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International SEM Goes Beyond Simple Translation: Q&A With Latin3's Matias Perel

Because only a fraction of the world’s population resides here in the United States, the idea of global reach is a tempting one. There are some obvious business issues for anyone attempting to market to international consumers, and those challenges certainly extend to the realm of search engine marketing.

Regardless of the complications of doing business abroad, the immediately obvious barrier to SEM is language. Translation is one thing, but the actual meaning of the words and phrases are sometimes more important. When I talk to experts in search translation (such as Matias in the Q&A later in this article), they all have horror stories from actual clients. One of the more memorable faux paus in marketing history was the Chevy Nova (in Spanish, Nova means “no go” or in other words, “doesn’t run”). Think of the broken English you hear in bad movies…do you want your company represented like that to foreign markets? Probably not..

It’s not as easy as just changing your location and language targeting. Many U.S. search marketers who are used to just focusing on English-speaking America and Canada would find themselves in unfamiliar quickly when running their first international campaigns. For instance, expected search volume and budget allocation-how do you even begin to estimate that before actually testing the waters? What about click-thru-rate or conversion rate benchmarks? Is a five percent click-thru-rate good, bad, or ugly? What if those similar English terms have twice or three times the performance metrics? Does that mean your international campaign isn’t as efficient as it could be or are you hitting the ceiling there?

I met Matias Perel, CEO and Founder of Latin3, a few years ago, and he certainly is my “go to” guy for all things regarding international marketing, especially to Latin America. He was born in the culture, is Harvard educated, and has worked with huge global brands such as Dell Computer Latin America, Nextel International, Visa International, and General Mills. Matias passed on a great tip to me a few years ago about running on Spanish terms targeted to the States where you may not get the same volume as English, but the engagement rates are generally higher and the click costs are almost always much lower. (I rarely share that little trade secret so this is the one and only time I’m going to do so…)

I was able to do a quick Q&A recently with Matias and asked him share some of his thoughts on search marketing to Latin America:

Q. How did you personally get into search marketing? What’s your top-level philosophy of SEM?

Matias: While running Latin3’s largest client (Dell Computer) back in 2002, I came across the challenge of looking for channels that will maximize ROI for our clients and search seemed to be the perfect option.

Q. Tell me more about Latin3 and what problems it solves.

Matias: Latin3 is the leading digital marketing agency focusing on Hispanic and Latin America divisions of Global corporations. We help our clients develop a digital marketing strategy and we drive traffic and build user experiences to achieve those objectives.

Q. Do we really need a specialist for this?

Matias: Of course, experts are needed in all areas of search but especially for the Latin American and the US Hispanic market we need keyword research, in-culture and in-language keyword research and optimization as well as creative. It’s not only about the keyword and creative relevance of the ad itself but also, as you probably all have experienced, it is about the landing page as well. In order to create a combination of ad and landing page that works to your advantage, you need experts that understand how to better play with the sensitive variables that go beyond product and promotion such as language and culture.

Q. Is there value in using Spanish language keywords and ads in the U.S.? Is the market mature enough for most advertisers?

Matias: Absolutely, it is a matter of both audience acculturation level and intention. When users approach search engines for help, the language and tone of the query will be based on how they expect the result to appear on the SERP. As an example, a partially acculturated user who prefers his mobile company to speak to him in Spanish (as the terms and offers will be clearer in his home language) will search for cell phones in Spanish. And, ultimately, they will search for companies who can attend  him in the same language. This is something that we’ve seen happening in many opportunities, and the most interesting fact is that most of the time the competition is quite low.

On the other side, some industries don’t perform so well, maybe because that search volume in total is low, so the Spanish language volume won’t be an interesting market to approach, and other times the CPA is higher than in English, so it’s not convenient for the advertiser.

As always, this is about building the case and finding the opportunity.

Q. Can you share some specific campaign results you’ve had when using your techniques?

Matias: Sure. One of the case studies we like to share is from one of our major global brands. The term computer, a very competitive term here in the States was hovering around ten dollars for the near top position which our client was buying. In Spanish-speaking Latin America, the same term, run at the same time as the English campaign, computador, was a mere twenty cents. That’s a 5000% difference! Needless to say, the client was very pleased. Of course, not every result is going to mirror that, but it just goes to show that there is still a lot of opportunity for U.S. companies in Latin American countries.

Q. What are some of the common mistakes that American search marketers make when trying to market to Latin America?

Matias: Probably the most common mistake is to see the whole region as the same, and it’s not only about what keywords the marketer is using (móvil or celular, as a cell phone example), but also the tone of the text ads and landing pages.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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