From Local to Global – The International SEO Keyword Research Guide

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From Local to Global – The International SEO Keyword Research Guide
21 June 2023
When you hear the word "barbie," do you think of a toy or a sizzling backyard cookout*? Well, it actually depends on where you're from. Understanding the importance of using the right keywords in your web content is crucial if you want to succeed in foreign markets. To help you avoid the delightful language quirks, I’ve put together this International SEO Keyword Research Guide + a list of the best international keyword research tools. Enjoy!

14min.

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There are 3 main reasons why brands venture beyond their home country. They do this to

  • reach a larger customer base
  • capitalize on untapped consumer demand
  • stay ahead of the rivals

None of those goals can be achieved if your International SEO and sales strategy flounders. And it will flounder when your marketing communication, including your web content, speaks a different language than your target audience.

When I say “different language,” I’m not talking about the obvious ones like English, Korean, or Spanish because – let’s face it – you know that. What I really want you to grasp is that people in other countries (aka your potential new customers) have unique search habits. They may be searching for the exact products or services you offer, but using entirely different terms and phrases than your familiar native customers. And this is what you absolutely need to bear in mind when doing international SEO keyword research.

*Americans associate the word “Barbie” with a doll, whereas Australians use it more often to talk about barbecue.

International SEO As the Fuel for Global Business Growth

In today’s interconnected digital landscape, expanding your business globally has become more accessible than ever before. With limitless online opportunities and borders that seem to blur, going international offers a cost-effective way to scale your business.

💡 The key to success lies in understanding the most popular keywords in your industry, used by your target audience, and leveraging them to create compelling web content and marketing communication. 

Mastering the art of International SEO and knowing how to do global SEO will enable you to expose your brand to new markets and engage diverse audiences across different countries and languages.

Not sure how to help your new international customers find your offer online? Be sure to check How to Do Multi-Language SEO – The Complete Guide to learn International SEO tips and common optimization mistakes.

The process of doing international SEO for your website boils down to two things:

1️⃣ adapting your web content to resonate with international users

2️⃣ taking care of technical aspects of a multi-language website

Of course, each of those steps consists of dozens of sub-steps. To give you an example, while working on the technical aspects of the multi-language website (2️⃣), you need to decide on the right foreign market entry domain or use hreflangs to tag separate language versions of your website.

When crafting web content (1️⃣), you need to conduct comprehensive international keyword research. Without the right keywords, you simply can’t optimize the content to later ensure its visibility in search engine results.

By combining the technical aspects of international SEO with effective international keyword research strategies, you can drive relevant international organic traffic to your website.

I’m pretty sure you already know the keyword research basics for your local audience. So far, you may have even mastered the art of finding trending keywords and using ChatGPT for keyword research to speak the language of your local target audience. So now it’s high time you understand…

How Keyword Research for International SEO Differs from Local SEO

Keyword research – an absolutely fundamental aspect of SEO – involves identifying the specific words and phrases people use when searching for products or services online. It also includes understanding the search intent that each search query is linked with.

It’s worth realizing that keyword research serves as a compass, guiding you toward creating relevant and optimized content that resonates with your target audience. However, international keyword research adds an extra layer of complexity compared to local SEO.

You see, when you’re going global with your brand, you can’t just copy-paste your local keyword strategy and call it a day. You need to realize that these are different countries, different languages, and even different ways of searching we’re dealing with. It’s like stepping into a whole new world of cultural nuances and unique linguistic twists.

To crack the code of international keyword research, you have to become a kind of cultural detective, if I may call it that way. You need to understand the local lingo, the slang, the idioms, and – most of all – the search habits specific to each target market. It’s all about getting into the minds and hearts of your international audience, figuring out how they tick and what makes them click.

Remember the “barbie” example I used above? Let’s take a quick look at Google Trends to see how this search term’s popularity varies between American (red) and Australian (blue) internet users.

As a search filter, I’m going to select Food & Drink, obviously.

international keyword research - barbie example

So, the graph shows how people use the exact same search term in Web Search. The difference is pretty striking, isn’t it?

However, if you’re anything like me, you also check YouTube for some BBQ recipes. So, let’s see how often the “barbie” keyword is used on the video-sharing platform.

international keyword research - barbie keyword

Again, the difference in interest over time is massive.

Let’s take one step further. Let’s make it “barbie recipes” and return to Web Search.

international keyword research - barbie recipes

I guess the Google Trends report is pretty self-explanatory.

What does it mean to you, a business owner who aspires to go international with his high-quality stainless steel grill and accessories?

If you’re an Australian BBQ seller who builds web content around the very keywords (“barbie recipes” and “barbie”), then you are clearly doing a great job in your local market, which is Australia, obviously.

However, if you use the exact same search terms to optimize your content for the American audience, you will probably drive little-to-zero web traffic. And even if you get some traffic, the users will leave your website quickly, contributing to a higher bounce rate. Why? Because unlike an Australian, an American typing “barbie” into the search engine usually looks for a doll, not for food accessories.

The best part, in this case, is that people living in America and Australia speak the same language, right? So imagine how much more complex it is to adapt your web content to an audience that uses a completely different language than yours.

No worries, though. Here is how you do international keyword research to find the best search terms for your international marketing communication and website search engine optimization.

Step-by-Step Guide to International SEO Keyword Research

You’ve just gotten a grasp of the unique challenges and nuances of doing international SEO for your website. Now it’s time for me to equip you with the knowledge and strategies needed to optimize your website for global success. Let’s walk through the process of expanding your reach to new markets. Here is the 5-step manual for doing international SEO Keyword Research.

STEP 1 Identify Target Markets and Languages

Usually, you would aim for the predominant language of a specific country, like Portuguese in Brazil or Danish in Denmark. However, there are times when you might want to target a different group living in a given country. For example, if you’re entering the German market, you might be interested in the search terms used by Turks or Italians, as they are significant ethnic communities in the so-called Land of Beer and Bratwurst. Similarly, you might want to target Chinese-speaking customers in Canada or Spanish-speaking communities in the USA.

So, once you do that, you need to…

STEP 2 Understand User Intent in Different Regions

This is when you should think about partnering with a native speaker, or alternatively, someone who knows a given language and the culture of your target audience very well. If you want to optimize your website for a particular country, you need to know the exact words your target audience uses to find the service or products you offer.

Simply translating keywords from your language to the target language may not yield the desired results. It’s much better and more effective to target the search intent itself. Let me paint you a picture of the beauty industry.

In Norway, people looking for holiday accommodation type the destination city/county and follow it with the word “hotel.” Americans tend to type “near me” every time they look for a service or product. Germans, however, add “kaufen” to their search queries when they want to buy something online. Actually, I’ll give you more examples of how search habits vary according to the language a searcher speaks a bit later.

STEP 3 Use the Keyword Research Tools Effectively

So, once you’ve gathered the keywords and aligned them with the search intent, it’s time to dig into the keyword metrics using an SEO tool. This will give you valuable insights into the performance of your keywords and help you refine your international SEO strategy for maximum impact.

Remember, it’s all about speaking the language of your target audience and understanding their search behaviors to truly connect and capture their attention.

STEP 4 Analyze Keyword Competition in Foreign Markets

When doing international keyword research, I also advise you to analyze your competition in foreign markets. For example, let’s say you’re targeting the Italian market for your fashion brand. By analyzing the keyword competition, you can discover that certain terms like “abbigliamento” (clothing) or “scarpe di moda” (fashion shoes) are highly competitive, with established brands dominating the search results.

However, you might also uncover less competitive niches, such as “abiti vintage” (vintage dresses) or “accessori artigianali” (handcrafted accessories), where you have a better chance of ranking higher.

By understanding the keyword competition in foreign markets, you can strategically choose the right keywords to optimize your content and increase your chances of success in capturing the attention of your international audience.

STEP 5 Refine and Finalize the Keyword List

Once you have gathered a pool of potential keywords, it’s time to sift through them to pick the ones that are profitable for your business. Take into account:

  • search volume
  • search intent
  • relevance
  • competition/difficulty

Get rid of any irrelevant or low-performing terms, focusing on those with the highest potential to drive targeted traffic.

This is the perfect moment to again reach out to your trusted native speaker and ask them to refine your list of keywords. The language specialist considers the nuances of each target market, adapting your keywords to match the local language, cultural preferences, and search behaviors. 

Do You Really Need to Consult a Language Specialist to Check the Keywords?

Let’s run an experiment to answer that.

Keyword: “car shop”

Search regions: USA and UK

Language: English

This is what Google shows when American searchers type “car shop” into the browser.

international keyword research - car shop USA

Compare it to when the “car shop” is searched in the UK.

International keyword research - car shop UK

You see what’s going on here? If you’re an American English speaker, a “car shop” is where you take your car for repairs. But for those speaking British English, a “car shop” is where they can buy car parts. It’s a whole different ball game in terms of search intent.

That’s exactly why consulting a language specialist to do a final run through your list of keywords makes so much sense. They bring the necessary insights to optimize your keyword strategy effectively and maximize your chances of success in foreign markets.

Trust me, you need to tailor your keywords to match the language and search behavior of your target audience. Otherwise, your content may not hit the mark at all.

So, once you’ve compiled the list of keywords, it’s time to verify their traffic-driving potential. And this is when you need to use some international keyword research tools.

baner cro keywords

Best Tools for International SEO Keyword Research

When selecting a multilingual keyword research tool, consider factors such as the tool’s data accuracy, usability, and the number of languages it supports. Look for tools that offer a wide range of keyword research functionalities, including search volume data, keyword suggestions, and competitor analysis, all tailored to different languages.

Tool Pros Cons Recommended to use Tips Cost
Google Keyword Planner Free and easy to use Limited keyword suggestions for non-advertisers When starting out or on a tight budget Use multiple short-tail keywords for more comprehensive results Free, but if you want more comprehensive data, you need to run at least one ad campaign
SEMrush Robust keyword database and competitive analysis features Higher cost compared to other SEO tools When conducting in-depth competitor research Use the “keyword gap” tool to find opportunities Starts at $99.95 per month
Ahrefs Extensive keyword research features Expensive pricing for full access to all features When focusing on competitor analysis Utilize the “Content Gap” tool to discover content opportunities Starts at $99 per month
KeywordTool.io Generates keyword suggestions from various sources Some advanced features require upgrading to a paid plan When looking for a wide range of keyword ideas Explore different keyword sources like YouTube and Amazon Starts at $69 per month
Ubbersuggest Provides keyword suggestions and competitive analysis Limited access to some features in the free version When seeking a user-friendly tool with basic functionality Analyze the “Content Ideas” section for topic inspiration Free and premium plans are available

Let me walk you through running international keyword research using Google Search Console, Google Search, and SEMrush.

Google Search Console

To use Google Search Console for your international keyword research, follow these steps:

STEP 1 Log in to your Google Search Console account and select your website property.

STEP 2 Navigate to the Performance section in the left sidebar.

STEP 3 At the top of the page, you’ll find a filter labeled Countries. Click on it to open the dropdown menu.

STEP 4 Select the country or countries you’re interested in targeting. You can choose multiple countries or even select All countries to view a broader overview.

STEP 5 Once you apply the filter, the performance data in the reports will reflect the selected countries.

You may also give Google Search a go to gain insights into how people in different countries search for products and services that you offer. You just need to change the region and language settings manually.

STEP 1 Go to Google’s homepage.

STEP 2 Look for Settings, which you can find in the lower-right corner of the Google homepage. Click on it to open the setting menu.

International SEO keyword research - Google settings

STEP 3 Click on the Search settings.

International SEO keyword research - Google search settings

Alternatively, you may access the Search settings by clicking the gear icon located in the top right corner. Once you do this, the following menu will appear. Click the See all Search settings button.

International SEO keyword research - Google search

STEP 4 From the left sidebar select Languages. Select the desired language you want Google to display search results in.

International SEO keyword research - Google search settings languages

STEP 5 From the left sidebar menu click Search results, and scroll all the way down to the Region Settings section. Select the desired country or region you want Google to provide localized search results for.

International SEO keyword research - Google search settings region

STEP 6 Click Save.

In case you can’t see the updated settings, try clearing your browser’s cache and cookies.

STEP 7 Return to the Google homepage and perform a search. You should now see search results that are localized based on the region and language settings you have chosen.

Let’s do this for our “barbie recipes” keyword.

First, the results for the Region Settings – Australia:

International keyword research - Barbie recipe for Australia

And now the very same keywords for the Region Settings – USA:

International keyword research - barbie recipe keyword in the USA

Isn’t it impressive how the same keyword calls out completely different results depending on what country you localize the search? That’s why understanding the demographics and tailoring your international SEO keyword research to reach the right audience in their preferred language is so important.

SEMrush

If you happen to use SEMrush as your SEO tool, do the following:

STEP 1 Log into your SEMrush account.

international keyword research tool - Semrush keyword overview

STEP 2 Enter the keyword you want to verify.

STEP 3 Choose the desired location. Near the search bar, you will find a dropdown menu with flags/countries. Click on it and select the desired country (and region if you want to) for which you want to analyze keyword data.

International keyword research tool - Near me keyword overview

In the Overview tab, you can check the keyword metrics, such as Search Volume, Search Intent, and Keyword Difficulty.

STEP 4 If you happen to have more than just one keyword to check, you may want to use the Bulk Analysis tab.

international keyword research tool - bathing suit keyword overview

Source: https://www.semrush.com/kb/257-keyword-overview

This way you can compare and verify up to 100 keywords at once.

Overcoming Language & Cultural Barriers in Keyword Research

As you’ve probably seen in the examples above, it’s not enough to simply translate keywords from one language to another – you need to consider how people in different cultures express their needs and preferences. Generally speaking, it’s more about identifying and understanding the target audience’s search intent, rather than changing the search phrases from one language into another.

To help you understand the difference between translation and localization in international keyword research, let me give you these 5 real-life examples:

Shopping for Footwear in France

Let’s imagine you are an e-commerce business owner selling shoes. If you want to target the French market, translating the English keyword “shoes” to “chaussures” may turn out to be a pretty poor international SEO strategy.

Localization requires an understanding that French consumers often search for specific types of shoes, such as “baskets” for sneakers or “escarpins” for high heels. You need to know that to adopt the keywords to the French language and French customers’ preferences.

Going on Vacay as a German

Similarly, consider a travel agency looking to attract German tourists. Directly translating “vacation destinations” to “Urlaubsziele” captures the essence but may miss the mark.

In this case, localization involves understanding that German travelers often search for “Reiseziele” or “Urlaubsorte” when planning their trips. That’s why, if you happened to be a travel agency, remember to use such keywords to optimize your web content. Otherwise, increasing visibility among the German-speaking audience may be pretty tough.

Ordering Pizza in Spanish

Another example is an online food delivery service expanding into the Spanish-speaking market. If you simply translate “pizza delivery” to “entrega de pizza,” your brand may not resonate with local searchers.

Localization entails recognizing that in some Spanish-speaking countries, people commonly search for “pedido de pizza” or “envío de pizza.” You absolutely need to know that to tailor the keywords to specific language variations. This way you, as a food delivery service provider, can improve your website search rankings and attract customers from different Spanish-speaking regions.

Looking for a Smartphone in Japan

Let’s assume you’re now a technology company expanding into the Japanese market. If you directly translate the English keyword “smartphone” to “スマートフォン” (sumātofon), you will capture the essence, but fail to address the specific search behaviors of Japanese users.

Here, localization involves recognizing that Japanese consumers often search for specific smartphone brands or features, such as “iPhone 13” or “防水スマートフォン” (waterproof smartphone). By incorporating these localized keywords, your technology company can enhance its visibility and attract Japanese customers who are searching for specific smartphone-related terms.

Hitting the Gym in Portugal

Finally, imagine a fitness brand aiming to reach the Portuguese-speaking market. Simply translating the English keyword “workout routines” to “rotinas de exercícios” provides a basic understanding. However, localization requires delving deeper into the local fitness culture and preferences.

The brand may discover that Portuguese speakers often search for specific workout types, such as “treino cardio” for cardio workouts or “treino funcional” for functional training. By incorporating these localized keywords, the fitness brand can tailor its content to the target audience’s interests and improve its search visibility among Portuguese-speaking users.

Tips & Best Practices for International SEO Keyword Research

We’ve covered a lot of ground, haven’t we? You’ve just gained a number of valuable insights on international SEO keyword research. You know that you need to understand your audience’s search intent, localize keywords, leverage multilingual tools, and embrace cultural nuances.

But, there’s more.

So, without any more delay, here’s a quick rundown of the must-dos and avoid-at-all-costs when it comes to international SEO keyword research.

Top 5 Dos of International Keyword Research

👍 Do understand your target audience

Gain a deep understanding of the cultural preferences, language nuances, and search behaviors of your target audience in each specific market.

👍 Do localize your keywords

Adapt your keywords to match the language and search patterns of your target market. Incorporate localized terms, colloquial expressions, and industry-specific jargon to improve relevance.

👍 Do use multilingual keyword research tools

Utilize reliable multilingual keyword research tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz to explore keyword opportunities and gain insights into search volumes and competition across different languages.

👍 Do consider long-tail keywords

Focus on long-tail keywords that reflect specific user intent and localized search queries. These keywords often have less competition and can help you target a more specific audience.

👍 Do monitor and analyze keyword performance

Regularly track the performance of your chosen keywords in search engine rankings. Monitor changes in rankings, organic traffic, and user engagement to refine your keyword strategy.

Top 5 Don’ts of International Keyword Research

🚫 Don’t rely solely on translation

Avoid translating keywords directly from one language to another. Instead, focus on understanding each target market’s search intent and cultural nuances to choose the most appropriate keywords.

🚫 Don’t neglect local keyword research

Don’t assume that the keywords that work well in one country will automatically be effective in another. Conduct thorough local keyword research to uncover specific terms and phrases used by your target audience.

🚫 Don’t ignore competitor analysis

Neglecting competitor analysis can limit your keyword research insights. Analyze the keywords your competitors are targeting and identify gaps or opportunities that you can leverage.

🚫 Don’t overlook search engine preferences

Different search engines may dominate specific markets. Consider the popular search engines in your target countries and tailor your keyword research and optimization strategies accordingly.

🚫 Don’t forget to analyze the cultural context

Take into account the cultural context when selecting and optimizing keywords. Be mindful of cultural sensitivities, local customs, and preferences to ensure your keywords resonate with your target audience.

Language evolves, and so does SEO.

It’s a fast-paced world out there, so if you want to stay visible on the international market, you need to be on top of the latest trends. And this involves staying on top of your industry, the language spoken in your target countries, and search algorithm changes. How on Earth are you able to do it?

First of all, you absolutely need to monitor analytics and performance metrics. Regularly analyze your website’s performance using tools like Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console. Track key metrics such as organic traffic, keyword rankings, bounce rate, and conversion rate. Monitoring these metrics can help you identify any changes in search traffic and user behavior, providing insights into the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.

Secondly, follow reliable SEO news sources. You may consider subscribing to newsletters or RSS feeds of trusted SEO news websites to receive timely updates on algorithm changes, industry trends, and emerging SEO strategies.

Thirdly, staying informed will be easier when you visit the industry blogs regularly. Find the most popular bloggers and vloggers in your target country’s industry and devour their content. If any new trends pop up, they’ll be the ones to let you know about it. The same applies to the changes in language. You will spot the neologisms in their content.

A Summary of International SEO Keyword Research

Without a strong grasp of the language, culture, and search habits, your SEO dreams of conquering the foreign market can quickly turn into a game of charades – and, trust me, you don’t want this.

That’s why before entering a new market with your brand, you need to conduct international SEO keyword research. This way you gain valuable insights that help you enter foreign markets and engage with new international audiences.

If it wasn’t for international keyword research, you would have a hard time understanding local customer behavior. By now, you know that language and cultural nuances play a huge role in connecting with your target customers in foreign markets.

Also, don’t hesitate to partner up with a language specialist. It will help you overcome language barriers, thus better optimizing your website for local search engines.

💡 When it comes to international keyword research, here’s my ultimate advice: “Don’t just translate, localize.” Instead of just translating your keywords, also focus on adapting them to the local context and culture. This approach will ensure that your content resonates with the target audience and drives maximum visibility and engagement.

Of course, if you need guidance on identifying target markets, optimizing your content for different languages, or refining your international SEO strategy – we are ready to assist you.

Don’t hesitate to start your global expansion!

Author
Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Author
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

Author
Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Author
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

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Award - Deloitte 2021 Award - European eCommerce Awards 2022 Award - European Search Awards 2022 Award - Global Agency Awards 2022 Award - IPMA Award - US Search Awards 2021

SEO SEM Agency based in Europe