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8 Steps to Master Localized Keyword Research and International SEO


There is one often overlooked aspect of localization that many don’t think about immediately as it pertains to international expansion:

Localized Keyword Research and International SEO.

This article will guide you through different aspects you need to consider such as different local search engines (Yes,  Google has competitors!), machine translations, link building and keyword tools.

Step 1: Consider more search engines besides Google!


Google is an enormous, globally recognizable search engine and brand but don’t rely on it being accessible to or popular among all international populations. There are still competitors!

China’s most popular search engines are respectively, Baidu, Qihoo 360 and Sogou. It wouldn’t do you an awful lot of good to perform SEO using the same keywords that you’d use with Google.com in the US.

Google is banned in China for reasons that probably don’t require a lot of imagination. So everything you think you know about Google’s mystical and mysterious search algorithms aren’t even going to be valid so you can pretty much just forget it.

Step 2: Develop New Strategies and Fetch the Local Search Engine Traffic

Your keyword research is going to need to be adapted to new engines and languages, so your entire SEO strategy will have to be modified.

If you don’t localize your site for these markets  – you’re going to miss out on a significant portion of the traffic that comes from local search engines.

For example, The Chinese people probably won’t be performing their searches in English. Only about 0.83% of the Chinese population speaks it.

You’re going to need to know the Chinese keywords that searchers in Beijing or Guangzhou will be entering. – This process can be made doubly difficult because of the insane number of languages – almost 300 – you could need to account for.

You clearly wouldn’t have to account for all of those, but it’s very important to remember that not everyone in China speaks Mandarin.

Step 3: Don’t trust the machines!


You really need human translations. Preferably a native speaker with personal experience with the culture and market you’re gunning for.

A human touch is required because not all searches are performed using standard or formal language.

Often times idioms or slang are included in searches and without someone personally familiar with the language and the people who are inputting these keywords, you run the risk of insufficient optimization.

While tempting and something many companies without prior experience might be seduced into trying, machine translation such as Google Translate are pretty much guaranteed to disappoint if implemented on any larger scale localization projects.

It’s good for a few words here and there, but resting the future of your company or brand on it is an excellent way to set yourself up for disaster.

Step 4: Think About Transliteration


Writing systems are not the same across the board.

If you’re looking at branching out to other parts of the world – parts that may not have languages that use the Latin script – you’re going to need to take other writing systems into consideration.

To optimize this you’re going to want to use a real human translator to figure out a way to make your meaning resonate across writing systems.

In China, the characters they use are not part of an “alphabet”. Chinese languages use a system of logograms called Hanzi, characters that correlate to entire words or phrases. Whereas in Indo-European languages we most often use scripts that correlate characters to specific sounds or phonemes.

Step 5: Optimize Link Building for International SEO


So your content, written in English, has numerous backlinks seeded around the web, right? (If not you read our 10 Best Practice Tips On How To Write Global-Ready Content).

Are those links optimized for international SEO though?

Your existing links will be helpful domestically, but when we’re talking about foreign search engines, such as Baidu, you’re not going to rank for pretty much anything and those backlinks won’t be worth the time it took to make them.

If you’re going to write an article for a Chinese publication, specifically for a Chinese audience in the hopes of directing them back to your Chinese landing pages, you also need to optimize  the new content – through keyword research – for that Chinese readership.

How do you do that? You guessed it; localized keyword research!

Step 6: Decide which keywords you want to target


Everyone is making it abundantly clear that Google (and other search engines) now focus primarily on quality and the relevance of content to its prospective searchers. How it identifies quality is still not 100% understood.

So we know that we can’t over saturate our content with keyword stuffing. It’s bad for rankings. It’s bad for branding. It’s bad for business.

This means that you need to choose highly targeted keywords for each of the places you’re hoping to localize based on the trends, habits, search time of day and the specific wording that your targets are using.

Step 7: Utilize your Keyword Tools


Most of us are familiar with the standard tools that we use to optimize our native language keywords. Tools such as Adwords, Google Keyword Planner, Positionly, etc.

Luckily they don’t really have to change much.

In many cases, the same tools can still be used, but doing so may require a little bit more effort on your part:

A) Powerful Keyword Planning Tool: Google Adwords

Many know Adwords only as a tool for advertising their brand or website, but it can also be enlisted for its powerful keyword planning tool.

This tool doesn’t require that you actually spend anything, making it even cooler, especially for those on a tight budget.

Not only is Adwords great for its keyword research capabilities, it’s also going to be necessary if your localized marketing campaign is looking to publish properly optimized advertising in your new markets.

Put those keywords to work!

B ) Track Them Individually: Google Analytics

If your website is already supporting multiple language versions you’ll need to be able to track them individually so that you can extract keywords being used in a given language.

You can use Positionly to keep track of the keywords you find (especially the long-tail keywords) so that you can keep all of your keyword data in a single place. Google Analytics can, of course, by synched with Google Adwords and Webmaster Tools so that you can track and keep tabs on your keywords as the list expands over various language versions of your website.

Upon implementation, don’t forget to continue using Google Analytics to track the successes or failures of your localized keywords.

C) The Value Of Google Trends

GT allows you to input the keywords that you want to rank for and receive results based on trending topics and keywords similar to the one you’re looking to rank for.

This tool gives you precise statistics upon which you can base your keyword localization for any country that you’d like and how demonstrates how searchers are using those words.

D) Outsource your keyword localization?

If you find yourself strapped for time or resources, you can always just pay someone else to do it.

The primary benefit of outsourcing your keyword localization is not only the considerable saving of time, but also the ability to target accurately SEO experts familiar with the markets you’re looking to pursue.

Coming back to our Chinese example: hire a Chinese SEO expert! This expert will be able to find the exact keywords you’re looking for and tell you exactly how to implement this research.

You can find SEO experts around the world by checking out freelance sites such as Upwork.

Step 8: App Stores are also search engines!

If you’re in the app business, you want to be at the top of their results!

One way that you can do that is by making sure that your products are available in multiple languages and on various international versions of the app store you’re targeting.

Localizing a mobile app also includes keyword research. The simplest way that you can look for the top searched terms is simply to search for them yourself! (See example)

Simply keeping a handle on the keywords you’re targeting is a good place to start and a solid way of seeing what is trending.

Example:  “Juegos” (games in Spanish) was typed into the Apple Store search tool. You can see here that it immediately comes up with terms that reflect the most commonly searched items containing that keyword.

If you’re looking for much more in-depth analytics to keep track of app store internationalization you can check out:

For more on how to localize mobile application keywords check out this brilliant article by David Janner.

The Root of The International SEO

The obnoxious truth about internationalizing SEO is that it has to be done for each culture that you’re targeting. This can become a tiresome process but it can’t be overstated just how vital it is in the grand scheme of preparing a company or product for globalization.

Without keyword research, you’re significantly reducing your chances of successfully managing an international campaign’s SEO.

You will have to take language into consideration but it’s more important that you target a group of people rather than a nation state. People are not always limited to borders and your targeting shouldn’t be either.