A crucial step for any international SEO or PPC campaign is multilingual keyword research. This gives you the edge over your competitors. It allows you to target keywords that plenty of people search for in your target country that are relatively easy to rank for.
In this article we explain how to do keyword research and use it for SEO translations or when creating new content. Would you rather we created a keyword report for you? For free? Then just fill in the form below.
- Keyword research fundamentals
- Two ways to approach SEO translation
- The importance of semantic keywords
- How to find multilingual keywords without speaking the language
- Free keyword report comparing your site to 3 competitors
Keyword research fundamentals
Keyword research can be used to help name products, optimise websites, give inspiration for what topics to write about in blogs, and address your customer’s concerns before they even raise them.
It is NOT about finding a handful of keywords then repeating them endlessly. This is a very old-fashioned SEO strategy and thankfully, Google now penalises it.
The most important factors to consider when choosing keywords are:
- Search Volume
Whichever software you use, this tells you the number of people searching for a specific keyword each month either internationally or for a specific country.
- Keyword Difficulty / SEO Challenge
How difficult is it to rank on the first page of Google for a particular keyword organically? If you have an established site and huge budget, this is less important. If you’re just starting out, focus first on ranking well for some keywords that have a low SEO Challenge before aiming for more difficult words or phrases.
- PPC Competition
Similar to Keyword Difficulty, this tells you how difficult it is to rank on Google Adwords, or other advertising platforms. Pay attention to which you’re using, as they can be wildly different. Take “Free Jokes” for example. It has a low PPC competition, as no-one wants to pay to appear for “Free Jokes”, but a high SEO Challenge, as lots of sites cover this topic.
For multilingual SEO campaigns, make sure that your SEO software shows search volume and other statistics from the country you're targeting. If you run a taxi company for example, then the translation of "taxi" in French, German, Italian, Spanish and several other European and international languages is "taxi". If you only offer the service in the UK, having global statistics for this keyword would therefore be completely meaningless.
Prioritise keywords that are:
- Have a high search volume
- Have low keyword difficulty (for SEO campaigns)
- Have low PPC competition (for PPC campaigns)
This is where keyword research first originated and for good reason. Once you’ve identified keywords, match each to a specific web page. Choose different keywords for different pages as far as possible. This is because Google typically only shows one or two pages from the same site in its search results.
Now you’ve identified keywords, include them:
- Once in the Meta Title
- Once or twice in the Meta Description
- Once in the h1 title
- Once in the URL (web address)
- In at least one of the sub-headings and links on the page
- A handful of times in the content. There are no exact figures for this, just keep it relevant and make sure it reads well. A good guide is if search engines didn’t exist, would you still include it?
Important – Except for the URL, always use correct spelling and grammar, even if this means you don’t use the keyword exactly as it is.
Google now use a wider analysis than just one keyword. Include words related to your main keyword. For instance, if your keyword is “dictionary”, using words like “meaning”, “spelling”, “translation,” or “definition” will also help. Don't just use synonyms for the sake of it though. Calling a "book shelf" a "literature support" won't win you any points with readers or Google.
In addition to helping optimise existing content, keyword research can also be used to:
- Identify topics to cover in your blog.
- Structure a blog to be sure you answer the most commonly asked questions.
- Do research before launching a new product to see what the demand for it is in a particular country.
- Improve product descriptions by identifying commonly asked questions and addressing the most important.
- Tracking your position for the most relevant keywords.
- Identify topics to use in multilingual link building, particularly for guest blogging.
For the above purposes, don’t think too narrowly. It’s still perfectly valid to use keyword research to identify topics, themes, potential and questions, even if you don’t write a keyword on your web page exactly as it’s entered into Google.
Semrush is a particularly useful piece of software for the above, as it has a feature that lets you search for questions entered into Google, saving you a lot of time wading through long lists of keywords.
Two approaches to SEO translation
When translating a website there are certain pages that obviously must be translated. Any pages selling products or services plus your home page, about us page, terms and conditions, contact page, etc.
Many websites have hundreds or even thousands of other pages though and it can be difficult to identify which to translate.
Our approach to this is to identify which pages get the most visits in English (assuming that’s the original website language). To do so, we use a mixture of Google Analytics to measure actual visits to each page, and Semrush to measure ranking with search engines for different keywords and potential traffic.
Using this information, we then identify which pages are the most successful in English. If a website has a hundred blog items on it, you’ll probably find that a handful of them are generating 90% of the time. These are the ones to translate.
This simple solution ensures that you don’t miss out on opportunities while keeping within a reasonable budget when going multilingual.
Google considers automatic translations spam. Automated translations can also create some embarrassing if hilarious mistakes. Once you’ve identified what to translate, the next stage is therefore to get a qualified and proficient translator to translate your website. To optimise the translated content for search engines, there are 2 solutions:
1. Create a keyword glossary before completing the translation
This is our preferred solution and is normally the simplest to implement.
The process is as follows:
- Identify 2 or 3 keywords each English page is optimised for. If you’ve already completed English SEO, then you will have these already. If not, identify keywords based on the content of the page and what keywords each page ranks for and identify the most important.
- Brainstorm different possible translations for each keyword into one or multiple languages. Identify those with the best search volume / keyword difficult and create a table with the 2 or 3 English keywords per URL, then the equivalent translated keyword.
- Translate the content, using the keyword glossary as a guide. Some content will need adapting to fit with the new language. Ensure keywords appear in the Metatags, URL and h1 title.
2. Translate content, then optimise it
An alternative solution is to translate the content first without thinking about keywords, then do the keyword research in the foreign language and optimise it. This approach is self-explanatory.
The importance of semantic keywords
According to Semrush:
"Semantic keywords are related closely to the original keyword, and thus they provide the search engine spiders with greater insight regarding the topic that the content discusses and the depth it provides."
Semantic keywords help Google know whether when you search for "cars" you want to watch the movie, buy a car, or are looking for a dictionary definition.
Examples of semantic keywords that would demonstrate your website is about second hand cars for sale, rather than Cars, the movie, would include:
Based on an analysis of the competition, they help tell you the kind of content to mention on a page in order to rank higher for it. When optimising content in different languages, it's important to use different semantically related words, as visitors from different cultures might have different expectations of what topics you cover.
Using a variety of terms also helps avoid keyword stuffing and ensures content reads more naturally.
How to find multilingual keywords without speaking the language
As already mentioned, you need to work with a professional translator to create an SEO friendly, multilingual website.
That said, what if you don’t have an international SEO consultant who speaks the language?
If you use Semrush, or another SEO tool that has a multilingual interface, then it’s possible to do international keyword research even if you don’t speak the language. Here’s how:
1. Use Google Chrome
Install Google Chrome if need be and open it.
2. Visit semrush.com and run your report
This also works with other SEO tools, provided they have a multilingual interface.
For the example below I'm using Semrush's keyword magic tool to look up questions for "chant" (the French for "sing").
3. Change the language to the language you're doing the keyword research in
In this example, we'd change the language to French (Français)
4. Translate the page back to English using Google Chrome
Click the translate icon, then press "English".
5. Tick any keywords you want to use
You will now see a Google translate of the keywords. Keep in mind that these won't be completely accurate.
6. Export the keywords you've selected
Once you've selected all the keywords, press "Export", then whichever format you prefer. XLSX is standard for Excel.
7. Open the export in Excel
Open the file in Excel and instead of seeing the English translation of the keywords, you will see the original keywords in the foreign language.
8. Pass these to your translator
Your translator can now include these keywords in the translated content. Assuming that they're native speakers, they will understand the language far better than Google does. Therefore ask them to check that the keywords make sense before they optimise your translated content.
We include free keyword research with all our SEO translation, on-page SEO and multilingual link building services. We work with qualified and experienced native speakers and offer these services in 6 different European languages - English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch. Please fill in the form below for a free keyword report showing up to 10,000 keywords your website ranks in Google for plus a comparison with your top 3 competitors.