An Introduction to International SEO Keyword Research and the Transcreation Process

If you want your business to appear on page number one in search engine results pages (SERPs) on Google, Bing, Yahoo and international search engines such as Yandex, Baidu, Naver, etc., you have to connect the dots between what you’re selling and how people are searching online for what you have to offer. Without knowing exactly how people are searching, you could just be guessing, and ultimately, missing the mark. But if you take the time to research how people are searching, and then incorporate these search terms into your online marketing strategy, you can boost the visibility of your website in search engines. Properly researching and putting your search terms to work is particularly important if you’re tasked with creating or improving an international SEO strategy.

SEO Keywords: Short-tail Vs. Long-tail Search Terms

What people type into a search engine is called an SEO keyword or phrase. When people are searching to get information (i.e., they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for yet), they may use what’s called a short-tail keyword, which is a search term of one or two words strung together. Some examples are “women’s shoes” or “men’s suits.” These types of keywords are very competitive, meaning they usually have a high search volume and they’re pretty hard to rank for in the short or medium term.

If people have already done their research and know what they want, they are more likely to enter a much more specific SEO phrase, which is called a long-tail keyword. Long-tail keywords are phrases of three or more words strung together. Some examples are “women’s running shoes size 7 purple” or “men’s suits tall and skinny.” Since the search volume for these keywords is usually lower, it can be easier to rank organically using long-tail keywords in the short term.

Understanding what these SEO keywords are, both short-tail and long-tail, is paramount to getting found online. For additional information on how to get started with the keyword research process, I encourage you to read the Step-by-Step SEO Keywords Guide that I wrote.

Keyword Research Is a Tools-Driven Process

Undoubtedly, the best and most accurate tool that you can use for the keyword research process is Google’s Keyword Planner. This tool is part of the Google Ads tools suite and it’ll provide you with the most up-to-date keyword data. However, in order to get full access to the tool’s data, you have to run an active ad campaign. It’ll cost you money but at the same time you’re able to drive additional traffic to your site via their pay-per-click services.

Global SEO Keyword Research Tools

If you don’t want to set up an active campaign in Google Ads, there are many alternatives out there for you to choose from. The keyword research tools market is exploding and every day a new tool seems to appear.  

As an international SEO expert, I frequently get invited to test new tools before they hit the market. A new tool that I’m currently beta-testing is called Twinword. This tool is designed to make the keyword research process easier and has the potential to be a valid alternative to Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Based on artificial intelligence, Twinword provides features called Filters and Sliders to help you narrow the keyword results. In August of 2018, I spoke with Denise Wilhaus, Product Marketer at Twinword, and she was kind enough to meet with me online and to record a 10-minute overview of this tool. I hope you’ll find the time to watch it:

Twinword generously provides a complimentary one-month professional license to students in my SEO training courses. If you’re interested in testing the tool, I invite you to reach out since I may be able to get you a complimentary one-month professional license.

As mentioned earlier, Twinword comes with great features, including their filters. Denise showcases the filters in the video but here’s a quick example of a filter: Let’s say you’re a physical store that sells iPhone cases and you want to improve your visibility in local searches. You can filter Google’s search engine results based on user intent, which in this case, is searching locally. As you can see from the screenshot below, you select the local filter and the search engine results change based on that.

Twinword Keyword Research

As a result, you can pick the keywords that you want to use from this revised list. Twinword makes it easier to narrow in on keywords based on the filters that they provide. I really like these filters since they help fine tune and speed up the keyword research process.

The Multilingual and International SEO Keywords Research and Transcreation Process

Keyword research is one of the most important tasks of your overall SEO strategy. Getting your source-language keywords right is crucial to the success of your international SEO strategy. So before you can even think about transcreating your source-language keywords into other languages, you need to be 100% certain that your source language keywords are correct and properly mapped to each and every single page on your site.

When we assist customers with the keyword transcreation process, our team includes professionally training in-country SEO and language experts. These professionals are native speakers of the target language, intimately familiar with the culture of that country, and essential to the success of the project. Working with in-country experts is in particular important when targeting a language such as German because there are multiple German locales such as German for Germany, German for Switzerland, German for Austria, etc. For example: While most people use the term Handy when talking about a Smartphone in Germany, the majority of people in the German-speaking part of Switzerland will use the term Natel.

Let’s go back to our keyword example from earlier and assume that women’s running shoes is one of our target SEO keywords in English. If you’re selling women’s running shoes online to a German-speaking audience, or potentially in a store in Germany, you’ll want to transcreate this keyword into the best possible German keyword that people in Germany would actually type into Google. If you’re not planning on teaming up with an international SEO consultant or a global SEO company, make sure that you have access to in-country resources that are properly trained in SEO and the keyword transcreation process. For the purpose of showing you the individual steps of this process, I’ll use a pretty cool machine translation tool called Deepl. This tool won’t replace a professional in-country resource but it provides very accurate translations, though into a limited number of languages at this point.

As you can see from the screenshot below, Deepl translated the search term women’s running shoes into Laufschuhe für Frauen. Deepl will also often recommend alternative translations. In this particular case, Deepl pointed out that people may search for Damenlaufschuhe, Laufschuhe für Damen, and Damen-Laufschuhe.

Deepl Machine Translation

According to Twinword, approximately 60,500 searches are performed in the US for the exact search term women’s running shoes on Google per month.

I then checked Twinword for the monthly search volume on Google in Germany for the translated search terms and here are the results:

  • Laufschuhe für Frauen -> 30
  • Damenlaufschuhe -> 1,600
  • Laufschuhe für Damen -> 30
  • Damen-Laufschuhe -> 1,600

Although the US market is roughly four times larger than the German market, the search volume for the best possible transcreated search term in German should be way higher than 1,600.

As part of other keywords that I should consider for my SEO strategy, Twinword pointed out that keyword Laufschuhe Damen yields approximately 12,500 searches in Germany per month in Google. So if I only had to pick one transcreated keyword for the German market, I’d probably go with this keyword.

Double Check Before Locking In Your Transcreated SEO Keywords

Before deciding to move forward with a transcreated keyword, I recommend that you perform an incognito Google search. Once you’ve opened an incognito window in Google Chrome, a website called will allow you to perform a search as if you were using Google in Germany:

Perform in-country Google searches.

After all, you’ll want to be sure that Google displays the desired results in relation to your search term:

Google search result Germany

Now that you’ve successfully identified the best possible transcreated search term for women’s running shoes in German, you need to get to work and start optimizing the appropriate pages on your site for this keyword.

Multilingual Keyword Research: You Have to Get it Right

The keyword transcreation process is very involved, requires professionally trained resources, takes time and costs money. Though, it’s well worth the effort since your website will most likely have to compete against other websites that are hosted in-country and potentially have been professionally optimized. The global keyword research and transcreation process is only one piece of the puzzle but if you want to have a chance in online search, you have to get it right.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.