How Latvia Teaches Us That “Think Global, Act Local” Is No Longer Useful In Search Marketing

Last week, I was lucky to join a number of great speakers at the iLive conference in Riga, Latvia. As with all conferences, I learned a lot. (I simply can’t relate to those who go to a conference and say they’ve heard it all before.) I learned at least as much from the people I met and chatted with — as well as from the people of Riga and Latvia — as I did from the conference itself.

Latvia — A Country With A Population Less Than Houston, Texas

Latvia is a very small country with a population of just over 2 million people — around the size of a smallish Chinese or American city. The country has a very checkered history with a Nazi occupation, being absorbed into the Soviet Union for over 47 years and then finally achieving full independence in 1991 — just 22 years ago.

Somewhere around 25% of the population speaks Russian as their native tongue, but they are still “Latvian.” What this means, in practical terms, is that many Latvians are bilingual, and some speak three or more languages. When you jump into a taxi in the capital, Riga, one driver will be listening to the radio in Russian (I just managed my directions in Russian), while another will be listening in Latvian (directions to him were in English).

International SEO & Personas Are Increasingly Linked.  Source:Webcertain

International SEO & Personas Are Increasingly Linked. Source:Webcertain

When you land at Riga, you can just about see Estonia in the distance; when you take off, you are rapidly over Lithuania long before the plane has finished climbing. Latvia shares borders with the Russian Federation, Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania, and is just across the Baltic Sea from Sweden.

When A “Local” Isn’t Necessarily “Local”!

What, exactly, does this have to do with local/global search marketing? It’s very simple. What most people mean when they say “think local” is that you should work with someone who is “local.” But, if your country is so small that going to dinner sometimes means crossing a national boundary and speaking a different language, then who really represents that “local” person?

In this crazy, mixed-up, increasingly complex world we live in, thinking global and acting local is no longer a useful idea — though the principles behind it were valid (and in many cases, still are).

The main problem with “acting local” is that it you run the risk of putting vastly different customers with vastly different needs into the same “box” based solely on geographic location. And, as Latvia shows us, geography isn’t everything. A more useful way to target such a diverse customer base is by developing personas that represent each different group of customers within your target market. Today, the Web is all about personas — even if you don’t work with them, they still matter.

Keywords & Personas

Keywords and personas are linked. Yes, it would be great to have much more data about keywords and the people who use them available easily online, but if you’re clever and you structure your website around clearly defined “personas,” then you probably have more data than you actually realize. (And, by the way, Facebook is a very useful tool to help build a better picture of your personas, even if you are not advertising.)

Personas are closely aligned with SEO needs. If the information presented in a SERP is appropriate to the targeted persona, the click-through rate will be higher, ultimately improving the traffic and ranking potential of that particular result.

Different personas will respond differently to the same content. For optimal success, you must consider how to differentiate your approach for each of your target groups.

Defining Personas Is Possible For Everyone

Going back to Riga, we could define our customers and potential customers in the following ways. Note how the personas become more precise and more closely defined as you work your way down the list:

  • Potential customer – speaks Russian
  • Potential customer – speaks Latvian
  • Potential customer – product group A – speaks Russian
  • Potential customer – product group B – speaks Latvian
  • Potential customer – product group A – visited description page B – speaks Russian
  • Potential customer – product group A – visited description page A – speaks Latvian

The above list is only to give you the idea in very simple terms. If you have different “description” pages which describe the same product in different ways, then you are already personalizing your Web content to some extent — but is your SEO also personalized? And, do you think about your content and SEO in terms of personas?

I should add that, in my example above, I split the languages to demonstrate my point — but there are cases where it may not make economic sense to target every language. It all depends on your organization.

However, my key argument is that personas take your SEO efforts to the next level. Moving your messaging from “global” to “local” is naturally followed by “personal” — and that that’s where the edgy, fast-moving businesses are going as fast as their coders can take them!

One final note: the word “international” itself means different things to different people. In conversations with those I met in Riga, people did not generally use the term “international” to refer to working between Baltic states. On several occasions people said to me, “there are not many international firms in Latvia,” which was odd to me, looking at a country which bordered with so many others speaking so many different languages. I think it would be fair to say that they often saw “international” as outside their region rather than outside their nation.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: Local | Search Marketing: Multinational | SEO: Local


About The Author: is a linguist who has been specializing in international search since 1997 and is the CEO of WebCertain, the multilingual search agency and Editor-in-Chief of the blog You can follow him on Twitter here @andyatkinskruge.

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  • F42

    To go a little off topic:

    Saying that Latvia was “absorbed into the Soviet Union” is whitewashing history.

    It was flat out occupation, no different to the Nazis that came before.

  • andyatkinskruge

    F42 – I’m sure you’re right, I didn’t want to let the politics of the situation distract from the main marketing point :)

  • Frank Watson

    search both paid and organic in languages other than your own – or of people in your company – is difficult. We may be able to create the content in appropriate and understandable language but how the different people interact with it is where it gets difficult.

    When doing conferences outside of the US – I use a story of learning a sentence in Spanish on a train ride in Mexico to use with the taxi that would take me to my hotel – thinking if I said it in the local language I would be less likely to get taken advantage of – what I did not learn was what would be said back to me and so still had to hold out my hand full of bills and let the driver take what he wanted…

    As you detail well – when advertising in other languages there is far more to it than just translating the words.

  • getspread

    read out this artical on annular solar eclipse on getspread

  • F42

    Thanks for the reply, Andy! It’s perfectly fine to want to avoid politics, especially on a great post about local SEO like this.

    Though, this isn’t about politics but history and being politically correct.

    What struck me is the differentiation that arose between when you said “Nazi occupation”, compared to the lightly worded, “absorbed into the Soviet Union”.

    I’d just like to make it clear that according to “the European Court of Human Rights, the Government of Latvia, the United States Department of State, and the European Union”, the Soviet presence until 1991 was a military occupation: (2nd paragraph)

    There are those that disagree (e.g. the Kremlin), and if anything, that is what’s done for political reasons.

    Otherwise, it’s clear-cut history and international law.


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