International SEO Keyword Research

If you live in North America and do search engine optimization (SEO) you, like me, probably work in a bubble full of English websites. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but recently I was forced to prepare business justification for translating an English site to multiple languages. The question I was tasked to answer was how much search volume is there for a list of keywords in Spanish, Japanese, French, German, and Italian.

International keyword research should be easy, right? Wrong. The first problem is finding a source of search volume data. I use KeywordDiscovery for English sites and I knew that it also supported other languages so I gave it a shot. It turned out to be disappointing. The volume numbers I got from KeywordDiscovery seemed to be way too low given the topics I was searching for. So I needed some way to do a sanity check, but I wasn't sure where to go.

Luckily a co-worker sent me some links to international versions of the Yahoo/Overture Search Suggestion tool. The English version is free, but it's flaky. And most recently it was pulling search data from January making it over 7 months old. I didn't have high hopes for the international versions, but they were worth a shot.

I tried the Overture's research tools in French, Spanish, German, and Japanese versions (no longer active so no links). The Japanese version was immediately a bust. Every character in my browser appeared as a little square. It wasn't worth me trying to get the right language support installed since this was just a test and I had other languages to explore. Sadly, the other three languages produced results, but the numbers were still lower than my expectations. Something wasn't right.

It turns out that the first problem isn't finding a good keyword research tool, but getting good translations of the English terms. Using automated translation tools like Bing's Translator sounds good on paper, but they are prone to do literal translations rather than ones that match how people actually speak.

Without access to a translator I decided that I could get some good information from existing sites in my target language. Google is good at helping you get to the right search with their, “did you mean” feature so I started there. Misspellings were corrected and once I had what looked like a correct search I headed over to Google's Image search. Why? Because images would help me visually confirm that I have a the correct terms i.e. if the image matches what I searched for then I could assume that I have the correct term.

Not only did using Google's two search tools expand my keyword list, but it also knocked off some terms I originally had on the list that turned out to be bad translations. Not too bad for a morning's work.

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