Research is vital to any successful, 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

Start with your current situation. Other than 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. You can leverage tools, such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Searchmetrics and SEMrush, to help you identify top markets and languages and thus understand 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? There are several tools online that can help you expand your pool of keywords.

Make sure you check keyword data from market leading search engines – whether that’s Google, Bing, Yandex or Baidu. 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, shows which terms your competition is using, and provides insight into boosting your own ranking performance. SEMrush is also good for this and supports up to 25 languages.

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. You should focus on places where there is potential for growth and return on investment. To get the best results, make sure your 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 set up your international website properly. It may take time, but doing your research and choosing the approach that aligns with your business objectives is the best way to make sure your international SEO strategy is successful.