Companies using search marketing to reach an international audience learn quickly that the effort requires more than a direct translation of keywords.
"It's definitely more of a challenge in many ways," said Bill Hunt, global CEO for search agency Global Strategies, which was recently acquired by Neo@Ogilvy. "There are language issues and cultural issues. Geography and process—the way you actually approach things—are different," he said. "It's like starting from scratch."
Still, marketers are tackling that challenge to take advantage of the immense opportunities in markets beyond U.S. borders. Hunt, along with a cadre of other search experts, provided the following tips to help you take your own search campaign global.
Consider your prospect. People search differently outside North America, Hunt said. "There was a recent DoubleClick study that said someone in the States buying a digital camera will do 12 queries. If we overlay into the Chinese market, they would not do 12 queries. The language isn't structured like that, so that type of buy cycle isn't applicable," he said.
This is why search engines in places such as China, Korea and Thailand look different, with common keywords and phrases present on the home page. "You really have to look into buying links off the home page," Hunt said. "There's not as much querying, so paid categories and sponsored links are popular."
People also have different cultural needs, likes and dislikes, which is why, Hunt said, boastful ad copy—calling your product or company the best, smartest or most innovative—will fail miserably in places such as Germany and Japan. To determine the best way to market to a local population, make sure you have a contact on the ground in that country, whether it's an agency, consultant or local office, he said.
Search engines can be another good resource, said James Beriker, president of Efficient Frontier, a search marketing agency. "The wonderful thing about these markets is that they are smaller and therefore the search engines are much more willing to and able to help because they have a vested interest in getting the market to believe in the channel. They can help you figure out how to improve your search quality scores or help you do keyword generation," he said.
Know that a rose is not always a rose. One of the biggest mistakes North American companies can make is with translation. Too often, said Mike Sprouse, CMO of AzoogleAds, marketers think they can take English copy and simply translate it for other markets. This isn't the case.
A translated word could be linguistically correct, but might not be the word—or expression—that your prospects will be searching for.
"You'll want to make sure you're getting double translated. You should have someone who translates your copy and someone else who goes in and checks that it makes sense and is the best option for what you're trying to do," Sprouse said.
You should also check out your competitors' sites and the keywords they are bidding on so you don't miss any keywords or phrases that aren't obvious. Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land, a Web site with news and information about SEM, suggested starting each new country or regional campaign from scratch, forgoing direct translations completely.
Check your space. You know you have only a limited amount of space in a paid ad. This becomes more of an issue when you're dealing with character-based languages that may consume two letter spaces for a single character, said Mark Fiske, marketing manager at Bazaar Advertising, a division of AzoogleAds. "A word might not have a one-word direct translation, so a 15 character U.S. ad might end up being 50 characters in Hungarian," he said.
Present an international face. Some American companies might assume that people in other countries speak English and therefore will click through on English ads. This isn't always the case. Having an English landing page sitting underneath a foreign language ad is also a mistake. While a translated ad might get people to click through to your landing page, you can lose them once they get there if your site is too U.S.-centric, Sullivan said.
Little things like tweaking your form so it has an international awareness—for example, by providing more than five spaces in a postal code field—and making sure your landing page has the suffix of the particular country you're targeting are smart moves, Sullivan said.
"Especially in b2b, one of the most annoying things is when forms require information that makes no sense to someone in another country—like asking for phone numbers with 10 characters. Just changing these things can help someone think, `This is a company that doesn't see the entire world is the U.S.," he said.
Also, be prepared to sell your product and service in the currency of your audience.
Don't forget the technology. Your ad and landing page can be relevant and engaging, but if your page loads slowly or you have performance problems you're going to lose your visitors. Use Web analytics to see where your customers are coming from and then consider hosting a Web server closer to that region, said Jeff Curie, VP-marketing at search engine SupplyFrame.
Also, although Google and to some extent Yahoo dominate in world markets, there are other options that should be considered. Curie said his company is looking into search companies Baidu in China and Naber in Korea.
"We need to find a search engine marketing expert who can guide us through Baidu. We're still looking, though," he said.