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12 Myths of International Search Marketing

12 Myths of International SearchAs we’re approaching Christmas and the traditional songs, ideas and rhymes are all around, I couldn’t help but be influenced by them. So instead of the 12 Days of Christmas, we have the 12 myths of international search; 12 things which are often assumed but have the potential to really damage your international online marketing efforts.

“One language, one website”

This is not a new one, but worth a reminder! Thinking that a single Spanish website can service Spanish speakers across the Europe and Latin America, or that one French version will suffice for France, Canada, Belgium etc… is a no-no. Each country uses different dialects and variants of the languages and of course culture and context will differ hugely between countries and continents. By failing to give each audience targeted, relevant content, they are less likely to engage with or trust your brand, preferring instead those brands who address their needs and they can relate to.

“Only Google and Facebook really matter”

Sure Google is the global search giant, and no other social network can compete with the scale of Facebook but that doesn’t mean that you should focus all your attention there. There are the usual suspects of Baidu, Yandex, Bing, Naver to consider as well as a multitude of social platforms – networks, blogs, image sites, video platforms – which have a significant following in different markets – and which could significantly increase the reach and success of your campaigns.

“Keywords can be translated”

This one is older than me (well almost) but it’s surprising how many people still ask if we can translate their keywords. Technically of course, they can be, and you’ll get a grammatically and linguistically correct equivalent – it just might not be the word or phrase that your target audience will actually use to search online for your product or service. Or it might be used, but just nowhere near as much as a similar term. Native keyword research for each market is the only way to ensure you’re not missing opportunities or wasting valuable time and money.

“Every market should be managed separately”

This may sound like a contradiction to some of my other points, but there is the risk that while trying to ensure you localise and tailor your approach for every market, you miss opportunities for overlap between markets. While you do need to ensure local nuances are taken into account, there will be some commonalities between countries that use the same language, for example, so it is worth identifying any areas of overlap early on to avoid duplicating work.

Equally, there is the risk that you fail to maximize your overall marketing budget if you allocate specific budgets to each market – and stick to them no matter what. This particularly applies to PPC – you might be spending highly in one market, yet seeing few conversions, however another market might be limited on spend but be generating a lot of spend. This could vary based on seasonality, particular products that have more resonance, price points – numerous factors could be at play. Being dynamic and flexible could help you improve your ROI and get more from your campaigns.

Hands Holding Globe

“HREFLANG should be deployed on all international websites”

Since the introduction of the hreflang markup, which basically is used to tell search engines which country and language a particular page is targeting, webmasters have rushed to add it to their multilingual websites – even when it’s not needed and their websites are already ranking correctly in each market. Remember that hreflang is intended as a solution to a problem, rather than being a must-have for any international website. Kate Morris wrote a handy guide on when to use hreflang.

“Your reputation will precede you”

Believing that because you are well-established and well-known at home, you simply need to launch a website in a new market and customers will just flock to you, is a big mistake. That might be true for some large brands, but most business will need to earn the attention and trust of a new audience. Chances are there will be competition, who have already built up a relationship and loyalty from your target customers, and you’ll need to convince them that you are a viable alternative. If there is no or little competition, it could mean your product or service is new to the market, and therefore some nurturing and persuading will be required to encourage people to try you. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again – but with time and effort, not purely past successes.

“Internet maturity is the same everywhere”

If you’re reading this, chances are the internet is a huge part of your daily life and you wouldn’t think twice about using it for a wide range of purposes and functions. But that isn’t the case everywhere – and it’s not always just the countries you’d expect. In Italy, for example, only 25% of internet users made an online purchase in the past year – not a huge number, and a sign that expecting to take a raft of ecommerce sales in that market may lead to disappointment. That’s not to say the internet doesn’t play a role in purchasing decisions – so it’s essential that you take the time to understand the trends and behaviours in each market and adapt you approach accordingly.

“Everyone speaks English”

Again, not something new but still so important. Yes, English is widely spoken, yes many people, especially the younger generations, will be able to read and understand it. No, they do not want to search in it, learn in it and buy it in. Even those with an excellent command of English, will naturally search in their own language and if you’re only giving them English content, chances are they’ll look elsewhere for somebody speaking their language.

“Going international has to be expensive”

Of course, to enter new markets, and do it well, there will be investment needed – in both time and money – but the level of investment, at least initially, doesn’t have to break the bank. By picking just one or two target markets, and starting small – only marketing a select range of products, translating just a few key website pages, focusing on a few important keywords – you can test the waters and begin to build a presence, which can be scaled up and increased once you have a better understanding of the market, and whether it’s a viable target.

“Stereotypes are generally funny to the people they’re about”

This is probably sometimes true. Some stereotypes are pretty accurate, and some people find it quite easy to laugh at themselves. Others don’t. To be on the safe side, steer clear of using stereotypes in your content, ad copy etc.. as it is more likely to show cultural ignorance than awareness and might have a negative impact on your brand.

“I know SEO and PPC – so I can do international”

The basic principles of search are the same whether you’re working on one country or one hundred and much of the technical implementation will be standard across markets. But teaming that technical knowledge with Google translate to scale global campaigns, does not a successful strategy make. The cultural and linguistic elements are equally important – so enlisting the help of native specialists is really a must if you want to do it properly.

“It’s not worth it”

If you’re having success in  your home market, you might think its not really worth the investment and effort to move into new markets. But whatever growth you’re seeing in one market, think about the potential growth if you’re operating in many. Each business is different and there will be some cases where it’s not logical, or even possible, to make a real international move – but it’s definitely worth investigating the options and not dismissing it before you’ve really considered what it can do!

Happy Christmas!



Gemma Birch has been working in international search since 2007 and leads WebCertain’s marketing team. She is responsible for managing WebCertain’s online marketing activities around the world as well as organising and programming the International Search Summit.
  • Martin Pezet

    Lots of good advice here, but I don’t agree with your part on hreflang. I think it should always be added (obviously you need to be careful it’s done correctly). It’s just a guide for Google now, but we don’t know if it will be come more important in future. Also, just because your content ranks in the correct country/language specific markets now, do you trust Google to always be ok working this out? In the real world when you develop a site it is often much easier to get these sort of tags put on in one go at the start, it’s all too easy for an agency to back-track and say “oh yeah, well you need them now” when actually the in-house developers may be tied up with different projects and unable to facilitate this on the whim of an agency recommendation.

    • Gemma Birch

      Thanks for your comment Martin, but i’ll still maintain that hreflang is intended as a solution to a problem, rather than a staple part of all websites. I understand the point about implementing as much as possible when a site is being developed, but it is still creating extra work and potential other problems if hreflang is deployed when it will serve no valuable function. My colleague Arkadiusz (who is much more of a technical specialist than me) wrote a post recently, explaining this point of view in more detail – http://blog.webcertain.com/is-rel-alternate-hreflang-x-a-geo-targeting-factor/20/11/2014/