Personally, I love international search marketing and am very passionate about it. Don’t even bring it up around me unless you're prepared to listen to me chat about it for the next 20 hours straight.
When an English person asks a non-English person, “how are you?” ... that person usually starts to tell them about their whole day, their family life, and how their tire treads are low. I’m that guy when you ask me about international search.
What I forget, is that most people hate international search marketing because there are a ton of challenges around it, which takes a lot of time. (The reality is that they told their bosses they love it thinking they’d get a chance to travel)
Here is my list of the most common complaints about international search marketing.
1. Translations are Never Accurate
Translating is simply providing a close equivalent of one language to another. That seems fine, if you're trying to translate a book.
However, in search, translations are entirely different depending on the language. People use “search context” to query something. For example, I might be simply looking for a “réfrigérateur” in Google France, not realizing that the majority of the people search for “Frigidaire”.
There are entire articles written on the millions of reasons translators miss over half of the keywords that people search for (e.g., missing accents, misspellings, broken compounds, dialects). But what about those words that can’t be translated?
The word “peck”, for example, isn’t translatable in French. Their equivalent to the word is “Donner de coupe de la bec” (attack with the front of the beak). Or you can say the dude you work for in the office in Germany is a “Sitzpinkler”, which isn’t translatable in English and means “a man who pees sitting down.”
2. Finding a Specialist in Cambodia is Next to Impossible
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the reality is, it’s hard to find someone you can trust to do a good job if you’re going to outsource the work. Do you just translate the word “SEO specialists” into the language of your choice “Suchmaschinenoptimierung Spezialist” and cross your fingers?
You probably wouldn’t use your competitors, but if you outsourced, how do you know who else is outsourcing to them? Would they tell you if they are also providing service to you or your client’s competitor? What about paying them? How do you know if they are white hat or black hat?
Everyone uses Skype internationally. Skype feels like AOL instant messenger with the ability to talk through it. Talking through Skype internationally sounds like you’re talking into a vacuum cleaner. When your potential business partner can only speak broken English with an accent via Skype, it might be a little difficult trying to explain how you market stethoscopes online in his country.
3. Different Images and Colors for Different Countries
The color you have on your site can make or break you.
In Asia, orange is a positive spiritually enlightened color. In the U.S., orange is the color of road hazards, traffic delays, and fast food restaurants.
A clash of colors on your website can annihilate or damage the objectives you’re trying to reach on your landing pages, depending on your country target.
Besides redesigning for a culture, don’t forget your images. If you’re marketing to Japanese, then put a Japanese man in the picture not a Korean or Chinese guy. If you can’t tell the difference, then find an Asian friend take you to the mall and help you learn to point out who is who.
4. Currencies Scatter Your Prices
Currencies do matter. A currency signal on a page, will signal to Google that your page is local to the market. It makes a big difference in your landing pages.
However, you might be surprised how lame it looks to go from $99 (U.S.) to €73.65 (EU) to 4,187 Rubles (Russia) to your foreign audience if you’re just using dollar to foreign currency exchanges. Trying to set prices for each country poses a challenge because it looks like you're either going to give one country a break in price and charge a premium for another.
However, who cares? If you’re aiming at $99 then have your buddies in Germany get it for €69 and you Russian prospects 3,999. It does in fact make a big difference setting prices and making you at least appear a little more local and a little less greedy.
5. The Technical Side of Search
When it comes to domains, your best bet is to spend all your money acquiring the ones you can for the countries that are most important to you. Just keep in mind, not every country will let you get one without having a shop inside their country. You could work with a Trustee, but with that, you could also be opening yourself up to someone else who could run off with your business.
Hosting could be challenging because not everyone is going to have a high-speed connection to your server around the globe. In China, most people are still on dial-up, plus have a massive government firewall to further increase slowdown. You think Skype sucks, try being a Chinese searcher!
Webmaster tools, geo-location setup, canonicals and hreflang tags are imperative if you’re sticking with your .com and want to tell Google and the rest of the world that your .com/kr (Korean) version of your site is over here. As well as differentiating duplicate content, your .pt version of the site is here while your .br version is here and yes they both speak the same language but transfer those assets to the respective country pages.
There are probably 20 more reasons that people can come up with hating international search. However, regardless of these challenges, international search actually is quite fun.
Seeing how people react to your work from different countries, cultures, and languages is very rewarding and insightful – and if you get good at it, your boss might just let you travel after all.