International keyword research: Why website operators should localise search terms

Architecture in front of a blue sky.
Keywords are an essential part of search engine optimisation and a crucial element of any SEO strategy. But can’t you just translate search terms word-for-word if you want to make a website available in different countries and languages? Wouldn’t they still work as SEO keywords? Well, not really. In this blog article, we’ll explain why you should define specific keywords for each country and language and how exactly you should go about conducting international keyword research.

Why you should define different keywords for each country and language

Do Spanish users looking for winter boots search for products in the same way as German users? And what search terms would users in the UK and USA enter if they wanted to find out about garage doors? These might seem like simplistic examples, but they serve to illustrate a major challenge in website translations, namely that a target market is influenced by countries, languages and cultures. People’s behaviours, attitudes and approaches differ from country to country. With this in mind, you should always conduct country-specific and language-specific keyword research and localise website content accordingly. If you just translate search terms literally into another language, your site might not turn up in search results at all – and, in some circumstances, you might find that your message doesn’t connect with your target audience at all.

Selecting the right keywords and developing an individual keyword set for each target country is a fascinating challenge. Ultimately, you need to consider the perspectives and interests of a whole host of people and stakeholders while simultaneously taking into account global markets, search behaviour and linguistic characteristics and particularities.

In order for companies to tap the full potential of the target market and speak their target audience’s language, it’s important that they turn to SEO specialists who are native speakers of the target language.

One customer’s experience of working with Kolibri Online:

“At ottonova, we like to keep things simple, smart and digital. Kolibri Online has been just the right partner for us, helping us to expand our English-language content offering. In addition to the effective communication and straightforward processes, we value the agency’s expertise in keyword research, SEO optimisation and content creation for our expat area. Kolibri Online gives you more!”

Marie-Theres Rüttiger

Online Editor, ottonova services GmbH

ottonova services GmbH

Translated vs localised search terms: 3 examples

The same term can return entirely different search volumes in different countries. The German keyword “Brandschutztür” – a door with a fire-resistance rating used as part of a passive fire safety system – has an average monthly search volume of 10,500. The direct, word-for-word English translation would be “fire protection door”, which, at 30 search queries a month, is used significantly less than synonyms like “fire doors” (16,000) and “fireproof door” (670). Professional keyword research can identify these effective alternatives.
German keyword Monthly search volume
Brandschutztür 10,500
English (UK) keyword Monthly search volume
fire protection door 30
fire door 16,000
fireproof door 670
Let’s look at the German search term “Lippen größer schminken”, which has a search volume of 370. This long keyword might be a good option for online cosmetics and beauty shops to use in blog posts along with step-by-step instructions and a video tutorial. If a company uses it in a German blog post that they want to make available in English on their UK website, a translator without SEO expertise might opt for a translation like “make your lips look bigger”. However, at only 20 search queries per month, this would certainly be a less effective choice than “how to make your lips bigger”, which has a search volume of 1,600 and would soon be identified in keyword research.
German keyword Monthly search volume
Lippen größer schminken 370
English (UK) keyword Monthly search volume
make your lips look bigger 20
how to make your lips bigger 1,600
Local purchasing behaviour can also have an impact on which keywords and content are suitable for a website. For example, hire purchase is commonplace in Germany but still unusual in countries such as Spain and Italy. This is evident in the search volumes for hire purchase washing machine keywords. German: “waschmaschine auf raten” (900); Spanish: “lavadora a plazos” (50), “comprar lavadora a plazos” (20); Italian: “lavatrice a rate” (80).

All three of these examples make it clear that keywords and website content need to be tailored to the target country, taking account of search behaviour and purchasing behaviour to reflect the linguistic and cultural particularities of the target market.

Your contact at Kolibri

Anne Addicks
Project Manager Specialist Translation & Copy Editing
+49 40 5247774-15

Kolibri Online GmbH
Bernstorffstrasse 128
D-22767 Hamburg

What does international keyword research involve?

The work involved in international keyword research varies depending on the company and the starting situation. However, there are some steps that every project should include.


If you want to have your website translated and need to have country-specific keyword research carried out, it’s vital that you review the existing site content in advance and determine which topics might be less relevant or irrelevant for the target market. This might include content on local holidays or laws, for example.

The key steps in international keyword research

Diagram showing the most important steps in international keyword research

First and foremost, the aim of international keyword research is find suitable search terms for the target country.

5 tips for international keyword research: What really matters

If you’re planning to roll out your website for other target markets, you should certainly consider the following points in your international keyword research

Don’t translate search terms word for word

Keywords can rarely be carried over directly from one language to another. The cultural and linguistic particularities of each country means that search behaviour also differs from one country to the next. With this in mind, it’s important that you always review keywords for the target market. In an ideal scenario, you should carry out international keyword research during the concept development phase for the country-specific website, as the results of this research will often influence the structure and content of each page.

Analyse the market, competition and search behaviour in the target market

How have your direct competitors who are top of the search engine rankings in the target country structured their pages? What topics have they covered? Examine your competitors’ websites carefully and analyse the keywords and content. This often provides insights you can apply to your own site and keyword strategy.

The most popular search engine in a country can also influence your choice of keywords. Google is the world’s undisputed number one, but Microsoft and Yahoo’s search engines are gaining ground. In China, on the other hand, Baidu is by far the most popular search engine, while people in Russia tend to prefer Yandex RU.

Work with native speakers and SEO specialists

Always remember that your online texts are primarily aimed at users. After all, it’s not Google and other search engines you need to persuade to buy your products and service, it’s your target audience. Texts therefore need to be fluent, highly readable and linguistically correct and take culture-specific characteristics into account. At the same time, it’s important to incorporate insights from local employees, as they will be experts in industry-specific terminology and everyday business language. You should therefore hand your keyword research and content creation tasks over to native speakers of the target language with SEO expertise and knowledge of the local market. Ultimately, this is the only way to ensure that the complex requirements are efficiently implemented and lead to success.

Use professional keyword tools

We live in a data-driven age. This is very good thing for companies drawing up an SEO strategy, since it means they can examine the precise search volume for each keyword in each country and find out what their target audience is actually searching for. A data-driven, outsider’s view of your company and your services is decisive for successful SEO. Your international keyword research should therefore employ professional keyword tools such as KWFinder, Sistrix Dragon Metrics and the Google Keyword Planner. These tools allow you to identify relevant primary and secondary keywords, compare search volumes and generate ideas for key topics in the target country.

Create localised content tailored to your keywords

Once you’ve defined your keyword set for the country-specific site, you can look to implement and integrate search terms. Generally speaking, there are two approaches to this. Sometimes, companies have a master page that needs to be translated with researched keywords integrated. Alternatively, a new website might be set up without a master page to guide it. Either way, content should be guided by the keywords. This is because the search terms identified in keyword research indicate what information users are looking for. As a result, you should always localise and revise content based on your keyword strategy. Ask yourself: does your content meet the needs of the local target audience? What additional topics do I need to cover? What content would it be better to omit?

At Kolibri Online, we have a wealth of experience with both starting situations. We help companies to identify the right keywords and localise content to extract the full SEO potential from their website and maximise its international impact.

International keyword research with Kolibri Online

When it comes to international website roll-outs, keyword research is a complex challenge. Here at Kolibri Online, we’ve been helping companies to carry out keyword research for many years. Thanks to our blend of experienced in-house SEO content editors and our network of native-speaker translators and project managers, we have the various skills and expertise required to conduct international keyword research and localise content – all from a single source. This allows us to provide analysis, research, translation and content creation services and ensure maximum efficiency for companies.

Thinking about having your website translated? Maybe you have questions about our keyword research services. You can contact us by telephone on +49 40 5247774-0 or via email at

About the author

Portrait der Kolibri Projektmanagerin Jana Finklenburg
Jana Finklenburg
Project Manager and Content Marketing Editor
+49 40 5247774-22

Kolibri Online GmbH
Bernstorffstrasse 128
D-22767 Hamburg