Multilingual SEO Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Multilingual SEO Keyword Research

LEaF Translations is a UK-based translation company specialising in multilingual SEO, SEO translation and keyword localisation. We provide white-label multilingual keyword research and SEO translation services to a number of digital marketing agencies and also conduct keyword research in a range of languages for our website translation clients.

In this guide, we outline the importance of high-quality international keyword research, explain the key terms and share our own best practices.


The internet is an international marketplace where businesses are free to trade and connect with people and companies worldwide. 

When a business decides to reach a new market – often known as “going international” – several processes and changes must be first made to its website. 

One of these changes is implementing international versions of a website to cater to audiences in new markets.

However, to ensure these new versions are impactful, market research needs to take place, which includes multilingual SEO (search engine optimisation) keyword research.

Such work is performed by an SEO translator, who will delve into your chosen international market, investigate relevant search terms, and record which ones resonate with your chosen market. 

This detailed guide will discuss the complex world of multilingual SEO and SEO translations, including the processes, benefits, challenges, and any questions you might have.

First of all, however, let’s take a look at one crucial aspect of multilingual SEO keyword research.

Translator and SEO translator: what is the difference?

Before we delve into the world of SEO translators, it is perhaps important to understand SEO itself. 

SEO is the process of optimising a website to receive the best possible amount of useful traffic from search engines. Often, a website is optimised to adhere to best practice guidelines issued by search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others. 

When translating for SEO purposes, therefore, a translator must consider a variety of best practice factors and more technical aspects, such as localisation, intent, and relevance. 

Although highly skilled and proficient in their own right, a translator who does not have SEO experience will provide translations without applying SEO considerations. 

While there are many legitimate reasons for standard translations, businesses that wish to perform well in the relevant search engine results pages (SERPs) should consider SEO translators’ services to help fulfil commercial aspirations.

Understanding localisms

Languages differ from region to region, and phrases, questions, and queries vary depending on the speaker or user’s origin. 

While a translator will understand localisms as well as an SEO translator, the latter will provide guidance and feedback around how to address certain terms within a target market. 

Multilingual SEO work often begins with a batch of core or seed keywords. The SEO translator will build-out to provide you with an intelligent and comprehensive library of keywords for your chosen region or language. 

Depending on your goals, SEO translators also provide crucial insights into whether your seed phrases are commercially worthwhile, or whether alternatives should be sought. 

Furthermore, suppose you are targeting multiple regions, or even multiple languages, with the same keywords. In that case, SEO translators will provide you with a keyword mapping document designed for use across multiple markets.

Search intent and interest

While carrying out keyword research, which involves categorising, cataloguing, and analysing sometimes thousands of words and phrases, an SEO translator will also provide information regarding both search intent and interest. 

Search intent involves knowing why particular phrases are inputted into search engines. This knowledge is useful for understanding which phrases will apply to different areas of your website. 

A key phrase that has commercial intent could be, for example, “order paella online”, whereas a phrase with supporting interest could be “paella” or “how to cook paella”. 

Terms with commercial interest should apply to your core pages, whereas supporting keywords can appear on blogs and other informational content. 

Another key consideration is monthly search volume (MSV), which considers how often a keyword or phrase is used per month. 

As you can imagine, the popularity of a keyword will vary depending on the region. Furthermore, keywords with higher volumes tend to have higher levels of competition within SERPs. 

Therefore, your SEO translator will provide you with insight into both intent and interest so you can make the most informed decision over which phrases to use and where they should be applied to your site.

what is the difference between translation or localisation

Why is translation vs localisation so important in keyword research?

One of the most common questions that businesses ask at the start of a project is the difference between translation and localisation. Knowing the distinctions between them is crucial for the start of any translation project.

What is translation?

Translation is the process of translating a piece of text into a new language. For commercial websites, translation often occurs when a business wishes to target either one or several new markets. 

An experienced translator will bear in mind cultural nuances, tone and the context and placement of the copy for your website.

It is not the responsibility of a standard translator to conduct market research, such as keyword research. They will not consider how popular services or products might be in your given market. 

They will, however, provide insightful and intelligent translations for your website, as per your requirements.

Why can’t I just use Google Translate?

Since its original release in 2006, Google Translate has evolved into a highly capable and intelligent neural translation machine. However, it is not developed to the level where it provides professional translations for businesses and organisations. 

This is because Google Translate is not as reliable as human translation and does not understand the subtle, cultural, and localised linguistic nuances that experienced and native-speaking translators provide. 

Furthermore, due to its design, grammatical errors are a huge limitation of Google Translate. Although a sentence may appear well-structured and grammatically correct to a non-native speaker, errors could seem obvious and even embarrassing to native speakers. 

Sadly, websites that use Google Translate not only risk losing credibility in a new market, but they can also become the subject of ridicule to the very audience they wish to target.

the problem with google translate
Google Translate is a very sophisticated machine translation tool, but it can never be relied upon for accuracy.

What is localisation?

Localisation can be thought of as an advanced level of translation, and this occurs when a translator considers cultural and linguistic nuances into their work. 

For example, although a website may wish to target people who speak Spanish, it is important to bear in mind the linguistic differences between Spanish speakers in Spain and those in Latin America. 

This means that when undertaking a translation project for a website, an SEO translator must consider a variety of cultural and linguistic factors to ensure that the copy resonates with the target audience and market. 

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of an SEO translator to carry out localised keyword research. 

Localised keyword research could be integral to a project’s success, as an important and traffic-driving term in Argentina, for example, may not carry the same significance as it does in Spain. 

An SEO translator will identify target phrases and terms through keyword research and provide a comprehensive and detailed glossary of realistic and relevant keywords for your market. 

As you can imagine, localisation has a higher cost than standard translations. Still, even smaller budgets can benefit from small amounts of localisation, limited to a small number of relevant keywords per page.

What is the key difference?

Put simply, localisation considers the nuances and cultural differences of the market you target and is considered by many to be an advanced form of translation. 

These subtle discrepancies are taken into account during the translator’s translation process, who will provide authentic insights and first-hand knowledge of how you should target your chosen market with translation. 

This expertise is skillfully crafted with search relevancy to ensure that your website is provided with the best possible opportunity to succeed in your chosen market.

multilingual SEO icon min LEaF Translations

How to approach a localised keyword research strategy

Like any kind of research, localised research is undertaken in a strategic and precise way to provide the most detailed and comprehensive findings.

Discover commercial opportunities

Before localised keyword research occurs, there needs to be an understanding of the commercial opportunities available within the desired market. 

It is often the case that commercial opportunity is rife within a home market. Still, all markets differ, so it is important to understand what opportunity is prevalent in the country you wish to target. 

Depending on the type of service or product you offer, you may also need to consider whether the opportunity is affected by seasonality.

How can you check for commercial opportunities in other markets?

SEO translators use specialised tools and software to research commercial opportunities within the focus market through keywords. 

By investigating the history of a given term, it is also possible to predict whether there is a stable commercial opportunity, or if it is indeed affected by seasonality. 

A term that has steadily increased volume could show a commercial opportunity within a market — although competition difficulty must be considered. 

On the other hand, volume that has sudden interest could indicate that the commercial interest is fleeting and nothing more than a fad or brief trend.

Does keyword volume differ between international markets?

As you can imagine, the same terms will have varying volumes across even the countries that speak the same language. This is especially important when you are targeting specific markets. 

Using our favourite term, “paella”, we can see the volume disparity between Spanish-speaking countries at the time of writing:

  • Argentina: 9,100
  • Brazil: 40,000
  • Mexico: 25,000
  • Spain: 45,000
  • US: 168,000 

Interestingly, both France and the UK show high search volumes for the term “paella”, at 97,000 and 72,000 respectively. 

It is also worth noting that keywords in the US tend to have higher keyword volumes for many terms, simply since its population is so large.

How to check for commercial opportunities for free

You can also check for commercial opportunities yourself, using free tools, such as Google Trends

Another way to check for commercial opportunities within other markets is to use a free VPN and examine the SERPs for your chosen service or product in your target market. 

By doing this, you can check out and analyse the competition. You could, for example, look for gaps within their content, check for outdated services, and estimate the level of investment the competition puts into their websites.

google trends paella min LEaF Translations
Google Trends results for the keyword “paella”

Create context with seed keywords

At the start of any multilingual SEO project, an SEO translator will require a set of seed keywords or terms to expand and grow throughout their research project. 

This can begin with just a handful of terms for a particular service or product for them to investigate. 

An SEO translator will use sophisticated software to analyse the market in your chosen language and country from those seed keywords.

For instance, using our earlier “paella” term, you may find closely related variants that people also use to search this topic, such as:

  • Paella pan
  • Paella recipes
  • Paella Valenciana
  • What is paella 

These associated keywords will also have their unique associations, which an SEO translator will also investigate to broaden their research. 

As you can imagine, from just a small grouping of keywords, translators can quickly cover a lot of ground — although the above does not consider keyword difficulty, intent, or relevance. 

Relevance is particularly important, as it is integral that the intent behind keywords is considered before applying them to a website. 

For example, while “paella pan” might have commercial relevancy, depending on your service, “paella recipes” may not — although this term could still be used for supporting content elsewhere on your site. 

paella keyword research min LEaF Translations
Top-level keyword research using Mangools KWFinder for the term “paella”

The second way that an SEO translator can investigate a market from a small batch of keywords is by examining competitor sites. 

By using specialist software, websites are crawled and analysed to see which keywords competitors use and rank for and how successful those competitors are when they use them. 

Such analysis is particularly useful when gap analysis is carried out, which is when two or more websites are compared, and commercial “gaps” are highlighted and analysed within their content. 

For example, although your competitor may rank very well for “paella pans” they may not rank for or discuss “paella recipes”, which could be your way into their market.

Localisation keyword discovery begins

Once the context is acquired, multilingual keyword research starts and involves mapping the seed keywords against your target language keywords. 

This stage is particularly important, as the translator must have a thorough knowledge of colloquialisms and accented terms or letters (diacritics). 

In Spanish, for example, a tilde (ñ) is often used above an “n”, which subtly changes the pronunciation of the letter: 

  • An “n” without a tilde will sound much like its British counterpart (en). However, “ñ” is pronounced much differently (ny). 
  • An “n” with a tilde is considered to be a completely different letter in Spanish. 

When performing localised keyword discovery, this difference is significant, as users may choose to input words without using tildes, where formally, there might be one. 

This means that an SEO translator must understand where such differences occur to provide the correct terms within their work. 

Furthermore, a business may provide a product or service that does not have a direct translation, which means that a solution must be sought so that the result makes sense to the target market.

Map keyword localisation findings with a glossary

Once the translator has translated the keywords, they must be mapped against the initial list of seed keywords or content. This usually occurs in an Excel or Google Sheet document. 

Once the mapping is complete, a glossary is created that lists the translated keywords, search volume, and targeted local keywords’ retranslation back into the original language. 

The latter stage helps provide context for what the localised keywords mean. This is especially important when multiple people might be working on a project or stakeholders from multiple agencies or companies. 

A good multilingual glossary will serve as the building blocks for translation and localisation, which can be updated and managed throughout the project.

Manage multiple languages within your glossary

Targeting multiple languages for one website is a common approach to businesses looking to expand their offering. 

When multiple languages are under consideration, the need for a thorough and sophisticated multilingual glossary is high.

In this instance, the different translations fit easily and succinctly into separate columns and tabs, allowing you to map the words to the appropriate pages and or content. 

Keeping track of your keywords is a must to ensure that the right keywords are targeted on the correct pages. 

Sometimes the same keywords can accidentally appear across multiple pages, which hinders search performance, so a periodical inspection of your keyword glossary is highly recommended.

multilingual SEO keyword research FAQs

Multilingual SEO keyword research FAQs

At LEaF , we are regularly asked a range of intelligent and thoughtful questions about SEO translations, multilingual SEO, keywords, and research. 

With that in mind, here are some of the most commonly asked questions we get from our clients.

1. Can you use Google Translate for keywords?

Although Google Translate can be used to translate words and simple sentences in everyday life, it is not a tool that should be used for professional purposes. This rule applies to traditional translations and for localising keywords. 

Although Google Translate has evolved dramatically since its inception,  the tool lacks the nuance and human experience to provide clear and mistake-free translations. 

What’s more, although we may search for a topic or service using a specific term in English, such as “How to cook paella”, a direct translation may not resonate with your target market. 

This is because they might not use the same idioms, phrases, or metaphors that have absorbed into our everyday language, but it is also due to the fact that keywords can never be translated 1:1 – instead, they need to be localised. 

A native SEO translator will know how people search in their language, which means that they can find alternative keywords and phrases that are not only understood in your target market, but also have the best volume for your needs. 

If you want to know more about why we don’t advise using Google Translate for commercial purposes, check out our blog on the subject.

2. How much does it cost to localise keywords?

At LEaF we calculate our prices on various factors to ensure that you are given the best possible translations for the fairest price. Prominent factors include:

●       Quantity of work: Prices for smaller translations are often given on a per word basis; whereas larger translation and keyword localisation projects tend to be charged by the day or 1/2 day, depending on the volume of work required. We may offer discounts for larger projects.

●       Type of text: Depending on the type of text you require, and the difficulty of the research itself, the cost of localisation could be higher.

●       Circumstances: A quicker turnaround for a large project may require a higher price. Additionally, if you need multiple language research, this too will pose higher costs.

●       Experience: If your translation is for a very specialised or niche topic, this may require highly skilled translators with years of professional experience. These requirements will, of course, come at a greater expense. 

While cheap translations are not always bad translations, we recommend that you err on the side of caution for very cheap work. 

This is because super cheap translations are often performed by inexperienced translators, software, or translators looking to cut corners in editing or proofing. 

If you want to know more about our costs, check out our detailed blog about our prices.

3. What tools are available for keyword localisation?

There is a range of subscription-based tools used for keyword localisation. While some keyword tools are best used for English language keywords, specialised keyword tools cater to international research or specific countries. 

Some of the most prominent localisation tools include: 

  • Mangools
  • Ahrefs Keywords Explorer
  • SEMrush
  • Keyword
  • Rank Tracker
  • Dragon Metrics (Chinese specialist tool) 

Some of the above tools come with limited free trials, if you are interested in seeing how keyword localisation is performed first-hand.

4. Do you use the same tool for different languages?

As briefly mentioned above, some tools work with specialised or niche languages. With that in mind, we use a range of tools to ensure that we provide the most accurate and meaningful research for your needs.

It’s also worth noting that different tools use different metrics and sometimes provide differing volumes for the same keywords. 

With this in mind, we often work across multiple tools to ensure that the work is accurate and meaningful. This is why we employ SEO translators who intelligently analyse and deconstruct data provided by keyword tools throughout a project.

5. Does keyword localisation cost the same in all languages?

The localisation cost may depend on many factors, including whether your keywords are niche or specialist, or whether the localisation itself is niche. 

As you can imagine, great and highly experienced translators are always difficult to find, and this fact is compounded for translators of select or niche languages. 

For example, while we frequently perform French or German localisations, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, occur less often, which means costs for these projects may be higher.

6. Can you translate a website without doing keyword research?

You can translate a website without performing keyword research, and this process probably happens more commonly than you might think. However, there are obvious difficulties that this presents. 

Translating a website without performing keyword research means that your website will enter its new market blind to competitors, sector difficulty, and its audience’s needs and interests.

7. Should you do the keyword research before or after translating the website?

Ideally, keyword research should come before translations so that the process is as efficient and error-free as possible. Like any project, research must go right at the very start to lay the groundwork for production. 

That said, if your website is already translated, but you are interested in applying keywords to your translations, you may still do it this way round. 

It might, however, mean that you will need to edit live pages, which may take time for search engines to crawl and index.

If you are concerned that your website has been translated without keyword research, or you are wondering about the processes behind these two services, do not hesitate to get in touch.