International Keyword Research: The Ultimate A – Z Guide

international keyword research

Are you wondering how to conduct international keyword research but don’t know where to start or what to do?

Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many site owners have been there before you and successfully pulled it off.

Keyword research is the backbone of search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, and virtually any other form of digital marketing.

I mean…

How will you know who and what topics to target without astute keyword research? How will you market your products or services if you’re just shooting out of the blues? What words will you even use in your PPC ads?

And how do you know you’re not leaving loads of money on the table by focusing on low-performing terms and neglecting keywords that are true winners?

Yet many of us usually forget about keyword research.

We might do it once, and forget that keyword research is a continuous endeavor as long as you want to remain competitive in the fast-paced and vast scene that’s the digital world.

And do you know what is worse?

Most of us forget about international SEO keyword research entirely. We put lots of effort into local SEO and assume the results will spill over to the global scene.

Typically, we figure everything is down pat if we merely translate local SEO keywords into the target language.

But nothing could be further from the truth. While translating local SEO keywords is part of the job, international keyword research has a few more considerations.

In today’s article, we will delve deeper into international keyword research. We will discuss what it entails, its importance, its limitations, and actionable tips to pull it off like a pro.

Sounds good? Great.

Let us get down to business.

What is International Keyword Research?

what is international keyword research

Before the end of the post, you should have everything you need to dominate the international search engine landscape like a boss.

First things first. Let us define “international SEO keyword research” for the perfect beginner joining us for the first time.

In its most basic form, international keyword research involves identifying the terms, phrases, or questions (collectively known as “keywords” or “keyphrases”) that foreign customers use to find your website content and products.

We all take to search engines when looking to learn more about something. It’s like the defacto setting nowadays.

Need to learn more about the best financial translation services? Google it. Need a new computer? We Google it. Are you looking for a new recipe? Still, we raid search engines in search of instructions to make our next mouth-watering dish. It’s like an addiction, and we love it because it makes finding info so easy.

I remember all this, but I still Google my husband’s birthday. Thank God he’s famous. – Chrissy Teigen

That’s John Legend’s wife, by the way.

But what does all this mean?

Your international customers are not any different. If they need something, they will run to a search engine and there’s data to back it up.

According to Search Engine Journal, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. That means, more than 90% of customers enter a keyword into a search engine to find your business or products.

It also means keyword research (hence search engine optimization) is important for top-of-the-funnel activities and any website that wants to boost brand awareness.

And forward-thinking business owners know this fact, too. According to the Content Marketing Institute, about 75.5% of marketers use insights from keyword research to create content for customers and businesses.

Data released by First Page Sage and Brian Dean of Backlinko shows that ranking #1 in Google search engine result pages (SERPs) has an average click-through rate (CTR) of about 27.6% to 39.8%.

This is a high CTR considering many other digital marketing channels don’t get anywhere near that.

So, why is international keyword research important? From the above stats, you can probably tell, but here’s the low-down.

Benefits of International Keyword Research

importance of international keyword research

International keyword research is about pinpointing relevant, high-volume, and low-competition keywords to add to your content and marketing message.

It also has a lot to do with determining the searcher’s intent and the relevancy of your keywords to the target audience.

There are several reasons why this is important to any business looking to go global. Here are the five main ones.

#1. Understand Your Target Audience Better

People who find your website from a search engine are interested in what you’re offering. This offers you the golden opportunity to learn more about your audience.

SEO analytics tools offer insights into your target audience’s pain points, demographics, shopping behaviors, interests, and preferences.

You can tell a lot from the keywords and questions visitors use in search engines to find your website. Then create relevant content and products that meet their needs.

#2. Boosted Online Visibility and Traffic

Earlier, we said keyword research is the foundation of SEO, content marketing, and other forms of digital marketing.

SEO involves optimizing your site to rank higher in search engines. This includes conducting keyword research and optimizing your content with the keywords people use to find your site.

When your site ranks highly in SERPs, more people click and visit. These visitors translate into increased traffic and potential conversions.

With proper keyword research and solid SEO, you can rank your top pages (including landing pages) higher in SERPs, making them visible to more people.

Effective international keyword research will help you to reach a larger customer base in foreign markets.

#3. Improved User Experience

User experience (UX) encompasses all the things and tweaks you do on your website to ensure visitors have a delightful experience. This includes optimizing the design, content, and functionality of your site.

International SEO keyword research involves identifying your target audience’s needs, behaviors, and search intent. With this information, you can create content that accurately meets your user’s needs, earning you extra UX points.

Outstanding keyword research allows you to create relevant, informative, and valuable content for your target market.

#4. Gain Competitive Advantage

Competitor analysis is one of the most important aspects of excellent keyword research. It involves identifying the keywords your rivals use to rank in search engines.

Why is this important?

Competitor analysis lets you identify winning keywords you might be missing with your current SEO strategy.

More importantly, it lets you identify keyword gaps in the market. You can then create relevant content to fill these gaps and differentiate yourself from the competition.

From there, you can focus on increasing your market share, attracting more customers, and maximizing profitability.

With proper international keyword research, you can effectively stay ahead of your rivals by capitalizing on untapped consumer demand.

In a nutshell, keyword research helps you spot new opportunities, create relevant content, and optimize your website for users and search engines.

#5. Generate New Content Ideas

Another obvious benefit of international keyword research is generating new content ideas for your global audience.

See, keyword research starts with seed keywords. These keywords are most relevant to your audience, topic, and industry.

When you enter the seed keyword into an SEO research tool such as SEMRush, you get a long list of related terms that inspire great blog post ideas.

And if you plug the seed keyword into a tool such as Answer The Public, you get the questions people ask about your keywords.

You can use these questions to generate new topics and content for your website.

As you can see, international keyword research has some sweet benefits that make the entire process worthwhile.

With the advantages out of the way, let us look at some mistakes marketers make when doing international keyword research.

Common Pitfalls of International Keyword Research

limitations of international SEO keyword research

With the right tips, skills, and tools, acing international keyword research is a walk in the park.

Still, site owners often make the following common mistakes when conducting international keyword research.

#1. Relying Solely On Direct Translation

Most site owners are confident that they must translate their SEO keywords directly into the target language to rank higher globally.

Don’t get me wrong. Translating your keywords is a good starting point. It gives you a list of foreign seed keywords with which to work.

However, it would be best if you didn’t stop there.


First, direct translations are often not the most accurate. For instance, automatic translations using services such as Google Translate and DeepL usually need reviewing and editing.

This might make you miss vital keywords in the foreign language.

In addition, some words when translated directly don’t have the search volume you need for success. That’s simply because consumers in the foreign market use different words when searching.

For instance, the keyword “loyalty card” has average monthly searches of 1k – 10k in the US.

If you’re entering the German market, directly translating the keyword would give you “treuekarte,” which has average monthly searches of 100 – 1k in Germany.

You’re better off targeting “kundenkarte” (customer card), which has average monthly searches of 1k – 10k in Germany.

Do you see my point? You can’t rely solely on direct translation.

Secondly, some keywords don’t have exact equivalents in the translated language or may mean something else entirely.

For instance, directly translating the keyword “fanny pack” from US to UK English will not have the desired results. It would mean something vulgar and entirely different.

The same goes for translating “bum bag” from UK to US English. It would mean something else other than a fanny pack.

Thirdly, directly translating keywords may fail to capture your target audience’s cultural nuances, context, and search intent.

This leads to a poor international SEO strategy since you will mostly target keywords irrelevant to your target market.

#2. Overlooking Linguistic Nuances

English is an official language in 67 countries, Arabic in 27, Spanish in 21, and French in 29.

People in these countries might speak the same language but their spellings and terminology might differ significantly. Additionally, their search behaviors vary greatly.

Most first-timers assume they can use the exact English keywords for their US and UK audiences. Others won’t bother altering the keywords for Spanish searchers in Spain and Costa Rica.

For instance, the keyword “auto insurance” is prevalent in the US and Canada. Conversely, it’s rarely searched for in the UK and Australia, where “car insurance” is more popular even if they are all English-speaking countries.

Here are more examples.

Americans write “color” but the British use “colour” instead. The British say “supermarket” and Americans say “grocery store.”

And, depending on the Spanish-speaking country you’re targeting, the keyword “car” could translate to “auto,” “carro” or “coche.”

You must consider these linguistic nuances when conducting international keyword research. Choose the keywords your target searcher will likely use depending on their region.

#3. Ignoring Local Search Engines

market share of leading search engines worldwide from January 2015 to January 2024

Source: Statista

Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine in the world, controlling about 81.95% of global search volume as of January 2024.

While you should optimize your content for Google, it’s crucial to consider local search engines as you conduct international keyword research.

I say this because some search engines are more popular in some countries.

For instance, Yandex controls 70.59% of the Russian search market, Baidu covers 52.15% of the Chinese market, and Naver dominates South Korea with a 52.94% market share.

Now, the ranking algorithms of each search engine are different. As such, don’t optimize for Google only and forget keyword data from local search engines. Otherwise, you might find it hard to rank your keywords in some foreign markets.

#4. Considering Only Search Volume

Search volume is an important metric in international keyword research. You don’t want to rank for keywords people don’t search for.

At the same time, it would be ill-advised to only target high-volume keywords with high competition. The best is to go for long-tail keywords with medium volume and low competition.


Long-tail keywords are more specific and have adequate search volume to make them worth pursuing. They are also easier to rank since the competition is low.

For example, the keyword “WordPress theme” has 10k average monthly searches but high competition.

On the other hand, the long-tail keyword “responsive WordPress theme” has 1k average searchers per month and low competition.

It would be easier to rank for the long-tail keyword and drive relevant traffic to your website.

It’s crucial to include long-tail keywords in your international keyword research. Translating a short keyword is easy. You need to pay special attention to your long-tail keywords when translating.

#5. Not Conducting Keyword Research Regularly

As we mentioned earlier, most people conduct keyword research once and call it a day. But this is akin to shooting yourself in the foot because keyword research should be ongoing if you want to maintain high rankings.

Search trends change over time. This happens inherently as the target audience’s cultures, languages, and tastes change. In addition, holidays, festivals, world events, and seasons can influence search behavior.

For this reason, it’s critical to conduct international keyword research continually as your audience’s needs change. Don’t assume a search trend in the US will replicate in China or Australia.

Conduct regular keyword research in your target markets to identify untapped opportunities to rank higher in SERPs.

With the pitfalls under the belt, let us look at a few differences between local and international keyword research.

Differences Between Local and International Keyword Research

differences between local and international keyword research

Local keyword research involves identifying the terms people use to find your business within your vicinity. It’s useful for companies that want to drive customers to their brick-and-mortar stores using SEO.

Local keyword research focuses on location-specific phrases. For example, you might be interested in the “web design agency in New York” keyword if you offer website design services in this city.

International keyword research, on the other hand, involves identifying phrases a global audience uses to find your business.

There is a broader focus, covering various languages and search terminologies in different countries and regions.

This means widening your keyword list to include the key phrases foreign customers use to find your business in their native language.

While the approach for local and international keyword research is almost similar, there are a few slight differences:

  • Different audiences with different needs – Every foreign market has unique cultural nuances, languages, slang, and values. As we saw earlier, we have keywords in one region that don’t exist in others, even in areas that share the same language. There is less variation and complexity with local than international keyword research.
  • Google doesn’t reign supreme in all countries – Earlier, we saw that different search engines dominate different search markets. You can rank higher in Google for your local keywords in the US, but you might need to change where you conduct keyword research when you go international.
  • The English language is competitive – English is the most used language online, meaning it has a higher keyword volume than most other languages. This is great for local keyword research. At the same time, it’s faulty reasoning to think other languages don’t have high search volumes with low competition and keyword difficulty. This means the audience is out there, and the competition is much less fierce.

In a nutshell:

For a business targeting a global market, global SEO involves meticulous keyword research across various countries and languages to capture the precise search terms used by the target audience.

Conversely, local SEO hones in on region-specific keywords that cater to the immediate vicinity of the business. This strategy allows for a more focused approach, targeting phrases that regional consumers are likely to use when searching for services or products. – Eugene Agoh.

Let us move on and discover actionable tips to conduct international keyword research without breaking a sweat.

How to Conduct International Keyword Research: Actionable Tips

international SEO actionable tips

Do you need to be a native speaker to conduct international keyword research? Yes and no.

If you’re a native speaker of the target language, doing international keyword research will be effortless. You understand the linguistic nuances and can fine-tune the translations to connect with the target audience.

If you’re not a native speaker of the target language, you can rely on new-age artificial intelligence tools such as TranslatePress AI. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have native translators and linguistic experts to help along the way.

That said, how do you conduct international keyword research for your website?

Step 1. Understand Your Target Audience

Understanding your target audience is the first step to conducting effective international keyword research.

The aim is to understand your target market’s demographics, interests, and needs in their native language. You must know the keywords and how they frame their pain points in search engines.

Naturally, you want to target the chief language of your target country. However, you might want to target different significant groups living in a certain country.

For instance, you might want to target Spanish-speaking searchers in the US or Italian speakers in Germany.

You can’t conduct effective international keyword research without first understanding your target audience.

Step 2. Understand the Searcher’s Intent in Different Locales

Targeting broad international keywords will burn through your PPC and SEO budget fast with worthless clicks.

To avoid this, you need a laser-sharp understanding of your international user’s search intent. In other words, you need to know the exact words the target audience uses to find your products and services.

Directly translating your seed keywords to the target language is not enough (like we saw with the “loyalty card” example earlier). You are better off targeting the searcher’s intent.

Look. If your keywords aren’t relevant (i.e., they don’t meet the searcher’s intent), your website won’t rank. It’s simple: Google and other search engines value relevance.

At the same time, consider search volume and keyword difficulty. Aim for high search volume and low competition but relevant keywords.

Leverage SEO analytics tools and local experts to gain a deep understanding of search behaviors and the intent of your target audience in different markets.

Step 3. Translate, then Localize Keywords

Once you have identified the seed keywords and search intent, you are ready for the next part of international keyword research.

You need to translate your content and keywords into the target languages. Remember we said direct translation doesn’t produce the desired results.

Consider how people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds express their needs and preferences.

This is where localization comes in to save the day.

Localization is more about understanding the searcher’s intent than translating keywords from one language to another.

Here’s an example.

The keyword “make your hair look longer” has an average of 100 monthly searches in Germany. In contrast, the keyword “how to make your hair longer” has 1k average monthly searches.

This shows how native speakers are more likely to ask questions according to the vocabulary and syntax that’s natural to them.

Remember the “loyalty card” example we shared earlier where we saw using “kundenkarte” (customer card) is better than “treuekarte” (loyalty card)?

Accordingly, different dialects of the same language have varying words to express the same concepts.

In addition, some words or phrases aren’t available in certain languages or regions or mean something entirely different when translated. We saw an example of this earlier as well.

Don’t translate your seed keywords directly and leave it at that. Localize your international keywords so that they make sense to the native searcher.

Step 4. Study Keyword Competition in Foreign Markets

Next, you should take time to study the competition in foreign markets. Many SEO tools come with competitor analysis, which allows you to learn more about your rival’s keywords.

In doing so, you can tell competitive keywords you want to avoid because they are harder to rank in foreign markets. You can also discover low-quality keywords that are not worth your time.

Most importantly, you can uncover keywords for which you’ll likely rank higher. In other words, you can tell what the competition is doing right and where they are missing the mark.

Understanding keyword competition in your target countries allows you to pick the right keywords to optimize your content and capture the attention of your global audience.

Recap of International Keyword Research

Now, you know the benefits and limitations of international keyword research.

You also know how to conduct international keyword research without pulling your hair out.

First, understand your target audience and how they search for your content and products. Get in there and think like a native searcher.

Second, establish the searcher’s intent early on. You don’t want to target keywords that people don’t search for. You also want to align your content to the searcher’s intent.

Thirdly, use a tool such as TranslatePress to translate and localize your keywords. Don’t translate directly without checking whether your keywords are viable for the target audience.

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And finally, keep tabs on your foreign competitors. If you’re going to beat them, you must know the game they are playing. Isn’t that right? Study keyword competition to identify untapped opportunities to rank higher.

Oh, lest I forget. Choose a great SEO tool such as SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and Google Keyword Planner. Always remember to switch countries when conducting international keyword research.

Final Words

Conducting international keyword research is no different than local SEO. You’re right. There are slight differences but that’s only because you’re dealing with a foreign audience.

The aim is to understand your target audience and the searcher’s intent truly. You don’t want to rely on direct translations because you can miss many opportunities to rank higher in search engines.

Think like the native searcher. Try to understand the language and syntax and how the locals search for information online.

Then you want to speak to them in their language. Make the connection, and if you need help with your translations, you can always rely on a cool tool such as TranslatePress AI to do the heavy lifting.

What are your thoughts? Did we leave something out? Please let us know in the comments. Also, please take a moment to share this post with a friend!

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