Research is vital to the success of any international SEO strategy. Failing to accurately research your target markets and languages can have embarrassing – and potentially damaging – consequences. Take a look at these global branding fails if you’re not convinced.

So how can you avoid making these mistakes when considering an international SEO strategy for your business? Here are three tips to keep in mind.

1. IDENTIFY WHAT’S ALREADY WORKING

The best place to start is with your current situation. Other than in your primary market, where else are you seeing some organic search visibility and traffic? In which languages? What are the volume and trend statistics there?

Now dig a little deeper. Identify why you are ranking for these countries and languages, which keywords and pages are drawing the traffic, and what the click-through and conversion rates are like.

For an easy analysis, use the ‘Geo’ reports in Google Analytics or the ‘Search Queries’ reports in the Google Search Console. Third-party tools like Searchmetrics and SEMrush are also insightful. By reviewing a range of available data sources, you will be able to identify top markets and languages. And these sources will also help with audience behavior and trends.

2. DO KEYWORD RESEARCH WITH INTERNATIONAL SEO IN MIND

Which relevant keywords and phrases are being used to search for your brand, products or services in each market? What are the volume and competition metrics for them? And how are you currently ranking? The keywords you come across when researching are a good starting point. But there are other tools online that can help you expand the pool of keywords you’re looking into.

Make sure you check the keyword data from the market’s leading search engine – whether that’s Google, Bing, Yandex, Baidu or something else. Looking into these market-specific search engines will ensure you have data that’s representative and accurate. SimilarWeb reveals which websites have the highest traffic in particular countries and sectors. This shows you which terms the competition is using and provides insight into boosting your own ranking performance. SEMrush is also good for this – and it supports up to 25 languages.

Of course, it’s crucial that this keyword research is carried out directly in the target language. Simply translating your English keywords into French or using machine translation will not yield the best results. Instead, you should work with a native speaker who can identify authentic, organic keywords and phrases specific to each market.

Once you’ve identified the top keywords you want to target, online tools and rankers like Authority Labs and Advanced Web Ranking can help you benchmark your current organic visibility against competitors in each market. With this information, you can make a more informed decision on which types of keywords to target based on competitiveness. You can also look for insights that can be leveraged from competitor content strategies.

3. DETERMINE IF YOU WANT TO TARGET A SPECIFIC OR GENERAL MARKET

Targeting the markets and languages you’re already doing well in typically requires less investment than those where you have no presence. And you should focus on places where there is potential for growth and return on investment. To get the best results, make sure you’re targeting is both language and country specific.

However, you may find that there’s not enough organic search volume or market potential to justify such targeting. Or you might not have the resources to launch just yet. If that’s the case, you can still get results by targeting a language in general. (You won’t achieve the local SEO results you’re looking for in a particular country, but you will see increased brand visibility and global engagement, which can be a good place to start.) For example, you could focus on targeting Spanish-speakers globally rather than tailoring your website to Mexico, Argentina or Puerto Rico.

Deciding whether to target specifically or generally will affect not only your sales strategy, but also your website architecture for years to come. So it’s important to get it right. To learn about how to set up your international website, check out this blog post. It may take time, but doing your research and choosing the approach that aligns with your business objectives is the best way of making sure your international SEO strategy is successful.