Research is vital to the success of any international SEO strategy. Our three-step process will help you decide where best to focus your efforts.

When I was in school, my teachers would trot out the same line every year as exams began to loom on the horizon: ‘Failure to prepare means preparing to fail.’

In the world of marketing localization, this sentiment is often repeated. And not without reason. Failing to accurately research your target markets and languages can have embarrassing – and potentially damaging – consequences. Just take a look at these global branding fails if you’re not convinced.

Fewer people realize, however, that research is also important when it comes to international SEO. When expanding into new markets, it can be tempting to jump in with both feet in your eagerness to get things off the ground. But without the backing of solid research, you’ll just be wasting time, resources and money.

So how can you make the right decisions when considering an international SEO strategy for your business? Here are three questions you should consider:

1. WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

The best place to start is with your current situation. Other than in your primary market, where else are you seeing some organic search visibility and traffic? In which languages? What are the volume and trend statistics there?

Then, you can dig a little deeper. Why are you ranking for these countries and languages? Which keywords and pages are drawing the traffic? And most importantly, what are the click-through and conversion rates like?

You can easily find the answers to these questions by using the ‘Geo’ reports in Google Analytics or the ‘Search Queries’ reports in the Google Search Console to analyze your website. Third party tools like Searchmetrics and SEMrush are also very insightful when trying to determine which content is ranking in which country. Reviewing a range of available data sources will give you a good indication of your top markets and languages, and a better grasp of audience behaviour and trends.

2. WHERE COULD YOU BE?

Discovering your top performing markets can help you make a judgment on which ones to target. But the picture won’t be complete until you know how much potential each market has.

This is where keyword research comes in to help you quantify local market opportunity. Which relevant keywords and phrases are being used to search for your brand, products or services in that market? What are the volume and competition metrics for them? And how are you currently ranking?

The keywords you came across when researching your current situation are a good starting point here. But there are many other tools online that can help you expand the pool of keywords you’re looking into.

In particular, make sure you check the keyword data from the market’s leading search engine – whether that’s Google, Bing, Yandex, Baidu or something else. Looking into these market-specific search engines will make sure you have data that’s as representative and accurate as possible.

SimilarWeb reveals which websites have the highest traffic in particular countries and sectors. This shows you which terms the competition is using and provides insight into how to boost your own ranking performance. SEMrush is also a good tool for this type of task – and it supports up to 25 languages.

Of course, it’s crucial that this keyword research is carried out directly in the target language. Simply translating your English keywords into French – or worse, using machine translation – will not yield the best results. Instead, you should work with a native speaker who can identify authentic, organic keywords and phrases specific to each market.

At Wordbank, we typically use a blend of global technology platforms and local digital experts to deliver our keyword research. This ensures that we can identify the most opportunistic keywords to target based on both performance metrics and local market intent.

Once you’ve identified the top keywords you want to target, there are various tools and rankers online that will help you benchmark your current organic visibility against competitors in each market – from Authority Labs to Advanced Web Ranking. Armed with this information, you can then make a more informed decision on which types of keywords to target based on competitiveness, and also look for insights that can be leveraged from competitor content strategies.

3. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE?

So you’ve collected your research data. You know how you’re doing in various overseas markets at the moment and you know what the potential scope for growth is there.

How do you decide where to target?

There’s no one right answer and it will depend in large part on your company’s specific strategy and overall business goals. However, from an SEO perspective, targeting the markets and languages you’re already doing well in typically requires less investment than targeting markets where you have no presence whatsoever. And it makes sense to focus your time on places where there is potential for growth and return on investment. So for the majority of businesses, the best approach is to start in markets where they’re already ranking and there is clear room for improvement.

You may find that there’s not enough organic search volume or potential to justify targeting a specific country. This is not uncommon.

While country-specific content is critical for e-commerce, geographical borders are less important in other industries like software, travel or science. In these cases, it may make more sense to target a language rather than a specific market. So you could potentially focus on the Spanish language generally rather than tailoring your website specifically for Mexico, Argentina and mainland Spanish.

Deciding whether to target by language or country is a big decision that will affect not only your sales strategy, but also your website architecture for years to come – as we’ll see in the next blog in our series. So it’s important to get it right. Don’t base your decision on a gut feeling or on whatever seems easiest in the short term. And don’t skip steps. It may take time, but doing your research properly and choosing the approach that aligns with your business objectives is the best way of making sure your international SEO strategy is a success.

To discover how using this information will help you choose the best multiregional and multilingual structure for your website, check out our next post on mastering international SEO.

 

ABOUT Gary Reilly

Originally from Sydney, I'm an international digital marketer with over seven years' experience. I help global brands achieve their goals with integrated digital solutions. And I'm passionate about deciphering user intent to create relevant content that's accessible, visible and delivers ROI.

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