Global SEM: You Say To-may-to and I Say Tom-mah-to

GreigHolbrook260From the growth of Amazon and Alibaba, it is clear that many brands seek to sell well beyond their native boarders and traditional markets. One of the primary starting points for new purchases is search but assuming search is the same across the globe is a mistake that can cost retailers and brands a significant amount – in orders they will never get.  Before you start any keyword research ensure you understand the search intent landscape of your target market and how its local cultural differences can impact consumer behavior.

There are countless automated  tools dedicated to the daunting task of keyword research even for multilingual keyword research.  But, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that tools will do the job of brains. But they won’t because tools are only as good as their handlers.

So often is the case a client will already have an English-language keyword list that they use and generate through translators into a target market’s “language.” These translations are then put through various tools until the client finally believes there’s a multilingual campaign; but the task is not so straight forward.

Global keyword research will only truly be global if you identify and expose the various cultural idiosyncrasies related to a given market.  Different countries have different audiences, with unique dialects, languages, cultures and belief systems. Above all, global keyword research should reveal the online search habits of a market – the same cannot be said of directly translated keywords.

When you dive into multilingual and international online campaigns, always analyze the targeted country from a holistic perspective. Take into account both language and cultural nuances (which are also partial to its historical background). The simplicity of a translated keyword list is enticing – we know – but it only skims the surface, if that.

Take Switzerland, for instance. It has four official languages and apart from the native Romansh language none were “born” in Switzerland (German, French and Italian). In the case of Indonesia, it has approximately 700 languages spoken at any one time. The exact same item can be called something different just miles apart.  For example, while in most of France a sweet roll in chocolate is referred to as ‘pain au chocolat’, but in the southwest they  call it ‘chocolatine.’  If your keyword is wrong in the wrong market your results will be unsatisfying.

Let’s look at another example; how about the terms “tragamonedas online” and ”tragaperras online.” Spanish for “slot machines” and the ambiguous ways Spanish-speaking countries interchange these terms.  “Tragaperras online” is an inherently European Spanish term, with 320 average monthly searches in Spain, compared to 90 for “tragamonedas online”.

The other variation “tragamonedas online” comes out as the leading Latin American term, with a much higher search volume throughout the region; 2,900 average monthly searches in Argentina against 170 searches for “tragaperras online”.

Translating implies a one-size-fits-all approach. It clouds vision by trying to average out cultural nuances that are detrimental to the success of any campaign.

We firmly believe only native speakers who are still immersed in their own native cultures can really, truly dig out those exquisite jewels of keyword research and search intent. Keyword research should always strive to show us behavior; and behavior is a perpetual stage of change – something a list of translated keywords will never be able to do.

Greig Holbrook is the Founder and Managing Director of Oban Digital, a leading UK-based global digital marketing agency specializing in leveraging the local cultural nuances of digital audiences and ad platforms.  The privately-held company, based in Brighton, is already active in 30 countries around the world, and will expand to the United States in 2015.