Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Search Insider: We May Both Be Speaking English, But...

We May Both Be Speaking English, But...

I WAS BACK AT HOME in London recently and I did the unthinkable. Twice. And both incidents occurred on the same evening. Now for this story you need to know that I'm a Brit living in New York with a VERY strong British accent.

I was in the local pub one night catching up with some mates. I went to get a round in and asked for some "chips." The barman understandably took the order to mean "French fries" -- and it was only then that I realized I had asked for the wrong type of potato. I quickly changed my order, clarifying that what I in fact wanted was "crisps'." The barman supplied me with one of Walker's finest -- but not before giving me a look that reeked of "you should know better, love."

As the summer night progressed, a friend of mine kindly complimented me on my shoes. "These flats?" I responded. "I've had them for ages." And there we have it -- the second look of "What did you just say?" Flats in Britain are one thing and one thing only. Apartments.

As a marketer, I've always been interested in the language people use to talk about brands and products. As a search marketer, I've been intrigued and enlightened by the fact that we no longer need to guess people's intentions or desires. They are telling us by what they are typing in to the search box. The marketing intelligence that the search engines collect makes them the world's largest, (nearly) real-time focus group.

And while a person in the U.S. and the U.K. may key in the same word into a search box, what they are looking for may be wildly different -- after all, what does a summer sandal have to do with real estate? My trip back home solidified a notion that I've long held true. To get the most from a search marketing campaign, it is best created and managed by people with intrinsic knowledge of the language and culture of the country you are advertising in. After all, you would say "friends" in the U.S., rather than "mates" -- and you probably wouldn't be "getting a round in" in New York -- but you may be "buying a round."

Marketers are always looking for growth opportunities (especially with U.S. consumerism slowing), and international markets are increasingly accessible given the relatively low-cost entry point that paid search can afford. And while consumption is slowing in other markets as well, the attractiveness of the exchange rate and in particular the strength of the pound against the dollar means that Internet users abroad are increasingly willing to purchase from U.S. online sites.

So, what are the tips and tricks that can help get you more out of your search campaigns beyond the U.S.?

1. Use local knowledge: keyword lists should be created by people from that country so that all the slang and nuances of a language are taken into account.

2. Trends and seasons vary: fireworks (if permissible for purchase) peak around July 4 in the U.S. for Independence Day. In the U.K., sales for fireworks peak for Guy Fawkes Night on Nov. 5.

3. Different USPs for different folk: while we can never generalize, looking at the search patterns in different countries reveals some interesting findings. A study I was involved in that looked at search behavior for consumer electronic goods found that Brits were more price-conscious in the searches they conducted than people from other European countries. The Germans, on the other hand, were more product-oriented and were interested in specific features. These insights should be taken into account when formulating the creative for paid search ads in different markets.

4/. Never assume: a search strategy that works in one country will not necessarily automatically work in another: I'm not saying it won't work, but there are no guarantees that it will. The key is to never assume but to test, test and test.

The key message here is to listen and learn. People from different countries speak differently even when the same words are used. Believe me. I received the most perplexed looks when I asked for a rubber in our office the other day.

Chrysi Philalithes is launch managing director at Steak, a U.K. media agency that just opened shop in the States. Contact her at hello@steakmedia.com

Search Insider for Tuesday, July 8, 2008:

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