Website Localisation for Paid Search

by oskarokupa on March 12, 2009

We already talked about website localisation in this blog and it is a topic that I would like to revisit since it is a not very talked about issue in the SEO arena, and it is a huge sticking point for most sites I get to analyse in my daily routine, which seem not to be able to get it right.

Localisation is not translation, involves taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target market. The fact that some SEOs settle for direct translations when they have to target local markets never ceases to amaze me.  These are the same experts that advocate to use the language of the customer for the English copy, and strongly encourage to make keyword research the cornerstone of the optimisation campaign, and are very sophisticated about it. I even heard from some SEO gurus that using the Google Translate feature will help you target local markets. What the h***? It is a very Anglo-Saxon, narrow minded way of thinking.


It is understandable why these SEO experts try to downplay the complexity of applying SEO across different markets without losing sight of the corporative message. They don’t have the knowledge, and proper localisation can be quite expensive. However, if done right, you can get much quicker results than for US/UK sites and much better conversion, since the competition is less fierce. In addition, sometimes there is no need to go for a site wide localisation if you are not sure about how a specific market will welcome your product. Multilingual Paid Search is the answer. PPC can be a great way to identify opportunities in different markets and you can test the effectiveness of localised keywords before rushing into a complete website localisation.

Your options could be:

  • Localise and adapt existing PPC campaigns. The English terms would be seeds to use as a reference to find out the specific local keywords utilised in the specific market you want to target
  • Localise one of a few key pages and use them as landing pages. You will be able to determine conversion rates and assess wether or not the copy and the keywords selected are actually appealing to the target culture.
  • Localise conversion driven landing pages and bid for more transactional terms. This is a cost effectiveness tactic although takes out of the equation important assets such as brand awareness or informative driven queries. Targeting only keywords and landing pages with high purchasing intent will get quick ROI and let you prioritise spend.

The main challenges to encounter while localising for Paid Search is character limitation and proper landing page localisation. Some marketers try to drive traffic with high volume, localised keywords but pointing them to English pages. They get discouraged when the bounce rate goes to the roof and the Cost Per Click is even more expensive than in the US. Well, no surprise here; they are going against the basic rules of Google Quality Score with no correlation among the keywords that trigger the ad and the landing page content. Not to mention that people who search in a specific language will almost only convert in the same language.

Some factorss to take into account:

  • Google characters restrictions for single bytes languages: western countries
    • Headline 25 characters
    • Body 1st line 35 characters
    • Body 2nd line 35 characters
    • Display url 35 characters
  • Double byte languages: Eastern languages ( f.e Japanese, Chinese, Korean)
    • Headline 12 characters
    • Body 1st line 17 characters
    • Body 2nd line 17 characters
    • Display url 35 characters

The main PPC localisation challenges have to do with the different idiosyncrasy of specific languages. English copy doesn’t flow the same than Latin based languages nor Germanic. English tends to be 30-40% shorter than roman languages, the specific character restrictions dictated by search networks make impossible to use machine translation tools, some languages lose characters in punctuation and currencies need to adapt to the local market.

In order to carry out an effective localisation you will need linguist and internet marketers to abide by Google restriction rules  and that can take into account search engine optimised landing page copy and place industry specific keywords prominently in the key  page areas: title, headings and copy . No machine translation can help, it can actually make the process more long winded, so the need for the use of professional linguists experienced in localisation is paramount.

And remember, give them time to be creative. If you find difficult to create copy for your ads in English, make it compliant and compelling enough for your users, the process of adapting that copy into other languages is ten times more complex. On the bright side, making your product reachable worldwide makes these efforts highly profitable.

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