A graphic of a magnifying glass highlighting keywords in a blog post

From blunders to wonders: The need for localised keywords in SEO

Expanding your business internationally offers great potential, but success requires more than just translating content. Optimising your website for each target market is crucial. Many marketers mistakenly translate keyword lists directly, missing valuable opportunities. Instead, effective international SEO requires thorough localised keyword research. This ensures your content matches what potential customers are searching for, enhancing your reach in international markets. To master this, you need to understand how to carry out keyword research in different languages. This article shows you how.


The pitfalls of direct translation

Directly translating keywords may seem like a convenient solution, but this approach can lead to missed opportunities or even costly mistakes:

1. Cultural nuances: Words and phrases do not always carry the same meaning across cultures. For example, the concept of an open-air sightseeing bus tour is well understood in many cultures, but less so in China – so directly translating this as a key phrase misses the mark.

2. Search behaviour: People in different countries may use varying terms to search for the same products or services. An obvious example in the Anglosphere would be athletic shoes, with Americans searching for “sneakers,” Australians for “runners”, and Brits for “trainers”. In this example, using the words “trainers” or “sneakers” in the Australian market would ignore local search habits, reducing your visibility.

3. Language variations: Many languages have regional dialects and variations. For example, Spanish spoken in Mexico differs from that in Spain; Portuguese spoken in Brazil differs from that in Portugal; and French spoken in Canada differs from that in France. Translating keywords without considering these differences can limit your reach within each specific market.

4. Competitive landscape: Keyword competition varies by region. Keywords that are highly competitive in one market may be less so in another. Direct translations do not account for these regional differences, which can impact the effectiveness of your SEO strategy.

In short, relying solely on translation is not the most dependable strategy. Factors such as grammar, word formation, dialects, and slang can significantly impact search volume. Many languages have specific norms and traditions that a translator might not be familiar with. And above all, how an audience understands and searches for your product or service can differ across markets.


That’s why localised keyword research is the best approach

In contrast with translated keywords, localised or international keyword research delves deep into how your target audience in a specific region searches online. This approach offers several advantages:

1. Relevance: Understanding local search terms ensures your keywords match what people are searching for, boosting visibility.

2. Accurate search intent: Localised research helps tailor content to meet specific search intents, increasing engagement and conversion.

3. Competitive edge: Analysing local competitors’ keywords reveals opportunities to refine your SEO strategy and exploit market gaps.

4. Cultural sensitivity: Researching within your target market’s cultural context ensures your keywords and content resonate by respecting local norms and values. For instance, when expanding a fashion brand into Japan, using “オシャレな普段着” (stylish everyday wear) instead of the Western “casual wear” aligns better with Japanese fashion culture, which values style and sophistication in casual attire.


10 practical steps for localised keyword research

So how do you carry out effective localised keyword research? Here are some practical steps:

1. Understand the new market and audience: First, acquire insights into your target audience’s preferences, behaviours, and cultural nuances through consulting Local In-Market Experts. Consider cultural differences using frameworks like Hofstede’s Theory of Cultural Dimensions.

2. Create a basic keyword seed list: Start with a foundational list of keywords based on categories important to your markets, customers, products, and services. Use tools like Google Trends for local search trends and interests. Ensure native speakers review, refine, and expand these keywords to ensure accuracy and relevance. Social listening tools like Brandwatch or Hootsuite can help to identify trending topics and keywords in the local market.

3. Tailor keywords to your brand: Customise the seed list with details relevant to your business, including events, competitor terms, main products, services, industry connections, and how customers find out about you in their markets. Again, avoid relying solely on translations of English keywords.

4. Expand your seed list: Use SEO tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs to further expand your keyword list. Explore variations, singulars, plurals, and long-tail keywords to capture a broader spectrum of search queries.

5. Competitor keyword gap analysis: Identify top local competitors with tools like SimilarWeb. Use SEMrush or Ahrefs to uncover keywords your competitors are ranking for but you are not. This analysis reveals opportunities to strengthen your content strategy and improve your search rankings.

5. Optimise keyword portfolios: Create keyword portfolios that maximise gains in visibility, traffic, engagement, and acquisitions in every target market. Align these portfolios with your business needs and paid media account structure to enhance collaboration between SEO and paid media.

6. Conduct SERP analysis: Perform thorough SERP analysis to understand the current competition, search intent, and keyword relevance. Determine if keywords match informational, navigational, or transactional intent. Identify SERP features like featured snippets and local packs that can influence your strategy. (A local pack is a group of local business listings that appear prominently in search engine results when users search for products or services in a specific geographic area.)

7. Cultural adaptation or culturalisation: Again, during the process, adapt keywords to each culture using local SEO expertise to ensure relevance beyond literal translation. Involve Local In-Market Experts throughout to validate research and ensure cultural accuracy and local relevance.

8. Benchmark for success: Benchmark your organic visibility, share of voice, missed opportunities, and search console clicks. Analyse paid media cost per click and per keyword portfolio to identify high-priority areas for focus and improvement.

9. Monitor and adapt: SEO is an ongoing process requiring regular adjustments. So it’s important to monitor performance metrics and adapt your strategy based on evolving search behaviours and trends in your target markets.


Don’t get lost in translation – localise keywords instead

The bottom line? Prioritise localised keyword research over simple translation to tailor your SEO strategy for international audiences. This approach will boost visibility, improve search engine rankings, and forge stronger connections with potential customers, driving growth in your target markets.

. . .

Ready to go global without the guesswork? Contact Oban and let’s get your keywords world-ready.


Further reading:



Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion.
Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

Skip to content