SEO & SEM Outside The U.S.—Tips & Advice

100% Organic - A Column From Search Engine Land As many SEO/SEM professionals already know, marketing to people outside of the United States presents many challenges. Search usability is quite different due to language nuances, variations in color psychology, and allocation of screen real estate, among other things. Where are the best places for a search engine optimizer or a Web developer to place keywords? Some guidelines are consistent—the HTML title-tag content is very important regardless of language. Nevertheless, whenever I train clients outside of the U.S. and whenever I usability test, I always learn something new about a culture other than my own.

Rather than give Shari’s version of non-U.S. SEO tips and techniques, I decided that it is much better to hear from people who live outside the U.S. with a great deal of SEO/SEM knowledge. I selected three of my favorite Brits because I always learn something new when I listen to them speak at search marketing conferences, such as Search Marketing Expo. I only asked them one question, "What do you wish (U.S.) Americans would remember when marketing their products, services, and information to a non-U.S. audience?"

Geography and local search

"Know our geography," said Alan Perkins, who co-founded SilverDisc in 1993, and has been offering SEO services since 1995 and PPC services since 2001 to clients around the world. "There is a difference between England, Great Britain, the UK and the British Isles – make sure you understand it! The film Mrs. Doubtfire is infamous for featuring a supposed English lady speaking with a Scottish accent and referring to England as an island. England is not an island, and there’s nothing more likely to insult the Scots or Welsh than referring to their homeland as England. So don’t, for example, target the UK in a PPC campaign then use a headline of ‘Hey – live in England?’ because you will be annoying a significant percentage of your target market."

Dixon Jones, Managing Director of Receptional LTD, offered the following observations:

"When I was in Acapulco, I mentioned ‘the Americans’ when I was in a bar and the locals were not impressed," he said. "Why is that? Because they, too, are Americans and the assumption that 300 million immigrants can take over their whole identity was not something especially pleasing to the average Mexican – especially in a political debate."

"How much more insulting, then, is it to an Italian when they are treated as a ‘European’ without being first and foremost treated as an ‘Italian’?" Jones continued. "Europe is about 750 Million people spread over 50 countries. Every one (apart from the likes of the Vatican City and Monaco) has their own ‘Google’ or other dominant search engine and some have them in multiple languages. My point is that you need to target individual countries, with separate Internet marketing strategies, not attempt ‘Europe’ as a whole."

Believe it or not, I took Dixon’s anecdote to heart recently when I spoke at a U.S. Department of Commerce event targeting Latin and South America. I always referred to myself as a U.S. American. Thank you, Dixon. Great observation!

Using the users’ language

Web site usability professionals seem to always chant, "Use the users’ language. Use the users’ language." Likewise, SEO and SEM professionals are always saying, "You have to place keywords on your pages, words that your target audience is typing into search queries." Using the users’ language becomes quite challenging outside of your own culture.

Mel Carson, Microsoft adCenter’s Community Manager based in London, told me this story:

"Many years ago, in a previous life, I worked at Harrods, a famous department store in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge shopping district. Nothing delighted me more than my interactions with tourists from the United States during my six long years in that big corner shop. I have many stories and anecdotes of where the cultural divide appeared so huge that the fact we actually spoke the same language seemed almost incomprehensible. The common denominator seemed to be that because we sometimes do things differently over here, it was somehow quaint, curious or just plain wrong. It’s important to remember that doing things differently, and calling things different things has been going on for a good deal longer over here than over there, so bearing this in mind from the start of a campaign to market to us Brits will hold you in very good stead."

"Most Americans neither speak nor write British English," added Perkins. "Brits phrase things differently (e.g., ‘Come and see America’ rather than ‘Come see America’) and spell things differently (e.g., ‘My favourite colour’ rather than “My favorite color’). Sometimes we use completely different words (e.g., ‘mobile’ instead of ‘cell’) and sometimes we use the same words to mean different things (e.g., ‘pants’ are ‘underpants’, not trousers). Oh, and just to really confuse things, we write dates the other way around (Christmas is 25/12) so be careful about start and end dates of promotions. Of course, writing your marketing copy in American English, rather than British English, may be your intent – ‘Come see America’. But make sure you are doing it on purpose."

"Over here, less is more!" Carson said. "Take a look at some of the sites in your sector and check out their landing pages. Brits don’t like messaging like ‘You must buy this now it’s great!’ We much prefer a bit of subtlety and coaxing to help us towards a decision, ‘You know you might like to take a look at this, as we think you might just find it suits your needs…’"

"In your face is bad – we prefer being ‘marketed with’ rather than ‘marketed at!’" he added.

Staying current with currency

"You really need native people involved in your marketing strategy," said Jones. "It is very hard to get into the mindset and moreover the trusted circle of a person outside your own cultural boundaries. I do not even try, and nor do most Europeans. Instead we use local people to communicate on a local level (I mean local on a national scale here). If you do not have this level of closeness with your audience, you will need an offering so compelling that there is no local equivalent product in order to compete."

Carson added, "For instance, the currency we use is GBP (£) or pounds, not Euros and certainly NOT Euro-dollars, as I have heard ‘generic’ European money referred to. Sweden still uses Kronor and not Euro, so it’s not just the Brits hanging onto our cultural identity and making it difficult for everyone trying to trade with us. This cultural identity and individuality that is so crucial to all of us in Europe, meaning a one-size-fits-all approach to a European campaign, will not work. You’ll need to treat each country differently having done that in-depth research."

Trust and credibility is a worldwide concept, not only a U.S.-centric one. "Know the true cost of your products to British residents," said Perkins. "Currently (early January 2008) the pound is strong against the dollar, making products bought from America is good value, but value is not the only consideration. Can you offer proof that you are a bona fide business? Do you offer a currency converter or prices in Pounds Sterling, so we Brits can easily see the good value you are offering? Do you clearly describe the shipping costs and the warranty and returns policies? Do you provide details of the import duties we are liable to pay? Remove all our objections and leave us no option but to buy!"

"You will make more friends by selling in the local currency instead of dollars," Jones added. "Paypal PRO makes this easier than it used to be and with the U.S. dollar going through the basement, you’ll also make more money."


I wish I had more room in this column to present all of the advice that these very knowledgeable gentlemen shared with me. Do you have any advice to give U.S. Americans, something you just wish we’d remember when marketing our services to you? Let us know. Believe me, we’re listening.

Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Search Marketing: General


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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