Adapting Adword campaigns and SEO for overseas markets – Part 1

Adapting marketing material and personas for foreign content marketing

By QST Director Philip Plested

Ahhh yes, SEO: the dark art of knowing (or pretending to know) what Google’s algorithms are doing. And here is another blog that attempts to decipher it because that’s just what we need, another self-appointed expert dropping their tuppence worth of advice.

But wait!

That’s not what this is about, far from it. Firstly, I’m not an SEO expert and secondly, this is a genuine attempt to share my hard-earned knowledge that came from seeing it done wrong so many times that it caused me to change careers because I was so sick of watching highly-paid intelligent people making the same mistakes again and again. What is this knowledge? And will you have to sift through another 1000 words to get it and then be disappointed when the great reveal comes?  Again, no. In fact, I’ll share it right now, ready? It comes in two parts:

1. Successful SEO and adword campaigns in any country (and every other type of marketing campaign and company success, for that matter) are based on understanding your audience and using their language.

2. Using trained translators to help with using the right language for SEO/adword campaigns is an investment that will be returned and profit will quickly follow.

There we are, you can stop reading now if you want to.

Still here? Great.

Now I know it’s not a stunning revelation, nor is it particularly new. In fact this has been around for ages but here’s the thing: there is a third point as well:

3. Use your customer research every day if you want better results.

I know you know this as well but don’t nod your head like you actually do because you don’t. In fact, I’m willing to bet my mortgage that that you haven’t really invested in understanding your audience and you probably haven’t dreamed of using a trained professional for your language requirements.

Sure, there might be some user research that you begged, borrowed and stole budget for. It will probably be old and disregarded, as it didn’t provide the answers (or the results) that the people who gave you the budget were expecting as, ultimately, they thought they knew better. I could go on but in the end it really doesn’t matter. The fact remains: you aren’t using customer intelligence and knowledge to get better results. I’m not here to judge by the way; in fact I can say with some certainty that I am exactly like you, or at least I was.

Uh oh… let’s prepare to go on a ‘journey’…

What this all comes down to is doing the right things in the right order with as much effort and care as you can. We all know that understanding your audience is paramount to providing the right information so they can make the right decisions.

If you are like us at QST, we constantly think and talk about our audience. We try and understand what motivates them and we spend time creating, writing and trialling marketing copy, sales copy and service offerings to see what works and what doesn’t. Some we get right (we found our bread-and-butter work through an adwords experiment that sustained us through our first year of trading) and some we get wrong (we still have sectors that we want to break into but we haven’t cracked… yet).

What we have found is the right way to use our language expertise when planning and executing marketing campaigns. You would expect us to, right? We have a new guide about using translators in international content marketing campaigns (you can download that here) but right now, I want to talk specifically about SEO and Adwords and how to ensure that, when your campaign is launched in a different country, you make the best possible start.

As I’ve already outlined the key points, let’s expand on point 1 a little more and the second point will follow in part 2 of this blog.

Understand your new overseas audience using Personas

If you haven’t done any audience research or don’t have any historical audience research to refer to then I highly recommend you stop right now and go do some. If this isn’t possible, and it’s likely if you are reading this that it isn’t (as deadlines and expectations have already been set), then I can say with a sad certainty (and bitter experience) that the results of your campaign won’t be as good as they could be; it might even fail completely. I can only wish you good luck.

If you can do some research or have something to build on then I recommend creating, or updating, personas for your new overseas target clients. If you’re not sure what a persona is please have a look at this great overview from It details how to build them and what should be involved.

The key elements you want to understand and do with your overseas personas are:

  • What challenges do they have that you’re trying to solve with your product or service? This is a fundamental aspect of why you’re trying to sell your stuff to them. If you have a persona already for one country then make sure to update it for a new country, as they aren’t always the same (a common mistake).

If you don’t have the ‘why’ they should buy from you clear and locked, then you are starting out misaligned and everything you do afterwards will compound that error. This means when you launch it’s just not going to work as well as it could or it might fail completely, depending on how badly you have misjudged your audience.

A great analogy to think of for getting the basics right is the same as a course setting for an aeroplane: if you get it wrong by only one or two degrees, on take-off it’s only 10 feet out from its position but when it lands it can be 300 miles from its destination. That’s the difference between landing in Newcastle rather than Heathrow. I’m not flying with that airline. (Ref. Atomic Habits, @JamesClear)

  •  When researching your personas, use a translator and/or native speaker (if you have access to one) when you are building their background. This is particularly helpful when looking at their socio-economic background in the target country.

Depending on where you’re launching and what you’re selling, what could be affordable in the UK could be an aspirational purchase for a much smaller target group in another country.

What job will they likely do? What cultural strata to do they hail from? Do they come from a certain part of the country and not another? All of these will determine their education, their perception of the world and ultimately how they speak.

A local expert will be able to guide all these questions but a translator would provide more than just local knowledge. They would, for example, understand the regional variations of their country.

A good example would be if you sell “bread bins” in the UK. A simple ask, you might think, but do you use that as an adword term for the whole of the UK or would you use “bread crock”? That’s the term used in the North East of England; or maybe you’d prefer “bread mug”, which is used in the North West. These are all valid terms and if you ignore them it might mean you’re not targeting potential clients from Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester or Newcastle. That’s a lot of crocks you’re not selling. (Ref. Tweetolectogy)

  • Now, make sure to test your personas. This doesn’t mean an expensive dip into user testing (although if you have the budget, find somewhere good and go for it). There are online options e.g  userlytics to test your messaging with user groups that are very reasonable indeed. This moves the personas and research away from educated guesswork (which could be wrong) to them being validated and on target. It’s hard not to over-emphasise the need to do this but it is exactly where 10 feet can turn to 300 miles.
  • Last but not least, make sure to share, use, refer. Do all these when it comes to your personas. Don’t lock them in a drawer and think you know it all because you read them once. Use them to test your thinking, use them when pitching an idea. Make sure that, when people suggest a change to you, the persona is a central point of reference to validate it. If it isn’t up to muster with the persona (that you’ve tested and are happy is correct) and you go with it anyway, then guess what…? You are misaligned… yup, Newcastle here we come!

Approaching your audience in this way will make the difference between being 50% on message to 80-90% on message. That’s the difference between mixed results and a poorly-spent adword budget with little prospect of more to follow, and a successful launch with the results to demand more budget to iterate and improve. We all want the latter, so don’t rush to execution. Take your time on the ground work. Get it right.

Using translators for your personas

If you liked this and can’t wait to see how it ends, you don’t have to! Our second part of this blog using translators with your personas in your campaign planning and execution is right here.

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Our clear infographic sets out why translators are an asset for planning and executing overseas marketing

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