Going global: Common sense considerations too commonly ignored

If you only advertise in the United States, you’re missing out on billions of potential customers. But before you enter the international PPC market, consider this advice from columnist Brendan McGonigle.

The profession of a paid advertising specialist is one of circular efforts; any declaration of success is met with a request for greater efficiency, expanded reach or fine-tuned creative.

Around and around we go.

When tasked with the “expansion” objective, instincts and common practice most often lead to a keyword review. We sift through synonyms, misspellings, secondary definitions and search query reports in an effort of laborious discovery. Keywords are the foundation of our paid advertising, and keyword review is always healthy practice, but too many hours are exhausted hunting keywords with minimal yield at the expense of the lowest-hanging expansion fruit of them all: actual expansion.

The global internet audience is almost 3.7 billion, less than 10 percent of which calls the US home. So if you’ve achieved profitable efficiency in your primary market, it may be time to open your doors to some of the remaining 90+ percent.

Assess the market potential and viability

While there are over 200 countries to consider, all markets certainly aren’t created equal. InternetWorldStats’ recent data ranks the top 10 markets by size as follows:

Country Population Internet Population Internet Penetration
China 1,388,232,693 731,434,547 52.7%
India 1,342,512,706 462,124,989 34.4%
United States 326,474,013 286,942,362 87.9%
Brazil 211,243,220 139,111,185 65.9%
Indonesia 263,510,146 132,700,000 50.4%
Japan 126,045,211 118,453,595 94.0%
Russia 143,375,006 104,553,691 72.9%
Nigeria 191,835,936 93,591,174 48.8%
Germany 80,636,124 71,727,551 89.0%
Mexico 130,222,815 69,915,219 53.7%

Of course, just because a market has a high number of users doesn’t mean it’s a good match for your expansion efforts. The most basic of qualifying questions to ask is: Does in-market demand exist? And if not, can it be created? In addition to common sense, there’s no shortage of tools that can be used to identify current demand and interests by segmenting search behavior by country.

Localize (or localise) the offering

Far too often, companies attempt to enter foreign markets with the same product/website that has proven to be successful in the US. In the US market, we spend hours meticulously considering the differences in mobile behavior vs. desktop, men vs. women, West Coast vs. East Coast — but when it comes to a foreign market, we often move with reckless haste. It makes zero sense.

Of course, your site needs to be served in the language of the new market, but the user experience must also satisfy audience expectations. Three examples of too-common international expansion blunders that are easily amendable:

  • Calendars. In European markets, a calendar should be presented with Monday as the first day of the week, and the format for writing dates is Day/Month/Year.

  • Currency. Prices should always be displayed in the value and currency local to the market.

  • Payment processing. Be sure to include the locally preferred method of payment and the applicable fields in your checkout.

Local digital landscape

Once the expansion market(s) has been identified, the local digital landscape must be reviewed. Sure, Google, Facebook and Twitter are global channels that more often than not have majority market share, even in international markets; but, in several of the world’s largest internet markets, local alternatives hold majority share of the key advertising platforms.

According to StatCounter, the Chinese search scene is dominated by local providers Baidu, Shenma and Haosou (formerly Qihoo 360), with Baidu owning just over 76 percent of the market.

In Russia, the local options, Yandex and Vkontake, have long been the market leaders in search and social, respectively.

And for the Japanese, Yahoo Japan has long been a significant presence.

China, Russia and Japan represent three of the seven largest internet audiences in the world; advertisers that elect to ignore local market dynamics will fail to maximize potential, rendering the expansion effort haphazard.

Speak the language

The most basic principle of advertising is that the consumer must be able to comprehend the message. As fundamental as it may sound, if you’re moving into a new international market, you must be prepared to speak the language of your new target audience — and machine translations will not suffice.

The advertiser that relies on machine translations to localize ads not only risks confusing the consumer, but also damaging the very brand he or she is tasked with promoting. In an era when both search engines and users prioritize trust, there is nothing that hurts the credibility of an ad quicker than the grammatical nonsense often achieved via machine translations.

Accurately translating successful English language campaigns into a new native language campaign isn’t thorough enough. Words can carry different meanings and connotations in a new market, and common inflection and acceptable tone must be appreciated.

In the US, we love to tell consumers to “Act fast!,” “Buy now!” and “Click Here!,” but many global markets will find such an approach to be offensive and off-putting.

Take the time to either work with a native speaker or research in-market options. In Russia, Yandex will actually translate ads and conduct keyword research at no cost; many of the international markets recognize the barriers of entry and offer expedition services.

In-market targeting

When entering a new international market, all vetted targeting practices need to be reconsidered. User demographics vary by market, so gender, age and device splits should all be examined. For example, it’s been several years since Google announced that searches from mobile had surpassed desktop “in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” And while it’s certainly safe to consider the move to mobile a macro trend, markets mature at different rates and with unique permutations. According to StatCounter, Nigeria is overwhelmingly mobile, while Russia sees the inverse.

Additional areas of targeting crucial to international success are geo and time targeting. An objective of all advertisers is to deliver ads when and where the consumer is most likely to convert. Consider that the work week in Israel is Sunday through Thursday; in Spain, the midday siesta impacts search activity; Russia has 11 time zones; in Singapore, 100 percent of the population lives in urban areas. These are all examples of market characteristics that should factor into the construction of international ad campaigns.

If you’re just advertising in the United States, there are literally billions of potential customers you’re missing out on. Many of the above are obvious — but often overlooked — considerations, and attention to the obvious will greatly improve your chances of being successful on the international stage.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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