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A Step-By-Step Guide to Multilingual Keyword Research for SEO Translators

Multilingual keyword research is an essential part of any successful search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign that crosses borders. It helps you identify relevant terms and phrases that will boost traffic to your website, and can even provide insight into how other countries perceive your brand. Clients normally enlist the help of SEO translators to unveil the best keywords to use when localising content to other languages.

But it’s not always easy to conduct keyword research in multiple languages. Culture plays a massive role in search behaviour and the search intent behind certain keywords, the workflow can vary from one client to another, and the online tools available for keyword research can have their own limitations. With that in mind, here’s a step-by-step guide to multilingual keyword research for SEO translators.

A typical multilingual keyword research workflow

When you’re conducting keyword research for SEO translation, you should always start with a client brief. This will give you an insight into the goal of the project and provide context for your research.

Once you have the brief, it’s time to get researching! Here are some steps that normally form part of a multilingual keyword research workflow:

Step 1: Keyword extraction from the source text (in the source language)

The goal of this step is to create a “keyword term base.” It might be the case that your client provides you with this list, so you’ve got a head start. If not, then you need to take a look at the source text and identify which words or phrases in it could be good keywords.

Step 2: Brainstorming possible ways target-language users might express the same query

For each source-language keyword from the previous step, write many different ways of expressing a similar search intent in the target language. Most of the time, a literal translation of the keyword won’t cut it, so you need to think of what search queries the target audience would employ to find the product or service offered by your client. Write as many target-language equivalents for the termbase query as you can.

Step 3: Evaluating search volume and difficulty

Once you have a list of target-language keywords, the next step is determining which are worth targeting. To do this, you need to check the search volume and difficulty (i.e., competition) for each one. You’ll use a research tool to get these metrics, and then you’ll pick one primary keyword for each page and a few secondary keywords for support.

Step 4: Picking the keywords for each page

After you’ve identified the most relevant and high-volume keywords, it’s time to decide what pages should target which queries. You’ll need to choose one primary keyword for each page and a few secondary ones for support, ensuring no overlap in the primary keyword choices between two different pages.

Pay attention to close variants – picking “trousers for women” and “women’s trousers” for two different pages will result in cannibalisation (the technical term for two pages competing for the same keyword).

A real multilingual keyword research project

Below, you’ll find the instructions we received from a client who wanted us to perform SEO translation on their website:

The project would encompass the following:

Step 1 KW research: estimated at 8.5hrs
85s KW in source English. We would need to find equivalent KW and any additional KW which would work in the following markets: Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia.

Step 2 PPC ads transcreation: estimated at 4hrs
Ad copy to be transcreated to Spanish Latin America
1 copy version for all markets will be created, keywords will be implemented based on common popularity for multiple markets.

Step 3 LinkedIn ad copy transcreation: estimated at 1.5hrs
3 ad copies to be transcreated to Spanish Latin America using the most popular KWs among all 5 markets.
1 copy version for all markets will be created, keywords will be implemented based on common popularity for multiple markets. Therefore total of 3 copies

Step 4 Paid search landing page transcreation: estimated at 12.5hrs
5 landing page copy to be transcreated, to Spanish Latin America, while implementing the most popular KWs among all 5 markets.
1 copy version for all markets will be created, keywords will be implemented based on common popularity for multiple markets. Therefore total 5 copies (one per landing page)

Let’s focus on step 1. Here’s what the file that the client sent us looked like:

Multilingual keyword research example 1

The columns in this Excel file were: keyword, KW target market, search volume, back translation, and comments. These are the standard elements that a deliverable should include when doing multilingual keyword research.

The English keywords that clients supply normally come from their own keyword tools. In this case, the client provided us with a list of keywords they had pulled from SEMRush, and they were keywords that the brand was already targeting and ranking for in their English-language website.

This is what we delivered:

Multilingual keyword research example 2

We left comments on branded keywords to explain why we didn’t need to provide translations for them or why the search volume was 0 (not every country searches for the same brands). We also provided back translations of each keyword, so that our client could understand what each keyword means.

Let’s now focus on the first keyword we had to research a Spanish equivalent for: “food safety software.”

KeywordKW target marketSearch volumeBack translationComments
food safety softwaresoftware de seguridad alimentaria10Food safety software

We had to brainstorm what search query users in Argentina (the first country we worked on) would type to find software for food safety. Some candidates we came up with included:

  • software de seguridad alimentaria (food safety software)
  • tecnología para seguridad alimentaria (food safety technology)
  • programas de seguridad alimentaria (food safety programs)
  • software para salubridad de los alimentos (food health software)

We then googled those queries and “seguridad alimentaria” on its own to come up with even more (the Google Chrome extension Keywords everywhere proves very useful at this stage), and this is what we could see:

Multilingual keyword research Google SERP

So we added the below candidate keywords to our brainstorming list:

  • calidad alimentaria e inocuidad (Food quality and safety)
  • gestión de calidad y seguridad alimentaria (Quality management and food safety)
  • sistema de seguridad alimentaria (Food safety system)
  • software de trazabilidad (Traceability software)
  • trazabilidad de alimentos (Food traceability)

And proceeded to run all candidates through our SEO tool (in this case, Ubersuggest). We ran them in groups of three because the tool allows a maximum of 3 at a time. The results were:

Multilingual keyword research Ubersuggest results

And the tool then recommended some related keywords, too. Namely:

  • trazabilidad en la industria alimentaria (SV: 10)
  • software para restaurantes argentina (SV: 10)
  • software segurida e higiene (SV: 10)

For the source-language keyword at hand, “food safety software,” we were tempted to choose “programas de seguridad alimentaria” because of its healthy balance of decent search volume and semantic relevance.

However, a quick google of the keyword showed us that this was a suboptimal choice: All pages ranking for this query revolved around regulations about food safety, as opposed to software for food safety. In other words, Google would have seen the client’s content about software as irrelevant to the user’s search intent behind “programas de seguridad alimentaria” and wouldn’t have ranked it.

So we chose “software de seguridad alimentaria.”

Because the client had asked for results for Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia, we repeated the keyword research process for each of these countries in turn. Some keywords were identical across the countries, albeit with differing search volumes, while others were different. These differences were based on the linguistic specificity of each country.

Once the client reviewed and approved the keywords, we moved on to transcreating the requested content for the other project steps, inserting the target-language keywords where appropriate.

How to pick the right keywords during multilingual keyword research

Now that we’ve gone through the keyword research process, it’s time to discuss what makes a keyword good.

Firstly, it should be relevant to your content and have sufficient search volume to justify targeting it. You can also look at the difficulty metric – if it’s too high, SEO optimisation of this keyword will take a long time, so you might want to avoid attempting it or pick an easier version of the same query.

Ideally, your choice of primary keyword should be a medium- or high-volume, high-converting, low-competition keyword. However, it’s important not to overlook keywords with lower search volumes (250 and under) – those little guys often offer you the opportunity to target terms that are considerably relevant to your audience – ones that your competitors might not be targeting at all.

Google also takes into account search intent when ranking pages, so you should pay attention to the type of queries you’re targeting.

Follow the below tips when evaluating keywords:

  • Identify the page’s goal: Understanding what your client is trying to accomplish with a page helps you decide which keyword(s) to target. For example, if they’re trying to get users to complete a purchase, you should target transactional keywords that reflect high buying intentions, such as “buy X online.”
  • Google your candidate keyword: Search for the keyword on Google and take a look at the pages appearing in the first few results. Are they relevant to your client’s product or service? Do they match up with what you expect to find when searching this query? If yes, then it might be worth considering targeting that keyword.
  • Consider SERP features: Remember these? If you google a keyword and a special block such as an info box or knowledge graph appears, this might be what Google thinks is the most relevant answer to that query. If you can craft content to match up with the intent behind these SERP features, then your page has a good chance of appearing in the top results. For example, if a list appears when searching a keyword, ensure your page contains a list of items relevant to the query.
  • Think long-term: What will happen to your rankings when you optimize for a keyword? Will it be sustainable in the long run, or is this keyword trend-based and likely to die off soon? You can use Google Trends to check for seasonality and determine if it’s worth targeting it.
  • Prioritise low-hanging fruit: Focusing on the easier-to-rank keywords can get you quick wins and help establish a strong SEO presence for your client’s site. Once this is done, you can expand to more competitive queries.
  • Analyse the competition: Have a look at the competition for each keyword – do you believe your client stands a chance to rank in the top positions? If yes, then optimising for this query could be beneficial.
  • Ensure topical relevance: Keywords should be relevant to the page you want to target them with. For example, it doesn’t make sense to target “benefits of SEO” on a page about PPC – the query should be related to the topic at hand.
  • Create topic buckets: Group your keywords into topic buckets according to their relevance and ensure each topic bucket (or “cluster”) contains a healthy mix of head keywords (or “short-tail”) and long-tail keywords. Topic clusters make it easier to identify related queries, create hierarchies, and structure your content accordingly.

Exercise: What are the best keywords in English and French to optimise this website for?

Consider the below website.

Multilingual keyword research exercise 1

What’s the best EN keyword for this article?

  1. beach tent vs beach umbrella (search volume: 10)
  2. best beach tents (search volume: 480)
  3. can you camp on the beach (search volume: 210)

What’s the best FR keyword for this article?

  1. tente de plage (back-translation: beach tent, search volume: 6600)
  2. meilleures tentes de plage (back-translation: best beach tents, search volume: 0)
  3. tente anti uv (back-translation: anti-uv tent, search volume: 1900)
  4. comparatif tente anti uv (back-translation: anti-uv tent comparison, search volume: 10)

The answer to the English keyword exercise is B. best beach tents, as it has a much higher search volume, reflects the topic of the article, and has a commercial investigation search intent behind it (which is what we want for an article like this).

For the French keyword exercise, the best option is C. tente anti uv (anti-uv tent) both in terms of relevancy, accuracy, search volume, and search intent. While meilleures tentes de plage is arguably more accurate, it has no search volume, while tente anti uv has a decent amount (1900), making it the more viable option.

The comparatif tente anti uv variation is an interesting one as well, but the search volume is too low for it to be considered as a primary keyword for the piece (it could, however, become a supporting keyword).

With the right workflow and tools, you can quickly identify the most relevant terms for your SEO campaign. By following this step-by-step guide, you can ensure that your client’s content is optimised for the correct target language queries! Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how to conduct multilingual keyword research in an efficient and effective manner. Happy researching!

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