How to Run Foreign Language PPC Campaigns

google-adwords-international-ppcEnglish remains the single most widely used language online. But it still only accounts for around a quarter of total usage, and this proportion is falling.

The growth in online use of languages such as Chinese and Arabic far outstrips that of English. Additionally, many users only speak English as a second language.

A recent study conducted across the European Union found that more than half of Internet users visited foreign language (usually meaning English) websites. However, only 18 percent said they would make online purchases from a site that wasn’t in their own native language.

The benefits of website localization are increasingly widely recognized. Although SEO should be an important part of any online marketing strategy, it can take time to yield conversions.

A pay-per-click (PPC) campaign can help speed the process and can also be a cost effective means of advertising and building brand awareness in a foreign market. Of course, it gets more complicated when operating across linguistic divides, and there are a number of issues that should be considered.

Go Beyond Google

Google is by far the most popular search engine worldwide and it should play a crucial role in most PPC campaigns. As of June 2012, Karmasnack reported the search engine giant had a whopping 87.6 percent market share worldwide. But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

In certain markets local competitors rule the roost. In Russia, for example, Yandex has the greatest market share while Baidu – the fifth most visited site in the world according to Alexa – is massively important in China.

Where local search engines don’t dominate but do enjoy a decent slice of market share alongside Google, they may offer a cheaper viable alternative for your PPC campaign.

Do your research though as PPC rules can vary between search engines. To open a Baidu PPC account, for example, you will need a local presence with a Chinese domain website and a valid business certificate issued by the Chinese government.

Keywords are Crucial

If you have fully localized and optimized foreign language websites, you may have your diligently researched keywords all ready to go. If not, don’t forget that straight dictionary translations of your English language keywords may not be adequate for the job.

What works in one language might not in another as colloquialisms, abbreviations, regional variations and other alternative terms may all be more effective.

A literal translation of “car insurance” into French, for example, would be “l’assurance automobile”. A quick run through Google’s keyword tool indicates that this term yields very poor results, with alternative terms such as “assurance auto” or “assurance voiture” being far more successful.

Don’t throw away your carefully researched English keywords, but use them only as a starting point. Brainstorm alternatives with the help of a native speaking translator and test their effectiveness using the keyword tools of whichever search engine(s) you focus on.

Consider Your Copy

PPC ads have to grab the attention and convey the right information in an extremely limited space. There’s an art to effective PPC copywriting but what works in one country might not in another.

As with keywords, you certainly shouldn’t rely on dictionary or machine translation. Context and culture should be taken into consideration and the tone of language used can be very important.

You should think transcreation rather than translation – combining the creative and translation processes to come up with vibrant copy that really speaks to your target market.

Monitor Your Campaign

As with any PPC campaign, you’ll need to constantly monitor your progress and results. Once the ads are live you should regularly check to see how many impressions, click-throughs and conversions each one achieves.

You should also keep an eye out for instances of potential click-fraud. As you’ll be dealing with foreign languages and possibly unfamiliar search engines, it’s likely that you’ll need the assistance of language professionals.

As with keyword and copy localization, native speaking translators are best, as they tend to have more of a handle on local practises and variations.

Adjust your Approach as Required

Monitoring your campaign’s ongoing performance allows you to make tweaks or large-scale adjustments as and when they are needed. Any PPC campaign is an ongoing, fluctuating process.

Comparatively small things like refining keywords can have a huge effect on PPC and this can be even more marked in foreign language and multilingual campaigns. The search engine(s) you originally used may not be as effective as you envisaged or you may find that your product or service is simply not as much in demand as your market research suggested.

The opposite may also be true of course. You may find your campaign has been more successful than you’d envisaged and decide to increase your spend. Measuring your return on investment will, of course, be the best indication of the effectiveness of your overall campaign.


Running a foreign language PPC campaign brings its own unique challenges. With a little forethought and planning however, it can help you increase sales and tap into whole new foreign markets.

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