Expanding abroad – do’s and don’t’s

Ian Harris

Executive Chairman


You have had a few orders or enquiries from overseas and now you are looking at expanding into other languages.  Here are some common mistakes we have seen people make and some tips to make it more successful:


1.       Don’t Use an English Site
You would not believe the amount of times we are asked to translate a PPC campaign and point it at an English site.  I can understand why certain people think this may be a valid first step into another market.  They have received a growing number of orders from overseas on their English website.  The pricing is favourable, so therefore why not encourage more users into the site through local language PPC.  They will even ‘soften the blow’ for these foreign visitors by landing them at a page that apologises for the fact that the site they are about to enter does not support their language.

This is very unlikely to work.  The problem is, the orders they have received so far are unlikely to have come via search.  If they truly are foreign language speakers in other countries that are ordering from the site, the referral is more likely to be a recommendation, a forum or similar.  In these instances, the user knows what to expect and is entering into the site to get a good deal, knowing that the site will be in English.

This is not the case with search.  On PPC, you are competing with local suppliers for clicks and, despite your cheap prices, your vastly reduced conversion rate due to the language issue will mean that you can’t compete.

If you are a B2B organisation looking for enquiries, then read on to point 4.

2.       Don’t Translate the PPC Keywords and Ads
Never give your keywords and ads to a translation company.  The creation of a campaign in other languages is not a translation job.

For your English campaign, you have thought of multiple ways a certain concept could be searched.  You expanded out the keyword list with idiosyncrasies and colloquialisms in order to catch everyone that could possibly need your product or service.  To suggest that a translation process will reveal all the suitable terms in other languages is nonsense. This article on translating Google campaigns explains this issue in some detail.

3.       Don’t underestimate the Internationalisation Process; the process of getting a site ready for translation.  Translating a website is not as easy as translating a Word document.  Your site is probably database driven, has text in images, contains programming logic and if you sell online has all sorts of complexities around product catalogues.

If you are doing this for the first time then get some expert help.  Have a look at this introduction to internationalising a website as it contains some things you should consider.

4.       If you sell B2B then do run PPC using a localised landing page first.  Marketers that are selling B2B are in luck.  It is actually quite easy to capitalise on foreign markets using a well localised landing page and PPC.  Use a reputable PPC multilingual agency that employs mother-tongue linguists to create (not translate) the campaigns.  You can be up and running in other languages in a matter of weeks.  Plus, you can easily evaluate whether or not you should translate the entire site (a significantly larger undertaking).

5.       Do ensure that your landing page is culturally sensitive.  Images that are clearly US-centric may not work in France for example, so ensure you have the pre-localised pages checked for their suitability in the target markets before you get them translated.


This is equally true of the phraseology used on the landing page.  A translator will translate what is in front of them, and a phrase like ‘Did you know …‘ can be insulting in certain contexts in other languages.

6.       When translating your site do engage with a professional translation company that specialises in website translation.  Ensure they use specialist software to protect your site code from the translation process, and translation memory tools to ensure the costs are kept to a minimum.    Make sure they have plenty of case studies of translating sites like yours and get references from the companies involved.   Some companies say they can do this but simply pass web files through a normal translation process.  This is not efficient and will cost you more in time to fix the files.  I used to work in this market so contact me if you would like a list of companies for your shortlist.

7.       Do retain your SEO/keyword densities during the translation process.  This is easy to do as long as you build some keyword research into the process in advance.  Language equivalents of English keywords can be stored in electronic glossaries used by the translators so that they do not stray from the SEO-friendly terminology.

8.       Do engage with a translation company that partners with a specialist multilingual search company, or choose your own multilingual search company to work with your chosen translation agency.  Don’t simply accept the translation company’s promise that they will ‘do SEO’ as part of the translation.

9.       Don’t get a friend, colleague, or any other non-experienced person to translate either the site or the PPC campaigns for you.  This is a very common approach and always works out more expensive while missing opportunities.  Translation companies can localise your content at speed without breaking the code structures because they have automatic tools to do this.  They will also use translation memories for speed, quality and cost reduction.  Multilingual search specialists will build campaigns and optimise them quickly without wasting half your budget on a rogue keyword translation that crosses into another market.  It is a false-economy so don’t do it.

10.   Do consider the wider implications.  If you translate your site or landing page, plus search campaigns, you will then open yourself up for customer service calls and emails in other languages.  Make sure you have a process for dealing with these.

Finally, if you are considering taking your offering abroad, do it.  We have seen so many companies open up markets that drive incremental revenue when other channels may be exhausted.  It is not as hard as you might think as long as you plan properly and engage with the right partners.

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