International search offers opportunities

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Ian Harris is CEO of Search Laboratory ( in Leeds, England. BtoB recently asked him about best practices in international search marketing. BtoB: What trends are you seeing in international, multilingual search? Harris: The search engines are pushing pretty heavily here, offering new translation tools. Of course, what they're trying to do is to get marketers to spend more money overseas, since English pay-per-click advertising has reached cost-per-click ceilings in many markets. When building international search campaigns, there's the need to create keywords and write appropriate ads in foreign languages, and it's essential that these tasks be done by a mother-tongue linguist. Remember, generating keywords is about finding every single way there is to say something. Consider the old saying about how Eskimos have 50 words for snow. Well, you and I might know a few of them but not all of them. In international search, you need to know all of them. BtoB: What mistakes do you see in international search campaigns? Harris: The biggest problem is when campaigns are just translated, either by a translation company or, worse yet, by machine. That is a surefire way of wasting money and missing opportunities. Take a sample English keyword term [like] “car hire” or perhaps “auto rental.” You may have six different ways to express that concept in English. But in German, for example, they might have two ways of saying “car” and eight ways of saying “hire”; and in other cases they can say the whole concept in one word. Here the problem looms of missing certain keywords, as well as inadvertently repeating keywords. The problem is just as critical in writing the ads themselves. For example, the German words mietautos and autos mietun both mean “rental cars,” but if one is used as a keyword and the other is in the ad itself, you can see the dilution of ideas. By the same token, you never say in an ad aimed at the French, “Did you know?” Our French linguists tell us that's considered an insult. You'll want to say something like, “Here are the facts.” BtoB: Is the challenge as great between American and British English? Harris: You can do it without specialists, but you do have to do keyword research in each “language.” For example, in the U.S. you say “shipping” while we say “postage and packing.” If British people see the term “shipping” in a Google ad, we automatically filter it out because we know it's a U.S. ad. And then there's spelling. We've run campaigns for Novell, and one of their keywords is “virtualization.” But that can also be spelled with an “s,” as in the British spelling “virtualisation.” We just spell it both ways in our U.S. and U.K. campaigns, because it doesn't cost you anything to run an extra keyword. BtoB: How about managing the international campaign itself? Harris: That has to be handled by a mother-tongue linguist as well. You want to clean out those keywords that bring in the wrong traffic or, alternately, separate those words out to see if they're worth having. On the other hand, I would say you don't need a linguistic person to manage bid prices or to analyze statistics. In fact, it's better done by someone who doesn't understand the keywords. If, for example, some favorite keywords bring a lot of search volume but poor conversion, you don't want to be emotionally attached to them. BtoB: What about landing pages in an international search campaign? Harris: Landing pages have to be properly localized. Here's an example. A landing page that worked well for both American and English viewers showed a picture of people celebrating in the office by “punching” the air. But if you translated that into French, you'd have to change the image, because French people don't respond well to a business image like that. They see it as American. All our French respondents came back with the same comment. Then there's the landing page design itself. If you look at Japanese landing pages that work well, they bear no resemblance to the English version. The Japanese like busy landing pages, moving images and lots of text, all of which they feel provides credibility to the site. By contrast, we like clean landing pages. The Japanese concept of credibility is very different from our concept of credibility. All these issues may seem slight. But if you let little mistakes happen in your search campaign, you might well ask yourself if your intended customers would feel comfortable buying from you. M
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