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 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 tips for an effective international SEO strategy for your business.

1. IDENTIFY WHAT’S ALREADY WORKING

Start with your current reality. Other than 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?

Now dig a little deeper. Identify why you’re ranking for these countries and languages, which keywords and pages are drawing the traffic, and what the click-through and conversion rates are.

You can leverage 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 to help you quantify 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?

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 – that’s locally representative and accurate.

SimilarWeb reveals which websites have the highest traffic in particular countries and sectors, which terms your competition is using and provides insight into boosting your ranking. SEMrush is also helpful and supports up to 25 languages.

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 not yield results. 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.

Once you’ve identified your top keywords, online tools and rankers 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 on which keywords to target based on the competitive landscape for each locale. You can also gain local insight from competitor content strategies.

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. You should focus on regions where you’ve identified growth potential and the opportunity for a return. To get the best results from your international SEO activities, make sure your targeting is both language and country-specific. That’s because search trends vary 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 a language in general. (You won’t achieve the local SEO performance you’re looking for in a particular region, but you will increase brand visibility and global engagement, which is a good place to start.) For example, if you’re looking to break into South America, you could start by engaging Latin 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.

Deciding whether to target specifically or generally will affect not only your marketing localization strategy but also your website architecture. So it’s important to set up your international website with your short- and long-term global growth goals in mind.

FINAL THOUGHT

It may take time, but doing your research and choosing the right approach for your global business objectives is key. To succeed globally, think beyond translation. 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.