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Build a Business Case for International Search Marketing

Many websites fail to take into account their international audience. Only 31% of the world speaks English as their primary language and many international searchers search with their native tongue, even if they also speak English; however, most businesses focus their optimization on one specific search engine or one primary language. With multilingual or international search engine marketing, businesses can maximize rankings and increase search engine visibility, and ultimately profitability, on multiple search engines for diverse audiences. Additional investment in International SEO is becoming more and more important as Return on Investment (ROI) can be higher in a less competitive space.

With the current state of today’s economy, key stakeholders and decision makers are increasingly focused on proving ROI. As with any other online marketing initiative, the proof is in the pudding. Properly defining potential ROI and possible growth with the right set of metrics will lay down a strong case to win over decision makers at the onset, and establish a solid foundation for ongoing ROI analysis to maintain momentum.

Assessing Possible ROI

As with any marketing initiative (especially in a recession, where marketing funds are the first thing to go under the scrutiny of upper management), there are a few business questions to answer in order to establish a shared vision.

  • What is the current state of international optimization for the website?
  • What impact can international SEO have on future business?
  • What are the advantages of international SEO over other marketing initiatives?

Let’s be realistic here. It is extremely hard to get budgets and resources approved to move forward if senior management can’t see the big picture. By turning to your web analytics, you can scientifically demonstrate how much money is “left on the table” by ignoring international SEO. The best way to formulate this argument involves a two step process.

  1. Actual Data: Use current web analytics data to accurately measure the performance of all your marketing campaigns side-by-side and determine which campaigns are effectively driving qualified traffic to your site. Additionally, leverage legacy data to assess your current search landscape and answer questions like:
    1. What percentage of traffic comes from organic search (domestic and international)?
    2. What are your top performing organic search keywords (and in which search engines are they performing)
    3. What are your top performing search engines (domestic and international)?
    4. Is the majority of your keyword traffic coming from brand-specific keywords?
    5. What is the current search traffic and revenue contribution from organic search?
    6. What languages and regions are currently performing for your website and how does the current performance fit in with your long-term goals?

By answering these simple questions, you can gather critical data to help you formulate a reliable International SEO optimization value pitch.

  1. Potential Growth: Based the previous findings (1), one can start formulating a trusted estimate regarding the growth opportunity for your international SEO efforts. Your estimate should evaluate both on-page optimization (title tags, keywords usage, site structure, etc) and off-page optimization efforts (link popularity, social media, etc…).

Defining an Initial Strategy

Winning Executive buyoff is only half the battle. With the approval of funds and resources, tactical execution must begin with multilingual keyword research. Finding the right keywords can be difficult, especially as part of an international SEO campaign. There are many things to consider, such as localization of broad languages to specific countries (Portuguese in Brazil vs. Portugal), dialects, localized search terms, etc.

Another important point to consider when approaching the problem of multilingual search engine optimization is that international searchers tend to use local search engines. These local search engines may be different flavors of Google or Yahoo such as or Additionally, there are a variety of country specific search engines such as Yandex for Russia or Baidu for China. These localized search engines use different techniques to rate your content and finding the best linking strategies and onsite optimization methods for each individual search engine can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to rely heavily on analytics to identify what is working and what needs to be modified.


It’s unfortunate that so many well know organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, still don’t understand the value of international search engine optimization. The fact is, these organizations are failing to capitalize on a major acquisition channel. According to comScore in August 2007, over 61 billion search queries were conducted worldwide from over 750 million searchers. Additionally, many studies have shown that searchers will choose organic listing over paid listing. It is essential to understand the impact international organic search can have on your business and to realize that early adoption could have long-term benefits over your competitors.