Research is vital to any successful international SEO strategy. To maximize global growth and in-market opportunity, think beyond translation and let the data do the talking.
Failing to properly research your target markets and in-country language trends can have embarrassing – and potentially damaging – consequences. These marketing localization fails from some of the largest brands in the world are a good reminder of how local research can make or break your global marketing strategy.
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 and simply translate your online content just to get things off the ground. But without insight into local search trends, you risk wasting time, resources, and budget in expanding your international content.
Here are three steps you can take right now to improve your international SEO strategy.
1. IDENTIFY WHAT’S ALREADY WORKING
Start with your current reality. Other than your primary market, where else are you seeing organic search visibility and traffic? In which languages? What are the volume and trend statistics there?
Now dig a little deeper. Identify why you’re ranking for these countries and languages. Also look into which keywords and pages are drawing the traffic, and what the click-through and conversion rates are.
Leverage web analytics tools (like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Searchmetrics, and SEMrush) to help you identify top markets and languages, and better understand international audience behavior and trends.
2. DO INTERNATIONAL KEYWORD RESEARCH
Identifying your top-performing international markets can help you decide which ones to target for growth. But first, you need to know each market’s potential.
This is where keyword research comes in. Begin by quantifying local market opportunity. Which relevant keywords and phrases are being used to search for your brand, products, or services in each market? What are the volume and competition metrics for those? And how are you currently ranking? You’ll want to answer each of these questions as part of your international SEO strategy.
UTILIZE THESE INTERNATIONAL SEO TOOLS
There are several online tools that can help you expand your pool of keywords. Make sure you’re working with search data from each market’s leading search engine – like Google, Bing, Yandex, Naver, or Baidu – to ensure data is both locally representative and accurate.
SimilarWeb reveals which websites have the highest traffic in particular countries and sectors, displays which terms your competition is using, and provides insight into how you might be able to boost your ranking. Use SEMrush for data analytics as well as data visualization in up to 25 languages.
DON’T TRANSLATE YOUR KEYWORDS
It’s crucial that keyword research is carried out directly in the target language for each locale. Simply translating your English keywords into French, for example, or using translation plugins on your site, will likely not yield the strongest, most relevant keywords. Instead, you should work with in-country experts who can identify authentic, organic keywords and phrases specific to each market based on local search trends. Those keywords can then be naturally integrated into your in-language online content.
SCOUT THE IN-COUNTRY COMPETITION
Once you’ve identified your target keywords, online tools and rank-tracking tools like Authority Labs and Advanced Web Ranking can help you benchmark your organic visibility against your competitors. You can then make a more informed decision about which keywords to target based on the competitive landscape for each locale. You can also use these tools to gain local insight from competitor content strategies.
Knowledge is power – and that includes knowledge about your competitors. Familiarize yourself with the tactics your competition takes when entering new markets, especially when it comes to the keywords they’re using. The keyword choices competitors make can inform your SEO strategy, enabling you to pivot – or double down – with confidence.
3. DECIDE ON YOUR MARKET AND LANGUAGE STRATEGY
Growing the markets and languages you’re already doing well in typically requires less investment than those where you have no presence. Focus on regions where you’ve identified growth potential and the opportunity for a return. To get the best results for international SEO, make sure your targeting is both language and country specific. That’s because search trends may vary dramatically across geographies, especially for widely spoken languages like English, Spanish, and French.
However, you may find that there’s not enough organic search volume or market potential to justify such targeting. Or you might not have the resources to launch in multiple regions just yet. If that’s the case, you can still get results by targeting one language in general. You won’t achieve the local SEO performance you’re looking for in a particular region, but you will see increased brand visibility and global engagement, which is a good place to start. For example, if you’re looking to break into Latin America, you could start by engaging native Spanish speakers with a single localized website. Once you have the data and conversions to make the case, you could tailor your Spanish content for Mexico, Argentina, or Puerto Rico to increase engagement at the local level.
And while you’re honed in on your target market, devote some time to ensuring the site loads properly (and quickly) both on desktop and mobile. Don’t overlook the importance of optimizing images for your international audience. While imagery may seem like an afterthought, overlooking this important step can result in a site that won’t load – and users that will bounce.
It may take time, but doing your research and choosing the right approach for your global business objectives is key. (Part of that research should include which website structure is right for you.) Set up your international SEO for success by identifying market potential using data, carrying out in-country keyword research, and clearly defining your marketing localization strategy.