May 7 2019
Basis Technologies

Language-Specific Targeting for Multilingual Areas


Whether your PPC program targets users in many countries or is solely domestic, how to best optimize toward a bilingual or multilingual audience is an often overlooked question. According to the US Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey, 21.6% of Americans speak a language other than English at home, and depending on the metro area, that percentage can be much higher. Along with considerations like keyword selection and location targeting, if your campaign's target area has a large population of bilingual or non-English speakers, it is important to consider how your overall SEM program's structure and specific settings you employ could mean missing out on potential revenue opportunities and increased efficiency. This article will provide some best practices for PPC marketing in multilingual areas.

Browser Language versus Search Query Language

Let's start with the first Campaign setting that likely comes to mind when considering this topic: Language. Which languages should you target if at least some of the people in your market may speak more than one? Only the language that corresponds to your ad copy? Only the languages you know are common in that area?

In general, targeting all languages is the ideal method for any campaign to ensure you’re not missing out on potential impressions. The reason is that the Publishers decide whether or not an ad is eligible to show, per its language settings, based on the user's browser language. However, just because the user chooses a particular language for their browser doesn't mean that's the only language they’re searching in. For example, my browser is in English but I regularly search in Spanish as well. By always choosing all languages, you can make sure you’re capturing these additional impressions from bilingual users.

Considering Language-Specific Campaigns? Check Your Search Queries

Depending on the region and demand for your product or services, creating language-specific campaigns can be an excellent strategy for capturing untapped segments of the market. If you’re considering whether this is a good option for your program, checking your search queries for terms in the language you’re considering targeting can be a good first step. When running this analysis consider:

  1. Do the terms that are being searched make sense given your ad copy and product/service? Terms that are a direct or similar translation to an existing keyword may trigger your ad and be potential keywords for a language-specific ad group. Conversely, if you’re finding many searches for unrelated terms, it may be time to add to your Negatives Lists.

  2. How many impressions and clicks are there for the search queries in the other language? What counts as decent volume will vary based on the size of your program, but in general, only a handful of impressions or clicks probably doesn't merit the work required to set up separate campaigns.

  3. Are there conversions associated with the search queries in the target language? Just because there are few conversions doesn't mean there isn't potential opportunity. By offering ad copy and a landing page experience in the target language, potential customers who may not be as comfortable or proficient in English will be more likely to convert.

On the other hand, even if there’s a decent conversion rate associated with those keywords, you’re still likely to benefit from increased efficiencies by creating a language-specific ad group. Firstly, having ad copy and landing page that better match the user's search queries will help to increase your overall ad rank. In addition, rather than having search queries trigger translated phrases or broad match keywords, you can include common search queries as exact match keywords, making spend more efficient.

Keyword Choice: Lost in Translation

If you decide that language-specific campaigns make sense for your program, creating an initial or expanded keyword list isn't as simple as plugging the list from your English campaigns into an online translator. There may be idioms unique to your target language that would make excellent keywords but do not perfectly translate. In addition, just like British versus American English, all languages have dialects, so the most appropriate translation may vary if one dialect is more common in one area versus another. If possible, leverage the help of someone proficient in the language, ideally a native speaker, to help inform your keyword list.

In addition to leveraging keywords from existing campaigns and input from native speakers, short, controlled tests with broad match keywords (based on the English versions of the campaigns) can also help with keyword expansion. Run your language-specific campaigns for one to two weeks with limited daily budgets (to control spend) and monitor search queries for terms that are generating clicks and conversions. Once you have a decent list, refine your ad group structure to follow best practices with a mix of exact, phrase, and broad match modified keywords.

Moreover, don't forget about negative keywords. Along with adding unrelated search queries in the target language as negatives, make sure to add your English keywords as negatives for the language-specific ad group and vice versa to prevent cannibalization.

How Far Down the Funnel to Go?

Once you have keywords and ad copy for your non-English campaigns, it’s time to consider how far down the funnel to go when it comes to translation and localization. At the minimum, you should implement landing pages in the target language as a mismatch between ad copy and landing page language is likely to lead to user drop-off and may negatively impact ad rank given the disconnect between the ad and the user's experience.

But what about the rest of your website? Or, if applicable, your call center? Should you make investments there? The answer is: it depends. If you’re operating in an area where users are primarily bilingual, for example in Scandinavian countries or Switzerland, offering the initial experience in the user's chosen search language but then having the rest of your site and the customer experience in English is a sound strategy. Monitor your conversion rates closely through each step of the funnel to gauge if your level of localization is appropriate or may be leading to drop-off pre-purchase/sign up. If you notice a large percentage of abandonment once the user arrives at an English page on your website or a support phone line only in English, evaluate whether the amount of potential revenue lost merits further investment in translating your website or even hiring additional resources that speak the language fluently.

Don't Forget About Retargeting & Display

Lastly, when creating campaigns for a specific language, make sure not to leave retargeting out of the equation. If a user originally clicked on an ad in a specific language or visited a translated version of your website, any retargeting campaigns you place them in should also be targeted to that language. This is especially true for display retargeting. If any of the URLs you are targeting are in another language, make sure the ad's language matches up!

Additional Work but Additional Opportunity

In summary, managing PPC marketing in areas where more than just English is spoken poses special considerations when it comes to program structure and settings but also potential opportunity in terms of increased revenue and efficiency. By following these best practices and taking a gradual, data-driven approach to rollout, you can implement a multilingual strategy that yields significant returns.