize your keywords. This involves adapting your keywords for the local context, such as rephrasing them or switching them out with more suitable keywords. Keyword localization, and the localization of your website content as a whole, is essential to helping your website rank well in the SERPs and reach online searchers in your target market.

If you’ve used Weglot to translate your keywords, all your translations will be conveniently stored in a central Weglot Dashboard. From there, you can search for the specific keywords that need localizing, then refine or replace them with more appropriate alternatives.

4. Check the viability of your localized keywords

Once you’ve translated and localized your identified keywords (as per stages two and three above), your resulting keywords may appear very different from those you originally identified in the first stage. This is where you’ll need to double-check their viability for your target audience. You don’t want to start producing content with your localized keywords in mind, only to realize that you should have directed your efforts toward targeting a different keyword.

Run your localized keywords through your preferred international keyword research tool to analyze their organic search volume, keyword difficulty, and other vital SEO stats. In addition, review the search intent of your localized keywords to see if it has changed. After that, decide on your next steps.

For example, if you find that the search volume for one localized keyword is very low, you may want to find a different localized keyword to target. Alternatively, you may find that the search intent for one localized keyword is still informational in nature, but the keyword itself relates to a different content topic. In this case, you’ll have to choose whether to create content for the original topic or the new one.

When you’ve settled on your localized keywords and your approach for each of them, you’re ready to use them for your website content! Don’t forget to optimize your content using SEO best practices as well, such as using header tags and writing enticing meta descriptions. For more information on multilingual SEO techniques, take a look at our international SEO checklist for multilingual websites.

Use Weglot to aid with your international SEO keyword research

If you want to get more website traffic or sales from the global markets, international SEO keyword research is one process to undertake as part of your SEO campaign. It helps you identify crucial keywords that international searchers are using so you can optimize your website for such keywords accordingly. Then, with higher visibility in the SERPs, your website may receive more visitors – who may then purchase from you!

A successful international SEO keyword research strategy involves first identifying keywords and evaluating their usefulness to your business using metrics such as search volume and keyword difficulty. If these keywords aren’t in the language of your target audience, you’ll need to translate them. While you could translate your keywords manually, using an automated translation tool can help you obtain accurate keyword translations within a much shorter turnaround time.

Next, localize your translated keywords for a better fit with the local context, by tweaking them to include slang or replacing them with entirely different words. Finally, check the viability of your localized keywords for your SEO goals. Once you’ve confirmed your localized keywords, you can start using them to optimize your content.

Weglot’s website translation solution is a useful tool for the translation stage of the international SEO keyword research process, helping you to translate large quantities of keywords within your website content. 

Weglot supports the translation of over 110 languages and comes with useful international SEO features such as:

  • Automatic meta description and image alt text translation so you don’t have to hunt these down and translate them manually.
  • Hreflang tag implementation to help search engines serve the appropriate language versions of your web pages to searchers.
  • Media translation for displaying different versions of website images for visitors from different countries, and improving their user experience.

Weglot seamlessly integrates with all leading website and ecommerce platforms, including WordPress, Webflow, and Shopify. More than 60,000 websites use Weglot for their translation needs, and you can try Weglot on your website for free by creating an account here.

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