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Beginner’s Checklist for a Robust International SEM Strategy

SEM. Search Engine Marketing. No digital marketer is ignorant of this concept. However, what about international SEM? As the world becomes more connected, marketers in multi-national corporations have to come up with campaigns that are localized for their brand’s individual markets.

In this blog post, we’ve attempted to make the pill of international SEM a little easier to swallow for marketers.


SEM can be defined as the process of buying traffic through paid search listings.

Importance of International SEM

US Digital Ad SpendingAmong the many possible reasons for the importance of international SEM, there are a couple that are the most compelling…

The large global campaigns that MNCs like IBM and Cisco used to run on TV now feature on the web too (sometimes exclusively on the web). For these online campaigns to be effective they need to drive prospects from a country to the local website of that brand and not necessarily to the international website. The sheer volume of search and the investment by marketers in search ads today shows just how important a tool this is. According to eMarketer, this is poised to shoot up to $25.6 billion by 2017.

Also though we live in increasingly multi-cultural societies most people have roots deeply entrenched in their culture and prefer to refer to a website that is in their local language. A Frenchman in New York may prefer to do his search in French, click on French banners and browse a company’s website in French.

Guidelines for a Strong and Versatile International SEM Strategy

Thorough Understanding of Local Market

As the popular saying goes, little drops make the ocean. All the regions put together make up the world and similarly your international SEM strategy is a total of all the regions’ SEM strategy.

Here a few important points you need to focus on during local market research:

  • Involve local teams during your study of the usage of local language, keywords, search terms and slang used. The way a Spaniard and Mexican search in Spanish are not the same due to cultural nuances so it’s important to get a local understanding of the search terms. Knowledge of local language, search terms and the like will help you in developing your localized text search ads.
  • Also, machine translation of a keyword is not an accurate way identifying the words humans use while doing a search.
  • Understand local barriers that surround your target demographic that might be of consequence to you. Barriers can be geographical (that make it difficult for people to get into your physical store), psychological (which can prevent people from buying your products due to certain collective reservations of the population) and also cultural (which can make your products a taboo).
  • Local teams can also provide valuable inputs region specific opportunities that may exist.
  • Importantly, every market has its own marketing goals – in one market it could be to build awareness while in another to build trial. A versatile SEM strategy helps cater to the requirements of each region.

Keep It Simple

Keeping an international SEM strategy simple is an onerous task, but it needs to be done. Ensure that your regional framework is simple by establishing fields of information (like the ones described above).

Your Website

This is crucial to any international SEM strategy. Make sure that your company website is available in both global (English) and local versions. Think of an instance where a web user who speaks only French clicks on one of your ads in French. But this ad leads him to your webpage that’s in English. In such a situation, the said user will definitely leave your page without going further. Not the ideal scenario you envisaged, is it?

Set up your site in such a way that it tracks the user’s geographical location when the user opens your site and automatically loads in the user’s local language. It may well be worth customizing the landing page of your local language site to make it more effective.

Use Local Search Engines and Websites Where It Helps

While Google is extremely popular, it is not necessarily the best option in every market. It is less popular than Seznam in the Czech Republic and Yandex in Russia. Even in China, Google holds less than 25% of the local search market.

Organize Your Campaign Planning Process

Market research, keyword research, planning, budget allocation for the campaign, execution and optimization. These are the usual stages of any SEM strategy and international SEM is no exception.

Some of these get a bit more complex with international SEM because of different time zones, currencies and response rates that vary by market. Organizing your planning process will save you the pain of facing numerous hiccups in the execution stage. A step that’s an exception to an international SEM strategy is ‘Content Localization’ which is part of the planning stage when you finalize the content for every region.

Integrating Search into Localization

Instead of diving into local keyword research at the outset, the ideal process would be for you to optimize your English content, begin your local keyword research and localize your regional campaigns.

However, an international SEM strategy does not mean that you ignore English – in fact there are categories and countries where a large number of your prospects may prefer content in English. For example, if you want to sell a high-end router in India you have a better chance of getting through to a CTO if you use English content than an Indian regional language.

Offer users an international SEM strategy that is global but bursting with local flavor. Can you think up any other tips for an international SEM strategy? Share your insights with us in the comments section below!

November 13, 2013
By Team Position²