International SEO: How to Do Multilingual Keyword Research

Your website may just be a “shop window” for your prospects to browse as a part of your word-of-mouth strategy. But most companies want their websites to be findable on search engines.

You probably have already calculated the ROI of translating your website and you’re sure it’s a good investment. However, if your goal is to rank the page on search engines, you can’t just translate the copy.

Even if it’s by a professional, you need to do the keyword research first.

SEO professionals spend a lot of time doing keyword research. When they find the best keywords to target in one language, that doesn’t mean a word-for-word translation will work in another.

Even within a single language, keywords may differ on a regional basis.

That’s why, in this article, we’re going to break down how to do multilingual keyword research for your international SEO strategy. That way, your website will achieve its goals on every version of your website.

Keyword differences across cultures

Before you start looking for the translations of your keywords, consider your customer’s search intent. What exactly are they trying to solve when typing these words into Google?

You should also consider the behaviour in your target market. 

Keyword research indicates the behaviour of people from that country. Not just language usage.

If you ask for a cup of coffee in a diner in California, they’ll pour you a cup of filtered.

If you ask for a cup of coffee in a café in Catalunya, well, they’ll probably ask you what kind you want (or at least confirm “¿un café solo?”, meaning a small cup of strong, black espresso).

Maybe you can translate ‘coffee’ the same in both, but it depends.

These are cultural differences that shape the mind of searchers. They just see things differently. And it’s reflected in the way we search. Instead of just pondering it on your own, we of course recommend working with a multilingual SEO specialist to do this research.

In some cases, people from a certain country may not be searching for that word. Even if it has thousands of hits in one language, it just may not come to mind in another. You may have to re-do the strategy itself.

If you find that they do have the same intent, your next step is to do research at the word level. You’ll need to already know which region you’re targeting, even within a single country.

For instance, if you’re a French speaker, remember the big debate between “pain au chocolat” and chocolatine? According to SmartInsights, most of France would search for the word ‘pain au chocolat’. However, in the Southwest region of France, there’s a way higher search volume for the word ‘chocolatine’.

So, your keyword research strategy depends on your goals, but this is something to work through with a professional.

You need to consider both the language and cultural nuances when you design your international digital marketing strategy. 

Researching keywords in another language

Take the keywords you already have and check local search volume with Google keyword planner.

Check with a professional translator / SEO specialist that the keyword you found does indeed have the same intent and meaning as the original.

Choose the keywords that are most relevant for your tool and that have search volume and translate them.

Be sure to also check for competition and keyword difficulty. It may be harder to rank for a certain keyword in one area than in another.

Tools for doing multilingual keyword research

You’ll need to work with an SEO-specialised translator to confirm the keywords, but you can use the following tools to check volume and competition:

  • Google Keyword Planner. This is Google’s tool that you’re supposed to use with Google Ads, but it works well for search engine optimisation as well.
  • Ubersuggest. This is Neil Patel’s free keyword research tool, which you can use to find search volume and competition in countries and languages.
  • LSIGraph. This gives you semantic keywords—keywords that are related to the one you initially typed in, which will help give you more ideas if your original keyword didn’t quite work.
  • Google Search Console. You can use this to figure out what words people are using to find your website already.
  • Ahrefs. A little pricey, but probably the best keyword research tool around.

Global SEO best practices

Beyond keyword research, here are our tips for global SEO best practices.

Make sure all content is translated

If you’re translating your content, go all the way. Everything from navigation, menu, blog content and help desk should be in the language you’re targeting.

Don’t use machine translation

Unless you don’t really care about how your audience feels about your brand in other languages. But we think you do, right?

Don’t automatically redirect users to a language based on location

Let your website visitors choose what language they want to see your website in. The redirect is annoying and can be an incorrect guess, especially in places with a lot of immigrants.

Build links to local resources

In your link building efforts, focus on getting links from websites in the translated language or in the region you’re targeting, instead of getting the same links back.

Link out to local resources

Likewise, include links in your translated content to websites that are also in that language and region. This helps Google rank you higher in those regions.

Got any questions about your international SEO strategy? We’d love to help you get started!

Leave a Reply