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Can You Translate a Successful Search Campaign?

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Making a search campaign that's been successful in English work in Spanish can be more difficult than simply translating the same words.

Matt Williams, managing partner of search marketing firm Prominent Placement, shares his company's search optimization experience with the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies Latino conference, June 18-19, 2007, in Miami, Florida

The Atlanta-based Prominent Placement first became exposed to the Latino market back in 2003, back when Search Engine Strategies held just a single session on the Latino market, titled "SES en EspaÑol;" and again at the first SES Latino conference held last year, as an attendee.

Prominent Placement's first Latino market experience took place in 2006, when one of its clients wished to expand their international marketing efforts. The client already had 30 percent of their revenues coming from outside of the U.S., and realized that Latin America was a growth market that deserved expanding upon.

Prominent Placement's assignment: take the client, in the business of selling new and used IT products and services, and help them expand into the Hispanic and Latin American search markets by having their English-language optimization site and campaigns "translated" to Spanish and Portuguese. However, they faced considerable challenges, as with most US-based SEM firms:

  • Prominent Placement had no previous experience with developing non-English programs, or with Latino-based markets
  • They found very little information on the Latin American search market published in English.
  • Then-existing search research and keyword research tools were sub-standard at language translation and segmenting by population.
  • They had limited access to fluent Spanish/Portuguese linguists and copywriters, and...
  • There are additional costs and complexity with international, multi-linguistic, or multi-cultural campaigns.

After an initial period of extensive testing of early adopters in the Latino search market, Prominent Placement was eventually successful in showing more than a 500-percent traffic increase in Spanish and Portuguese-language visitors for their client, with millions of dollars of potential new sales revenue.

We caught up with Matt after his presentation at SES Latino 2007, where he shared more of his experiences on what he calls the "tremendous opportunity" of the Latino search market, and its complexities.

SEW: In your opinion, does it make sense for a company that is targeting just the U.S. Hispanic market to optimize for Spanish language keywords?

Many of our clients already sell overseas, so developing foreign language content for most of them makes business sense. The biggest challenge so far has been getting the clients to grasp that in order to secure non-U.S./non-English language visitors, they will need to produce content in the language of those they're seeking to attract. I think a lot of this has to do with an American-centric perspective and our culture's inclination to not be concerned with HAVING to know another language in order to do business and be successful.

We just recently took a family vacation to England and Holland, and I was just really impressed with so many folks knowing more than one language – AND being fairly fluent with them. So, I think a lot of U.S. marketers are somewhat short-sighted about their non-English marketing efforts, not so much so from ignorance, but just for the fact that they aren't forced to consider this aspect.

I don't think a lot of marketers "get" that someone will most likely search in their native language first, and then in English – but ONLY IF they don't find relevant content in their native language. I think most figure they know they'll find something in English, but would prefer to find something produced by someone similar to themselves that they might feel more of a connection with – "someone that speaks their language," so to speak.

Yes, I think it makes total sense to optimize Spanish-language content for U.S. Hispanics. As so many of the other presenters [at SES Latino” showed, the market is large and growing. And although I've seen numerous reports indicating that by the third generation of being in the U.S. that full assimilation, specifically in regard to language and regardless of country origin will have taken place, the sheer volume of first- and second-generation individuals that still communicate (and search) in Spanish is huge.

To me, it's the classic "leaving money on the table." A market is there, and if you can make the numbers work to produce an acceptable ROI for what you are marketing, why wouldn't you? And if it's a competitive market, someone, somewhere will – why not you?

SEW: What tools do you recommend for doing Spanish language research?

Our initial term research was based on the Google and Yahoo PPC tools. I can't totally recall, but I'm pretty sure we couldn't get much out of Wordtracker, but I may be wrong. Part of our challenge is what our client sells – used mainframes and high-end servers, so the volume is relatively low compared to a lot of other spaces. When we started, Keyword Discovery didn't offer a solution for us, but it appears they now do. Since we haven't done more for our client, I can't really comment on the how good/effective Keyword Discovery is with Spanish and/or Portuguese.

Yet, I can say the Google and Yahoo tools were adequate, they were somewhat limited due to volume issues, or lack thereof. We pretty much had to base our strategy on what we had seen be successful in English. We also did some analysis between qualifiers – used vs. second-hand. Although it appears using "segunda mano" (second-hand) is more prevalent in speaking, "usados" (used) is more prevalent in search. We based that on using several tests for used products — cars, motorcycles, cameras, etc., etc. In each case, it was usually a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of preferring "usados" over "segunda mano" when searching. We did have the advantage of having terms that weren't language dependent – brand names (IBM, Sun, Cisco) and model numbers (RS6000, AS 400, etc.), so that worked in our favor.

SEW: Do you know of, or recommend, any special submission activities of a Web site's Spanish language content into the major search engines? (E.g., the Spanish equivalent of Google's Site Map tool, if one is available.)

We didn't do anything special. We launched the pages on May 5 (just a coincidence of being Cinco de Mayo) and approximately one week later were seeing first-page SERPs. I attribute this more to the fact that there was no relevant, optimized content available in Spanish or Portuguese and we were able to jump to the front of the line. In short, just filling a "content vacuum."

On a sidenote, our client's Latin American competitors weren't achieving organic results (none had optimized anything on their sites) and were having to buy visibility through PPC. However, as the market grows more savvy, I would suspect that the strategies and tactics that are currently required to be competitive in the U.S. search space will start having to be employed more often and with greater precision in the currently less-competitive foreign language search spaces.

SEW: Do you find that the most popular Spanish language search results (for a particular keyword search) differ considerably from the original search query's English language version?

For us, yes. In most cases we were able to dominate the first-page SERPs with our client's optimized pages, our AmbosMedios (PRWeb) optimized press releases (both from the AmbosMedios site as well as other sites that had picked-up the RSS distributions) whereby we were taking anywhere from 60 percent to 100 percent of the first-page real estate with listing for our client depending on term and Latin American engine. In the U.S., the best we've been able to consistently do is 40 percent (usually two listings from the client's site and two from PRWeb and/or a really good directory listing or article posting).

As you can imagine, the ability to do so depends on the term's competitiveness. But as mentioned above, the Spanish and Portuguese search space is so relatively "virgin," that I'm confident many content areas are ripe for the picking and will remain so for the near future. Moreover, the ability to dominate within particular industries or content areas will also remain relatively easy.

SEW: What are the special challenges you find with measuring and reporting on media and marketing metrics for a Spanish-language site or campaigns, with a Spanish-language audience?

Measurement – no difficulties, per se – numbers are numbers, terms are terms, ad campaigns are ad campaigns, term ROI is term ROI. The only real difference for us is the added number of terms – we just now have more stuff to track and try to make smart decisions about. In a few cases, we'll have to take some time when we see a new phrase or term show in the log files. Since none of us speak Spanish or Portuguese, we have to break out the dictionary to see if it's something related to our campaign and if we need to incorporate it.

As an example, we started getting a lot of traffic from people using "mio." Well, it turned out to be some kind of PDA offering GPS that was a hot seller in Europe. It had the same product number (I can't remember which) that one of our IBM servers had. Once we determined that "mio" wasn't related to our campaign, we did a negative match in the ad campaign and we subsequently saw a drop in visitor reaching the client's site that had used "mio" in the their search query.

Grant Crowell is the Senior Project Director for Grantastic Designs, and a contributor to the Search Engine Watch Blog, focusing on video search topics. Grant also serves as a video production and optimization consultant, and produces documentary video content for Walking Eagle Productions.

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