First things first: what is SEA?

SEA stands for Search Engine Advertising. Specifically, as an advertiser, you are paying to appear at the top of search results when users perform relevant searches.

Unlike SEO (Search Engine Optimization), where the right content and a few optimisation tricks will organically get you to the top of the search results, SEA reaps these benefits almost immediately.

The catch? You are paying per click. Whether users who click on your ad actually yield any return or not, every click comes off your predetermined budget. Hence, you need to ensure that you present users with copy that truly ‘pops’. This is especially the case when trying to conquer other target language groups.

Why translating an SEA campaign is an impossible task

Firms are pumping serious money into Google Ads. In an ideal world, a good percentage of clicks would lead to conversions. However, in reality, especially with other language versions, the conversion rate can often prove disappointing. And frequently the translation gets caught in the middle of all this.

More often than not, simply translating SEA campaigns falls short.

Why? Here are five reasons:



You are starting from certain SEO keywords

What the optimal SEO search terms are for a foreign-language market depends heavily on the language usage and search behaviour of your target audience.

To give an obvious example: the term ‘football’ in the United States refers to American football, whereas in the United Kingdom it is more commonly associated with the game played with the ball to feet (i.e. ‘soccer’ in the US). Then again, a French speaker will rarely google the word ‘football’ in its entirety, but rather the usual French abbreviation ‘foot’. Confusing, no?

This is precisely why it remains best practice to carry out fresh keyword analyses per language, each time focusing on the specific language area and region.


Incorrect spelling is often a necessary evil

Your ad will logically appear only when someone searches your (brand) keywords. And it will happen to you – you come up with an original English name for your brand, only for the lion’s share of your target audience to butcher the spelling in the search bar. Even Blue Lines is sometimes rechristened ‘Bluelines’, or even ‘Bleu Line’.

To what extent is your foreign-language target audience familiar with English or specific terms? Are there already companies with similar names in that language area? This is all valuable information that’s best factored in when planning your SEA strategy!

The same applies to synonyms of search terms, even if they are not completely accurate. Take, for example, the word ‘plug’, which is often also used to refer to a ‘plug socket’. You can also include these ‘less suitable’ words in your SEA campaign if there is sufficient search volume to warrant it.


The maximum character length is the killer

With Google Ads, you can’t escape it: the character limit is 30 characters for a headline, and 90 for a description. And yep, that does include spaces! We know from experience how challenging that already is in English. It is therefore logical that, say, a French or German translator will be less than enthusiastic about your SEA translation job.

In a nutshell, the strict character limit makes it practically impossible to convey the exact same message or messages in foreign-language ads – especially if you want to target longer keywords. Take, for example, ‘solar panel battery’. This already accounts for 19 characters, whereas ‘batterie de panneau solaire’ fills almost an entire headline with 27 characters… As you can see, such SEA translations are no picnic!


Your ads are not adjusted to local competition

Have you gained insight into the competition you are up against in the new language area, as well as how they run their own marketing and ad campaigns? If you want to stay out of the shadows of the big players, make sure your ads stand out.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with throwing around flashy or fancy words. What you have to do is address other needs or problems for your target audience, put forward other USPs or grab your target audience’s attention with a different approach.

Shaping your message based on a competitive analysis is, erm… the message!


Localisation is crucial for successful ad copy

Far too often, the importance of localisation and transcreation is still underestimated. This is proven by the many translation bloopers we see circulating online. In the case of ad copy, for example, it’s all about quips, phrases and references. How do you include these in the translation without sacrificing impact (i.e. clicks)?

In other words, just because a headline is funny or clever in the source language does not mean that your target audience in another language area will think so too. Or perhaps they are not concerned by the problem you are raising, or are not waiting for you to provide a solution to it in any case.

A marketer needs to have sufficient understanding of the target market, and a translator needs a great amount of creativity, as they are entering copywriting territory at this point.

In fact, we are essentially talking about reinventing the campaign from scratch! And thus the circle is complete.


Conclusion: dare to look beyond translation (and have a think before you begin)

Want your Google Ads campaign to perform optimally in another language? Then you need a native transcreator or copywriter who understands the local culture and who knows their way around marketing. As it happens, we know quite a few of them!

For 100% digital insurer Flora by Ethias, we worked on French-language SEA campaigns in this manner. Et ça marche! As Baptiste can attest:


Our first Flemish campaigns were translations of already-existing campaigns written in French. Despite the quality of the translation, the results did not follow as expected. When we decided to develop a new Flemish campaign from scratch, we immediately saw the difference.

Baptiste Gemis, Marketing Consultant


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