Global Search Marketing Myths and Best Practices


Dave Lloyd

Many companies are missing out on huge success globally because their SEO practices don’t take local technical and cultural components into consideration.

I’ve been working on global search marketing initiatives for seven of my 12 years in the industry and havewritten and spoken previously on search marketing and localization. The term “global” is often misleading, as it applies to everyone but identifies no one. Well, that perspective comes from a global search marketing manager seeking excellence across disparate marketplaces, not from a unique customer looking for search-friendly and localized buying information. Many companies miss the opportunity to succeed globally because of SEO practices that fail to accommodate both technical and cultural components.

My perspective is shaped by an ever-deepening concept of our customers. I’ve grown to understand that they connect through their own languages, through their own cultural icons, within their own buying process. When we talk about meeting our customers on their terms, our global (or should I say, “international,” “multilingual,” or “multinational”) perspective has to be forged from market segmentation that accommodates language, culture, buying tendency, and other independent variables.

Identifying our customers is the easy part. The tools we’ve built enable granular targeting. But we need to be thinking more locally when we create international SEM campaigns and optimize Web properties.

Research has shown that more than 85 percent of international consumers prefer native-language Web pages when researching pre-purchase. In fact, Japan, France, and Turkey strongly prefer local content. We’ve got to do a better job at directing engines and users alike to pages that will convert locally.

I see five common SEO myths that need improvement.

Believing That Localization Means Translation

Concepts and phrases don’t always translate exactly, therefore we must use local custom and culture to contextualize and localize effectively to appeal to resident browsers and be relevant to international spiders. For example, every culture has an emotional connection with their popular culture figures, whether it’s animals, sports, cartoons, fashion, celebrities, or other media icons. Localization practices could address these cultural preferences, as appropriate, by referring to these touchstones in marketing copy or imagery.

Optimizing Only for the Major U.S. Engines

Don’t be satisfied with optimizing for only a few search engines. While Google remains the dominant engine worldwide, with more than 65 percent of total searches, alternate spiders make up just less than half (45 percent) of “global” searches.

“For December 2012, the search landscape was like this:

  • Google: 114.7 billion searches, 65.2 percent share
  • Baidu: 14.5 billion searches, 8.2 percent share
  • Yahoo: 8.6 billion searches, 4.9 percent share
  • Yandex: 4.8 billion searches, 2.8 percent share
  • Microsoft: 4.5 billion searches, 2.5 percent share
  • Others: 28.7 billion searches, 16.3 percent share”

You see the last line in that list? Global SEO practitioners are missing out on almost 29 billion searcheswhen they ignore boutique, local search engines. Collectively, they are losing opportunities on more than 61 billion monthly searches conducted using Google international competitors. What does this mean really? Optimize for best practices, strong user experience, and long-term success, not a single search engine.

Lacking Contextualization for International Engine Algorithm and Interpretation

Structured authoring has become more relevant across most international engines. Though many spiders mimic Google’s algorithm, they each have unique interpretations when serving query results.

Keyword planning should extend across international engines. Many spiders have their own keyword research tools (e.g. Bing’s Keyword Research Tool, Yandex’s Keyword Statistics, or Sogou’s Hot Search List). These tools help to target engine-specific keyword usage.

Due to the multinational variances in terms used when consumers query, you’re going to have more success when you mark up page data with contextualized keywords specific to geography. For instance, schema markup should accommodate both English and native languages for many developed regions.

Incorrect Page Serving

You want engines all over the globe to serve relevant Web pages, right? We’ve got to make sure we are localizing our metadata annotations correctly.

From a technical standpoint, the href lang annotation has to point to the most relevant page version. Also, language values have to meet up with ISO 639-1 or ISO 3166-Alpha 2 standards. Google recently launched a beta to help webmasters and SEO marketers implement href-lang annotations.

I agree with Google’s suggestion regarding language targeting strategy:

“If you wish to target more than one language or location, it’s important to organize your campaigns and ad groups in a way that supports this strategy. Consider organizing and naming your campaigns by country (such as ‘Spain’) and your ad groups within each campaign by product lines (such as ‘coffee products’ and ‘tea products’). Then, tailor your keywords and ads to the intended audience.”

The other major issue I see brands struggle with is that we’re failing to update site structure and page translations to accommodate new search phrases and TLD changes. For example, the new generic TLDs open an opportunity to secure localized domain extensions. We must be vigilant in our optimization as updates to the search environment roll out.

Most organized territories have a unique top-level domain (TLD) country code, so we’ve got to point to the right ones! For instance, if you’re targeting Antarctica (and why wouldn’t you?), the TLD country code is .aq, not .an, which is the CC for the Netherland Antilles. My point is: From URL structure to page annotation, we’ve got to do a better job at directing browsers to localized pages.

Failing to Localize All Content

Localization should extend to PPC, apps, social media, content feeds, etc. to provide synchronization across all digital assets. Effective multinational search marketing practices don’t stop with organic and paid search. We’ve got to pay attention to all our digital assets. There could be missed opportunities if we aren’t optimizing every asset we deploy.

Best Practices

Here are some specific search and localization practices to consider including in your strategy:

1. Have a Clear Localization Commitment for New Products

It’s important to differentiate between concepts of “country” and “language.” So it’s best not to use flags to represent languages. Also don’t limit support to the official language(s) of a country/region. Some languages may need to be supported even though they don’t have official status. Finally, since languages don’t have borders and need to be supported globally, it’s key to capture users’ preferred language(s) so you can serve them in their language independently of their location.

2. Tight Alignment Between Localization Stakeholders

Once a localization strategy is in place, there must be a commitment to localization vendor search marketing training. By doing vendor and reviewer training in region, you invest in their success. There also needs to be in place a strong partnership between global search, localization, and international Web production teams. With this in place, respect for deadlines between all three increases efficiency. Specifically, SEO is not considered an afterthought or simple checklist item, but integrated into the loc process early on. Consistent information sharing between teams naturally leads to a shared commitment to results.

3. Adhere to an SEO Localization Workflow Process

Having a defined and agreed upon process keeps all stakeholders informed, communications clear, and deadlines adhered to. Below is a step-by-step summary of our localization workflow process:

  1. Future launch event initiated by a business unit or product introduces a need for new content to support future products
  2. North America and in-country keyword research begins
  3. Localization process started with International program managers and country-specific localization vendor reps
  4. Final review and agreement on keywords based on local nuance, intent, and in-country demand initiated
  5. Content localized using keywords (mapped to content, videos, images, and other assets) and integrated with overall SEO best practices
  6. Localized content goes live and quality assurance (QA) completed to ensure accuracy

4. Establish a Clear Localization Review Process Between Stakeholders

The review steps mentioned above are a necessary step in localizing marketing copy. Without it, very easy for errors to show up. Our marketing localization team works in partnership with our vendors, geo leaders, reviewers, our search team, and the international Web team to review, QA, and implement SEO practices on our websites. We start with independent in-country linguistic reviewers for targeted regions – they’re consistently trained on SEO and content marketing best practices. Based on our process above, we involve these reviewers early in the North America campaign process, in which search is one deliverable. Once they’ve approved search terms and overall localization, marketing managers in regional geographic areas sign off on content. This process is driven by a process and commitment by all stakeholders to review what goes live on the website.

Global search marketing, and especially SEO, requires a collaborative effort across keyword, competitive, cultural, and local initiatives. It involves creativity, communication, clear process, and a commitment by all stakeholders. An effective global strategy ensures that your organization maintains brand consistency worldwide and extends SEO success while accommodating local nuances.