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How to Choose a Multilingual Online Marketing Agency

Choosing an agency can be quite a time consuming and lengthy undertaking. When it comes to choosing an agency that specialises in foreign language digital marketing, it becomes even trickier, particularly if you aren’t familiar with the languages, that you are looking to have online marketing carried out for. Handing over responsibility to someone else, to have your brand represented and promoted in another country can be very daunting.

Here at SERPS we have been helping brands enter foreign markets since day one, and have helped many brands and fellow online marketing agencies to expand their own service offering. I’ve put together a few items that should be considered before you even contact any prospective agencies, along with a number of questions and why you should ask them.

Initially you should be quite clear about your brief, and you should be able to give the international marketing agency a pretty good idea of the following:

  • Which countries would you like to target?
  • Do you already have a web presence in those countries or do you actually need to create a whole new website and create specific content for those new markets?
  • Do you have a plan to roll out each country one by one or does all work need to be carried out simultaneously?
  • Do you need full service support or will you require training in order to carry out some or all work after the initial set-up in-house?
  • What are your goals for each market?

Once you’ve established a clear plan of your requirements, it’s time to put the potential agencies on the spot.

Vetting an agency for its international digital marketing capabilities is crucial, and you will need to ask the right questions, which might differ from what you would usually ask any local digital marketing agency. This is why I’ve put together a quick guide, so you can decide more easily whether the agencies you’ve approached are worth talking to further.

Are your native speakers actually digital marketing specialists?

Does the agency actually employ digital marketing specialists who are native speakers? Are those based in the UK office or are they based abroad? Whether the marketers are based in the UK/US or abroad doesn’t matter, but the importance lies in the fact that the multilingual staff are trained and proficient digital marketers, with a few years’ experience. Merely relying on an agency that may have English speaking online marketing specialists, who work with a translation team or foreign students should set off alarm bells, and I would recommend staying away from those agencies.

Who does the translation work?

This is actually a trick question but one you will be most likely looking to ask.

I always cringe at the term “translation” as to me it’s defined as taking one language and translating it into another without actually taking into account local differences. This implies there isn’t actually a native SEO or PPC specialist carrying out the work. If a multilingual agency refers to any of their work as “translation” it’s pretty certain that they probably don’t have native digital marketers.

How do you handle localisations?

Once established that the potential multilingual agency has digital marketers, who are proficient in SEO and Paid Search, social media marketing methods and are also native speakers in your target languages, you should be asking them about the exact processes they use when localising content.  All keyword research should be carried out from scratch and not be translated, as native speakers know their own country’s intricacies and colloquialisms that are specific to their country’s culture. For example you could make the mistake translating “mobile phone” to “mobiltelefon” from English into German, however many more Germans use the term “handy”, so you would be losing out on a massive potential market share if you hadn’t carried out proper keyword research, rather than merely translated the keyword. This isn’t only valid for keywords, but also for imagery and messaging. A marketing message that works for one market will most likely not be appropriate for another. Your agency should be in a position to guide you and give advice around that.

Who will carry out the international work?

This is an important factor. Does the agency outsource parts of the work to an external partner? This must not be a negative. We (SERPS Invaders) for example, work with a partner for our Chinese campaigns who has staff based locally. This is very important due to hosting and legal differences, where it’s vital to work with a trusted, local partner. It’s not a problem if the agency needs to outsource certain parts of the work, but I think it would be useful to have an account manager who is in the UK or at least on the same or similar time zone, so you can get answers in a timely fashion.

How will communication & project management be carried out?

This is important, as you will need to be in a position whereby you can discuss your requirements without language barriers. You should also be in a position to be able to arrange conference calls during your office hours, not when it’s 9am on the other side of the globe. Therefore, it would be ideal that your global agency has an office in your time zone, and your project manager speaks English fluently. For large scale projects, a project management tool, such as Basecamp or ActiveCollab might be useful to have set up, so all communication and all documents are kept in one place. Also ask to meet the main project manager on the account as you will want to make sure that you both get on well.

Do you have case studies?

Any reputable agency should have some case studies from previous successful projects. Even if they can’t disclose exact figures due to confidentiality clauses, it’s not unreasonable to ask the prospective agency for a few case studies from different sectors. If the agency hasn’t got any recent case studies, or none at all, ask whether you can contact any of their clients as a reference. Any agency with happy clients should have no problem producing a few referees, who will be more than happy to make themselves available to questions that you may have for them.

Are your reports going to be in English?

I think this is a fairly important question, since you will want to be able to review whether your campaigns are moving towards your required goals. At most multilingual agencies that have offices in English speaking countries the working language amongst staff are English, so the reporting will be by default in English too.

How do you handle global social media campaigns?

As social media marketing is on the increase across the globe, social media will become an essential or at least supporting role within your cross channel marketing mix. You should expect from your multilingual agency, that they won’t create content in English and get it translated into the other languages. Social media strategies have to be created for each country separately; particularly the native touch will play a huge role in how successful the campaigns will turn out. Your agency should be evaluating the channels that you should be active on for each country, and devise a content plan and strategy according to their initial findings. If you’re a B2B company your target audience would be on Viadeo in France but not on LinkedIn, whereas in Germany you would be looking at Xing. Make sure your agency is aware that different countries may tend to be active on different social media platforms.

Do success metrics differ from country to country?

Yes they will! – Countries don’t only differ in size, but also in behaviour. Keeping in mind that different cultures will react differently to new players entering a market, you might need to resign to the fact that you might not have the same success in Germany, as you would when you are entering France. Your prospective agency should guide you on developing the right content on your site, and ensure that your site shows the relevant trust signals users would be looking for in their respective market, in order to trust a new company. This is particularly important for e-commerce companies.

How many languages or countries can you cover?

Be sure to ask whether your agency has experience in the markets you are looking to enter. Ask them whether they have any particular strengths i.e. Europe and ask for specific case studies for the countries that you are looking to target. If they don’t this doesn’t have be a negative, as long as they can guarantee that there will be an experienced native digital marketer working on the campaign.

Final thoughts

Choosing a multilingual online marketing agency doesn’t have to be a difficult task. After all, it’s important that the agency shows that they are passionate about multilingual digital marketing, and that they will be the right fit for your requirements. You are embarking on an exciting journey when taking your brand global. Therefore you should make sure you do it with a partner you can trust and get the results you’re looking for.

You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIN or just email me! I’d love to hear from you.


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