7 Tips for Cross-Cultural Keyword Research

Martin Kura

Jul 14, 20143 min read
7 Tips for Cross-Cultural Keyword Research

Have you ever wondered if there is a better way to find new keywords in different languages than using automatic tools? Do you feel that a thorough analysis done by a native speaker can bring new opportunities for you?

Not only will it offer new opportunities, but it can also save you a lot of cash as you can avoid targeting false positive keywords. Here are are seven tips for conducting cross-cultural keyword research.

Think negatively

One of the upsides of having a native speaker is that he/she is able to identify an alternative meaning of the given word. In other words, negative keywords. These negative keywords can help you optimize your campaign before you launch it.

For example, an online store selling toy dolls might consider adding the negative keyword "-baby," since "baby doll" is also known as a type of négligée. Oops!

Regional dialects

A pavement or a sidewalk? Online pharmacy or online drugstore? Such peculiarities do not only exist in major languages.

For instance, in Polish, the word "rower" means bicycle, while in Silesia (south of Poland) the locals call it "koło," which stands for a wheel/circle in standard Polish. Tricky, huh?

Word modifications

German is an agglutination language, i.e. known for merging words together to make a new one. Funnily enough, some Germans make searches of split phrases, hoping to get more relevant results — e.g. textil wirtschaft instead of textilwirtschaft.

This also occurs in other agglutination languages such as Hungarian, Korean, Finnish or Turkish.

Sometimes they don’t spell it rihgt

Some misspellings are so tricky that no sophisticated tool can make the connection to the original term: this is yet another opportunity for a native analyst.

Especially in languages with accents, when the keyword without the accent stands for a different thing. For instance, the word "krtiny" in Czech (meaning molehills) is a frequent substitute for the accented word "křtiny" (christening). I don't know about you, but I wouldn’t put these two together.

Speaking about German again, words written without umlauts (ä, ö, ü) where there should be umlauts are meant to be different words: "Losung" is a different word from "Lösung," since the former means a motto, and the latter, a solution. The umlaut could be transcribed with the letter e, making it "Loesung," eventually.

Slang and colloquial words

Germans call a doughnut a "Berliner," which baffled JFK when he called himself this fantastic piece of pastry during his famous speech Ich bin ein Berliner in 1963. There are certainly many keywords like this in many languages, which the best speakers with the best counselors cannot identify.

Your audience is also multilingual

So, what languages would you actually target when approaching the users in the Netherlands? Dutch? Don’t fool yourself. There are pretty big search volumes in English, German and French, too. Some words are even typed in because there is no equivalent in Dutch, or simply because of someone searching for something abroad.

These results appeared in Semrush when searching for keywords "Prague" (English) and "Praag" (Dutch) for Google Netherlands. Note the much lower volumes for the Dutch word.

Not another planet, yet a different world

Remember that even keywords reflect the cultural background of the particular market. Some keywords are untranslatable, and some have tens or even hundreds of equivalents in another language.

Let’s say you would like to target black tea distributors in China. You literally translate the word "black tea" as 黑茶. Surprisingly, in China, black tea isn’t that black. It’s red. So, the correct word is 红茶, literally meaning "red tea."

International keyword research checklist

1. Negative Keywords

Are there any hidden meanings of the primary keywords you already have?

2. Regional Dialects

Are there any regionally specific words describing the same thing?

3. Word Modifications

Are there any other options for how users can type in their search query? Additional spacing, removing accents, word order changes, etc.?

4. Misspellings

An accent and extra or missing letter can change a word and its meaning. Is your keyword spelled correctly?

5. Slang and Colloquial Words

Are there any words used in informal speech? Generalized brand names, abbreviations, acronyms, etc.?

6. Different Languages

Are they using keywords in other languages? Are there any ethnic groups among the target audience? Is your audience using another language in the hopes of getting more relevant results?

7. Cultural specifics

Are there alternative keyword topics around your industry in the desired language? What is the situation like in the industry? What are your users’ expectations? Is the offer related to what they already know?

Have you experienced any difficulties or mishaps with cross-cultural keyword research? Let us know in the comment section!

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Martin Kůra is an International SEO Strategist. You can visit his personal website.