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How to Successfully Run Multilingual Campaigns

Multilingual search engine marketing can be a minefield, with countless hidden pitfalls that can bring down your campaign at any time. But for those with the expertise to successfully negotiate these dangers the rewards can be extremely lucrative.

Rather than your ecommerce, B2B or information website being restricted to customers only in the UK, multilingual search marketing can open up your company to an international audience where growing markets offer fantastic business opportunities.

In theory search engine optimisation in France, Germany or Spain does not differ from the UK; the techniques are the same: authoritative, natural links gained via high quality, relevant content. The same goes for pay-per-click adverts; the basic techniques don’t differ from region to region.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But while the basic practices remain the same a UK campaign can’t merely be replicated in France or Germany for example – with another language comes another variable, and ultimately more scope for failure.

So what are the pitfalls that you need to avoid in order to run a successful multilingual SEO or PPC campaign?


Language and Culture

You won’t be surprised to learn that language plays a critical role in multilingual search marketing, but you may be surprised to read that translation does not. Yes, if you’re running campaigns in France then your keywords must be in French, likewise your Bing ads, however these should not be converted from English by a translation company.

For example, a UK car hire company is planning to expand into Europe and is beginning to explore its search terms for its major products. From its experience in the UK market the hire company already has a list of English terms its customers use in search engines:

  • ‘Car hire’
  • ‘Vehicle rental’
  • ‘Automobile lease’
  • ‘Charter motor’

When expanded these four terms make up 16 possible combinations (‘vehicle hire’, ‘car lease’ etc.) which would all retrieve similar SERPs. But if the car hire company was to hand these search terms to a web translation company, or use an automated translation tool themselves, then it’s almost certain these 16 combinations would be reduced to just one or two. This is because translation companies are trained to convert the meaning of the words, not try and interpret the search tendencies of a customer.

To avoid this problem use search-trained mother-tongue linguists in all aspects of your multilingual search marketing. Not only do native speakers have a first-class knowledge of their language but being free from the shackles of the translation process, the search expert can expand ideas and find all relevant keywords in that language.

Remember those HSBC adverts that highlighted the different cultural faux pas around the world and how an innocent gesture in one country could be deemed offensive in another? Well the same applies to multilingual search marketing. Copy that reads linguistically perfect may actually contain culturally offensive phrases that translation companies and tools are unlikely to pick up on.

A good example of this is when our in-house French mother-tongue linguists rejected copy that contained the phrase ‘did you know’ on the basis that it would alienate a French audience, who would find the suggestion they were not already in possession of all the facts patronising.

On a similar vein you must be careful to ensure your website’s images also abide cultural nuances. A photo depicting jovial American retailers in a shop will not fit in with a site that is aimed at some of the more reserved European countries.

Again mother-tongue search specialists will be able to pick up on these cultural discrepancies and help with the overall localisation of your campaign and website.

When looking at expanding internationally a lot of companies ask us to point foreign ads at English landing pages, in order to test the market. This tactic simply does not work. Customers searching in a foreign language and clicking on foreign adverts do not expect to be directed to an English language landing page and this will succeed in only producing an extremely low conversion rate. Your landing pages should explicitly be in the language you are targeting, with a separate one for each country.


Most companies assume – 81% according to our research – that it’s important to have a locally registered internet domain in each of their overseas markets. This is not necessarily the case and going with a locally registered domain when a subdirectory is more appropriate could be the difference between the success and failure of your multilingual expansion.

At Search Laboratory we can advise, in certain circumstances, our clients which have .com domain extensions to create specific subdirectories for each new market. So in Germany this would be .com/de or .com/fr in France. By choosing this option the localised subdirectory benefits from the wider site’s overall SEO value as it remains part of a much larger, centralised website.

Also, for retailers expanding into several countries subdirectories can allow for automated updates and modifications to business logic to be applied simultaneously to all markets via a centralised dashboard.

However, the choice of locally registered domain versus subdirectory must be driven by the local market or industry your business is attempting to sell in. For example if your company sells automotive parts then your target audience is going to factor in speed of delivery so it’s advisable to go for a locally registered domain rather than a subdirectory, which may infer to the customer that you would dispatch the tools from abroad.

Whether you choose a locally registered domain or a sub directory it will make little difference if you forget to translate your URLs. It may sound simple, but it’s a very common and very harmful mistake a lot of companies make in their campaigns.

The SEO friendly URLs, which include strategic keywords, taken from your English site will often be neglected in the process of localising to your target foreign country. This causes two problems: they’re no longer SEO friendly as the keywords are in the wrong language for that market, while they’re also likely to alienate the local customer, who will be put off by the presence of English URLs on a site they had visited under the pretence that it was French or German for example.


  • Use mother-tongue linguists to work on your campaigns, not a translation company
  • Point multilingual Bing Ads at a landing page in that specific country’s language, so French ads at a French landing page
  • Choose whether your international website(s) have a locally registered domain or a sub directory based on your business’ local market and what is best for your SEO – don’t automatically assume you need a locally registered domain
  • Don’t forget to translate your URLs