Multilingual Keyword Research: A Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting It Like a Pro
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.
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 that will help you navigate these challenges and conduct keyword research like a pro.
What is multilingual keyword research?
Multilingual keyword research is the process of identifying relevant and high-performing keywords in multiple languages to optimise content, websites, and online campaigns for different target audiences.
Unlike traditional keyword research, which focuses on a single language market, multilingual keyword research expands the scope to encompass various languages, considering the linguistic nuances, cultural differences, and search behaviour of each specific audience.
This process requires a deep understanding of not only the languages themselves but also the context in which these keywords are used.
Why is multilingual keyword research important?
Multilingual keyword research helps you connect with diverse audiences around the world, improve your website’s visibility in search engines across various languages, and drive targeted organic traffic to your content.
- Global reach: The internet has enabled businesses to connect with audiences worldwide. Multilingual keyword research allows you to tap into different language markets and reach potential customers who prefer to search and consume content in their native languages.
- Improved visibility: Search engines like Google have localised versions that cater to different regions and languages. Optimising your content with local keywords enhances your visibility in these local search engine results pages (SERPs), increasing the likelihood of organic traffic from diverse sources.
- Cultural relevance: Keywords that work well in one language might not resonate the same way in another. E.g., “baby shower presents” will need to change to something along the lines of “presents for babies” in cultures where baby showers aren’t a popular event. Multilingual keyword research ensures that the keywords you target align with cultural sensitivities, slang, and local expressions, making your content more relatable and engaging.
- Competitive edge: Many businesses focus solely on their native language markets, leaving opportunities untapped in other regions. By investing in multilingual keyword research, you can gain a competitive edge by catering to markets that others might overlook.
A typical multilingual keyword research workflow
Conducting keyword research for SEO translation should always start with a client brief. This will provide the SEO translator with crucial information about the target languages, target audience, and the client’s goals and objectives.
Once they have a clear understanding of the project requirements, an SEO translator can follow these steps to conduct multilingual keyword research like a pro:
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 the client provides the SEO translator with this list, so they’ve got a head start. If not, then the SEO translator needs to take a look at the source text and identify which words or phrases in it could be good keywords.
Step 2: Compilation of seed keywords in the target language
After extracting keywords from the source text in the source language, the next step is to compile a list of seed keywords in the target language. Seed keywords are the foundation of multilingual keyword research and serve as the starting point for expanding the target-language keyword list.
Remember, the goal at this stage is to compile a robust list of broad keywords in the target language that accurately reflect the topics and themes of the client’s content.
Step 3: Keyword expansion
The next step is to go beyond the initial keywords and delve into a more granular expansion. By expanding the target-language keyword list, the SEO translator can capture a broader range of search terms and better align with the search behaviour of the client’s target audience.
This stage is where the SEO translator brainstorms possible ways target-language users might search for information within that topic.
For each source-language keyword from the previous step, the SEO translator writes 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 they need to think of what search queries the target audience would employ to find the product or service offered by the client.
For example: Let’s consider a pest control company operating in multiple markets. The seed keyword might be “pest control,” which is a broad topic encompassing various pests. However, the specific pests that people search for will vary based on regional differences and prevalent pest issues.
In one market, such as a country where termites are a common problem, the target audience might search for keywords like “termite exterminator,” “termite control services,” or “how to get rid of termites.”
In another market, where rodents are a more prevalent concern, the target audience might use keywords like “rodent pest control,” “mouse extermination,” or “rat removal services.”
Step 4: Competitor website analysis
During this step, the SEO translator performs a thorough analysis of competitors’ websites in the target language to identify the keywords they are targeting. Exploring their content, meta tags, headings, and URLs is useful to gain insights into their keyword strategy. This competitive analysis will enable the discovery of new keyword opportunities and the refinement of any keyword selection.
There’s a few good tools for this step, e.g., thruu and DragonMetrics. Their page comparison tools let users compare two pages (e.g., the client’s and a competitor’s) to uncover insights for on-page data, headings, most-frequent keywords, meta descriptions, word count, image count, content outlines, FAQ schema, and more.
Step 5: Evaluating search intent, search volume, and difficulty
By now, the SEO translator should have a very comprehensive list of target-language keywords. The next step is determining which of them are worth targeting. To do this, it’s important to classify them by search intent and check the search volume and difficulty (i.e., competition) for each keyword.
The SEO translator uses a research tool to get these metrics, and then picks one primary keyword for each page and a few secondary keywords for support.
Classifying keywords by search intent can be done manually, but it’s also possible to use ChatGPT to save time, and it does a very decent job. Check out the example below:
Step 6: Picking the keywords for each page
After the most relevant and high-volume keywords have been identified, it’s time to decide what pages should target which queries. The SEO translator needs 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.
To assign the keywords to specific pages on the client’s website, it’s crucial to consider the relevance and search intent behind each keyword and match them to the most appropriate page based on the content topic and purpose. Then it’s time to distribute the keywords strategically across the website to optimise visibility and improve search engine rankings.
Tip: The SEO translator should 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:
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:
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.”
|KW target market
|food safety software
|software de seguridad alimentaria
|Food 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:
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:
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 the client’s content and have sufficient search volume to justify targeting it. The difficulty metric is also worth considering – if it’s too high, it means too many other websites are after it, so it’s best to avoid it and pick an easier, less-competitive 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 the SEO translator should pay attention to the type of queries they’re targeting.
Follow the below tips when evaluating keywords:
- Identifying the page’s goal: Understanding what the client is trying to accomplish with a page helps the SEO translator decide which keyword(s) to target. For example, if they’re trying to get users to complete a purchase, it’s worth targeting transactional keywords that reflect high buying intentions, such as “buy X online.”
- Googling the candidate keyword: It’s best practice to search for the keyword on Google and take a look at the pages appearing in the first few results. Are they relevant to the client’s product or service? Do they match up with what was expected when searching this query? If yes, then it might be worth considering targeting this keyword.
- Considering SERP features: 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. Crafting content to match up with the intent behind these SERP feature gives the page a good chance of appearing in the top results. For example, if a list appears when searching a keyword, it’s a good idea to ensure that the client’s page contains a list of items relevant to the query.
- Thinking long-term: Will the post-optimisation improvements in rankings be sustainable in the long run, or is the chosen 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.
- Prioritising low-hanging fruit: Focusing on the easier-to-rank keywords can get any website quick wins and help establish a strong SEO presence for the site. Once this is done, the client can then expand to more competitive queries.
- Analysing the competition: Does the client stand a chance to outrank competitors and claim the top positions? If yes, then optimising for this query could be beneficial.
- Ensuring topical relevance: Keywords should be relevant to the page they’re mapped onto. 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.
- Creating topic buckets: It’s best practice to group keywords into topic buckets according to their relevance, and to 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.
What’s the best EN keyword for this article?
- beach tent vs beach umbrella (search volume: 10)
- best beach tents (search volume: 480)
- can you camp on the beach (search volume: 210)
What’s the best FR keyword for this article?
- tente de plage (back-translation: beach tent, search volume: 6600)
- meilleures tentes de plage (back-translation: best beach tents, search volume: 0)
- tente anti uv (back-translation: anti-uv tent, search volume: 1900)
- 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).
We’re here to guide you
With the right workflow and tools, and help from specialist SEO translators, a brand can quickly identify the most relevant terms for their SEO campaign. We are those specialists, and we’re ready to help you.
As award-winning marketing and SEO translation specialists for the SaaS, hospitality, food, education, and wellness sectors, we help big brands and small businesses to increase conversions, reduce churn, and engage global customers like never before. Read more about our multilingual keyword research services here. You can hire one of us as a freelancer, or all of us as a boutique agency!
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.