Adapting Adword campaigns and SEO for overseas markets – Part 2

Adapting and translating marketing material and personas for foreign content marketing

By QST Director Philip Plested

If you haven’t read part 1, then please take 5 minutes to do so, it’s here.

Use a translator for your overseas marketing content

Now you have context, let me back up a little and quickly explain why you should use a translator for your overseas marketing content, by using an analogy that I have used for years:

Let’s say you are invited to a corporate golf day and you want to learn golf beforehand. I mention that I have played golf, that I got my handicap down to 16 when I was a teenager and still look pretty good when I swing a club, despite being at the business end of forty. To save the exorbitant golf pro fees, you end up asking me to teach you. I agree and only ask for a few pints as payment. I teach you how to hold the club, which arm has the power, which arm bends, how to stand etc. You end up getting a few balls away at the driving range to help your confidence and you leave with an understanding of the basics. Job done.

The big day comes and you arrive with your shiny new clubs and a lovely jumper. You look the part and, with the fresh memory of fizzing balls over 150 yards at the driving range, you feel confident.

Do you give a good showing?

No you don’t. In fact, you compound all the stuff I taught you badly, lose a ton of balls and snap a club in frustration, in front of the boss. It is a hideous few hours but somehow you don’t end up hating the sport and you try once again to learn. This time, you go to an actual golf professional with 10+ years’ experience and countless coaching badges, and you pay their fees to untangle the mess I created, wishing secretly you hadn’t asked me in the first place. Sorry; I did try my best…

Let’s bring this in line with the topic at hand. Imagine you needed website copy translated from English into Spanish, for example. You know that google translate won’t be up to scratch (it just isn’t, trust me, have a read of this) so you ask a colleague in the new Spanish office who has a good grasp of English. They are, after all, a native speaker and would pick up on the differences between English and Spanish ways of saying things.

When the text comes back you have a quick look; it seems fine (you can’t tell, obviously) and you go with it. Problem solved and money saved. You run with the text and the results? Well, you don’t know, at least not at first. In fact, it’s very hard to determine if its wrong, after all, no one will tell you unless it’s glaringly awful, which is unlikely as it was a colleague operating in their own language. The issue is that it doesn’t quite hit the mark. You can’t pinpoint where but the results and analytics from those pages are lackluster at best.

For professional results, use a professional

Now let me ask you this: would you ask the same bilingual colleague to help you with a translation of a medical report that has your child’s diagnosis and a prescription for medication? I imagine you wouldn’t. The risk of them making mistakes leading to a misdiagnosis or incorrect medication has very real and scary implications.

Now, of course, I am not seriously saying a marketing translation is as important as the health of another human being. However, anything that you deem important, that has real outcomes, which I assume your job does, probably should be treated with a similar level of respect.

It seems like common sense but time and time again I have seen clever people, professionals themselves, make the mistake of thinking someone with a rudimentary skill set can do the same job as a trained professional who has taken years honing and perfecting theirs. Just to save a bit of money.

Use translators to help plan and execute SEO and Adwords campaigns

I hope my long-winded approach has convinced you to at least consider consulting a translator when approaching planning an overseas SEO or adwords campaign (or anything that needs to be translated). You can still use bilingual co-workers; they have their uses and we don’t for a moment suggest that a translator is always needed instead of them (we talk about this more here). In this case, however, it’s advised.

When you do hire a translator – a good one of course – you also unlock other skills that you may not have considered, way beyond the correct translation of ‘simply’ words. Here’s a few examples of what you should be getting with an experienced marketing translator:

Start with the website

Any translation agency or translator that knows about international marketing should advise that your website (if you are building or adapting it for a new market) needs to be set up correctly. In particular, they should ask about its structure and how the content is going to be indexed for search engines. This is twofold:

Domain structures – ie what domain structures are going to be used.  This is whether its a ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level domain ( /es/.fr) or a subfolder (  or a sub domain (

All of these domain structures increase the likelihood of people in those countries choosing to visit the website, as people prefer to click on ‘local’ websites, plus google also recognises these domain options as intending to target these countries.

As you would imagine, the ccLTD is the strongest when it comes to this. It will get the most clicks because it’s trusted more than the others and Google recognises it as local domain. This might seem like the one to go for initially but if you want to carry through link authority from any parent domains then a ccLTD isn’t the best option. (Domain authority is the search engine ranking score that determines how well you will rank on a search engine – great explanation here).

If you have strong domain authority and want to use it (as a way to combat competitors for example) then a sub folder approach is best. You will, however, take a hit on the click-throughs, as it isn’t as trusted by users or Google. You might want a combination of both, by using a subdomain which offers better click-throughs than a sub folder and better link authority than a ccLTD.

Using any of these domains has benefits and drawbacks and should be considered when the expansion plans are being discussed and the websites are being developed.

Hreflang – Make sure to add this HTML tag to the source code of your content pages. This helps tell google that there are multiple versions of the same page in different languages. In the context of this article it’s also good when you have the same content but with regional variations in the same language (as well as the same pages that are in other languages). This would pick up on the “bread bin” or “bread crock” variations mentioned in part 1.

An experienced translator with marketing and digital expertise should be asking questions around the set-up of your web assets. They might not be able to do this technically for you (although some agencies do have that capability) but they should be advising, to ensure it’s part of your thinking and plans.

Cultural expert with local knowledge

By using a translator for keyword and content translation they will use their expertise to make sure that you’re not missing the obvious and not-so-obvious when it comes to the use of the correct words and terminology. 

For example, if you want to use the Spanish word for “bus” in your keyword phrase, the dictionary translation is autobús. What you may not realise is that it is specifically for Continental, or Pensinsular Spanish. Other “correct” options for different countries include ómnibus (Peru, Cuba); autocar (Spain, Bolivia); colectivo (Argentina). Then you also have the slang; in Argentina, el autobús is known as la micro or el bondi; in Bolivia their slang is góndola; in Puerto Rico and Cuba they call it a guagua (pronounced “wawa”). Who would have thought that catching a bus was so complicated?

A translator will not only know the different terms but also which word is suitable; when it’s appropriate or desirable to use regional variations and slang and when it’s not.

Great copywriter that understands SEO

I would imagine you’ve spent time and energy honing your website copy to not only read well but to make sure the key terms for your adwords and organic SEO ranking were being used frequently. A good translator will be able to take this copy and adapt it for the same purposes, providing equally as good copy in their target language, along with correct keywords for Google, without making the common mistake of repeating phrases purely for SEO, which then gets penalised by Google.

Again, the translator will want to understand the context of the copy, what adwords are running (if they aren’t translating them) etc. and then they will work on the copy using your persona to help guide them on the specifics of who is being spoken to and what language and tone is appropriate.


It sounds so obvious right? Know who you want to talk to and use an expert in their language to communicate with them. But, much to my constant amazement, it still isn’t being done. I ask you, no, I implore you: please don’t be one of those smart people that make dumb decisions. Instead, if you are planning an overseas campaign, just do the following. It will help a lot!

  • Research and understand your new overseas audience
    • Use local assets (colleagues and/or translators) to distill that information into a persona(s)
    • Test the personas – remove doubt!
    • Use the personas within your teams to plan and make decisions
  • Use the persona with a translator and they will help to:
    • Advise on the set-up of your marketing assets – Sub domains, HTML Tags, plugins etc.
    • Provide the right cultural language and context for your adwords and copy
    • Help write and shape your copy for good readability and SEO purposes

Make sure to read our full guide to using translators when planning and executing a content marketing campaign. You can download it here:

About the Author

Having worked as a sales & marketing professional for almost 22 years, Phil stopped working for other people and started Quality Spanish Translations Ltd with his wife, a chartered Spanish translator.

Now wearing many hats, from strategist through to tea boy, he enjoys not having to answer to anyone (except paying clients and his wife) and sharing his experience of working in a number of industries and seeing smart people make questionable decisions. His hope is that he can influence at least one person not to make the same mistakes he has seen and made and make the right decision first. Futile perhaps but you never know…

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