On a global scale, multilingualism isn’t unique to Canada. There are many countries whose citizens speak more than one language: Belgium (French and Dutch), Switzerland (French, German and Italian), Spain (Spanish, Catalan and Basque), South Africa (English and Afrikaans), China (Mandarin and Cantonese), etc.
At Adviso, we not only grew up in this multilingual environment, but we also work on international projects (Cirque du Soleil, Lasik MD, etc.) and as a result, we’ve come to develop a few instincts around managing language on the web. In this article, we’ll explain how we apprehend language in search, particularly within the framework of paid search campaigns (SEM).
The interface language is at the foundation of your targeting. In AdWords and Bing Ads, that’s the language the user has set as the default in the Google or Microsoft search engine you’re targeting (not the usage language, which can be defined by a cookie).
This situation isn’t without challenges though, since the interface’s language setting doesn’t always accurately reflect the language spoken by the user. For example, at Adviso, most of our search engines are set to English, even though we are francophone. And experience has shown us that this situation (and the reverse) isn’t unique to Adviso, but actually affects a number of people in Quebec, particularly in Montreal.
So, if the number of interfaces in a given language doesn’t reflect the number of actual speakers of that language, what should you do?
That’s the solution we use to make sure we’re targeting users in the right language. Instead of targeting the language of their search engine, we prioritize the language of use, in other words, the language they use when they’re browsing the web. With queries becoming more and more conversational, users are naturally searching in their mother tongue.
Another advantage: targeting the keyword language rather than the browser language allows you to properly target voice searches, some of which are done through interfaces you can’t target by language (smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo).
When you create SEM campaigns targeting queries in a specific language (for example, French-only keywords), make sure you don’t specify a language in your settings. That way you’ll be able to target everyone, and won’t accidentally exclude francophones who are using Google in English.
Targeting by keyword language does have one limit: terms related to your brand. Essentially, like all proper nouns, these queries can’t be assigned a particular language, nor can they be translated.
For example, “Apple” is still “Apple” all over the world. It doesn’t become “Pomme” in Quebec or “Manzana” in Mexico. In this particular situation, the search term doesn’t allow you to know the language the query was carried out in.
To determine the right language to display ads for your “Brand” campaigns, you need to make a choice. You could be guided by the law (bill 101 in Quebec would require you to choose French), or statistics (in Brussels, French speakers are more numerous than Dutch speakers).
But you can also target your brand campaigns to multiple languages. If that’s your goal, you would create different campaigns, each in a different language (one targeting French browsers and displaying ads in French, another in English targeting English browsers, etc.). Here again, the combinations could be endless, and it’s important not to overlook a segment of your searches.
Alongside official languages, like English and French in Canada, there are other languages too, brought in through immigration. In our increasingly globalized world, there are more and more of these. The last census showed that outside of English and French, Arabic is most widely spoken language in the greater Montreal area, with Arabic speakers totalling 18% of the population (nearly one in five people).
In Vancouver and Toronto, the most widely spoken immigrant languages are Mandarin and Cantonese, while in Alberta, we find Tagalog (Philippines) and Punjabi.
Targeting immigrant populations in their own language could be an excellent way of standing out from the competition. For example, a few months ago, we considerably increased engagement for a Cirque du Soleil show in California by displaying ads in Spanish to all users searching in that language.
To identify the languages spoken by your customers or potential prospects, you can, of course, look at census data—but nothing there will tell you whether this data applies to your industry or your company. On the other hand, Google Analytics’s Audience—Geo—Language report will quickly tell you what opportunities you do (or don’t) have in this area.
Finally, keep in mind that to be effective, you need more than good language targeting : you have to make sure that your product or service offering and the customer experience you provide deliver on the searches you’re targeting (whatever the language). Choosing the right search terms isn’t the only factor in the success of your search operations, you also have to think of the overall user experience.