How to Do Intent-driven International Keyword Research


Discussing the background, strategies, and tactics for handling the complexities of keyword research in real-life, while also touching upon different use-cases such as international keyword research and using search intent categories in different industries – a talk I delivered at the International Search Summit 2021 in Barcelona.


By now you already know that I love incorporating search intent into the keyword research and content strategies for the clients I work with. I’ve published works on how to classify search intent using a Data Studio dashboard, as well as how to use search intent in the process of web architecture planning.

But I’m not alone. 

Search intent is everywhere these days. 

Recently, Semrush released a Search intent categorization feature, which provides each keyword with a label, letting you know what supposed intent the user typing this has. It also works on providing labels on the site pages, which can help you identify what intent your pages are optimized for, which is really helpful when building a search-intent-driven website architecture.

But how about if you don’t have access to Semrush? Or what would you do if you are building a bigger data set with multiple data sources, then you’d need a rule-based system for classifying intent or build a custom classification model for intent. 

What are the different methods for search intent classification in keyword research?

The latter is quite resource-heavy, time-intensive, and requires a bit of knowledge and experience in machine learning, so let’s go over the alternatives: 

Using Data StudioUsing Google SheetsUsing Semrush and Semrush onlyUsing your gut (i.e. some sorcery or avoiding SI altogether)
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Easy to set up?
Clear to communicate?
Enables multiple data sources?
Any additional research needed?
Shows all opportunities?

If you are wondering whether the first three sounds like a lot of work, and you’re leaning towards option four, allow me to persuade you otherwise: 

  • Search intent corresponds with the conversion marketing funnel, so knowing the intent split in the industry you are targeting can help you assess and forecast content performance,
  • Knowing the query is the first task in content optimisation as it can allow you to better position your content via optimisations in relation to your goals 
    • want more organic visitors and higher volumes? ➡️ optimize for informational intent and low conversion rates ➡️ build brand awareness
    • Want more conversions on your site? ➡️ optimize for transactional and commercial intent ➡️ eliminate friction to purchase
  • Understanding intent will enable you to write pages that fulfil it and move the user from one intent category to another via internal linking

According to research, 75% of all web-mediated search queries satisfy single search intent, so working with a rule-based approach will likely be sufficient for a lot of the research you are doing. 

What should you consider when doing intent-based keyword research for international markets?

All queries have a task language and task location.

The complexity of language and how this affects Search Intent

Language can be a tricky thing to nail when doing keyword research in international markets. 

There are a number of reasons for this. 

1. Same words in different languages mean different things

In an article, I came across multiple examples of how the same words in different languages mean entirely different things:

  • In English gift means poison in German and married in Norwegian and Swedish
  • Fast in German means almost, while elf is the number eleven
  • Grad is German for degree but means city in Bosnian

Knowing about these things can also help you determine if you are not accidentally bloating up your branded search analytics data for a particular country, just cause the brand name matches an important language word locally.

2. Idioms exist 

In the tweet below, Natalie Arnie provides a neat intro to this section, with some examples of the difference in wording in English, and how they might indicate a different intent.

Different countries, which use the same language, express themselves differently as Natalie expressed in her tweet.

The American “sweater” is a “jumper” for Brits, despite them using the same language.

The aim of international SEO is to not only find and rank keywords in the target market but also capture cultural insights to figure out how people express their needs. 

It’s not a matter of swapping one word for another, but also about understanding how culture impacts quality perceptions, too. 

3. Homonyms and homographs exist

You might be wondering – what the hell are those? 

Here is a summary of the difference between homonyms and homographs: 

Spelling of two wordsSameSame
Sound of two wordsSameDifferent

This is an important consideration as again, having such keywords in the language you are doing keyword research for can create artificially inflated search volumes and competitiveness. 

You must take into consideration all three of these language specificities. 

Simply translating the keywords is not enough.

What about location?

The complexity of user and query locations and how this affects Search Intent

1. Users in different locations might have different expectations for the same query

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2. Cultural differences affect search

In a study, it was demonstrated by using the Arabic language as an example how search is affected by cultural differences, showing that: 

  • There can be different spellings of the same word, used across different locations that use the language 
  • There can be historical implications of the use of additional search languages (e.g. colonisation)
  • There can be present-day demographic differences that affect the popularity of English as a secondary language (e.g. presence of expats and internationals)
  • Key terms rarely translate 1:1 in different regions

3. Explicit location is not the same as the locale

The user locale is determined by a number of factors – the current location of the user, the language used. 

This can differ from the explicit location (or the location indicated in the search query, indicating an intent for travel. 

This can be particularly useful to consider for the travel and entertainment industries. 


4. A single keyword can have multiple different intents

Single keyword intent is difficult to determine but can be via collective search trends per location, paired with user location, interests. 

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5 Tips on How to Incorporate Search Intent into the Process of Keyword Research Internationalisation

1. Use Regex strategically. 

Translate only the filter keywords of the four main categories.

Enhance the filters with keyword alternatives, variations, localized expressions, and other keywords, based on your market research.

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2. Incorporate trends, search, and analytics data.

Use different data sources for keyword research.

  • Use Google Analytics to analyse user behaviour and site interactions from this location.

If you have access to Google Analytics data, use it to analyze user behavior from this location.

Important metrics to consider are things like bounce rate, average time per page, scroll depth, or otherwise – anything that indicates engagement.

Check the language used in different locations to ensure that your research captures all important languages.

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  • Use Google Search Console data to identify mismatches in intent

When pairing the above data with data from Google Search Console, you can determine if the local market has a different intent for the keywords or queries via which they’ve found your site. 

This can help you determine whether the presence of synonyms with different intent, homographs, or homonyms are impacting search in that particular region. 

  • Use Google Trends data to identify discrepancies in search behaviour in different regions

Try to understand search behavior in the country via Google Trends

Research variations in all local languages.


Last, but definitely not least…

3. Consult an SEO localisation expert.

If you know the language natively – great, you can skip this step if you have completed all of the above, but if you don’t consult with an SEO localization expert. 

They can help you highlight things you might have missed in your research

What should you consider if you are adapting Search Intent for different industries? 

What about if you are doing keyword research for different industries? Does search intent change? 

Well, the intent does not change, but the way it’s expressed (which is what you need for the classification) definitely does.

Search intent is expressed differently in different industries.

Let’s take transactional search intent as an example – here are some of the keywords that are used for this type of intent for three different industries: 

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Looking quite different, when put in context, right?

That’s why it’s important to adapt the filters you are using in Data Studio and in Google Sheets, based on the different industries you are operating in to ensure that you always deliver stellar research.

Here are the five steps I follow to do this. 

5 Considerations for Industry Adaptation of Search Intent Labels for keyword research

  1. Do people search for information differently?
  2. What are the key competitors in the industry?
  3. What words do people and companies use to illustrate closing a deal? How does a conversion look like?
  4. What characteristics are important for users? How are competitors evaluated?
  5. Is local search important?


In case you need a quick recap, here are the main summaries from this article:

? Everyone is using search intent now, and maybe so should you?

? There are three main types of intent, but many opportunities to niche down

? Understanding intent and incorporating it into the content creation processes can help you build a better UX, which will likely lead to more sales, too

? There are different ways to classify the intent of keywords, choose the one that suits your preference

? Search intent can be applied to international KWR and in different industries, but adapting and research is inevitable

Adapt, revise, and be thorough, if you want to nail intent on a budget at scale. 

Happy keyword researching!

~If you want to check out my full slides – they’re available below.