The Oban Blog

Talking in tongues – culture, language and global digital marketing

Operating multiple digital markets can challenge the most experienced managers. From online consumer behavioural patterns to internet usage and platform engagement, each country can differ greatly. All too often, a company’s approach is to reapply the domestic structure and roll out the same strategy to each target market. Translating content, keywords and ads, replicating digital platforms and therefore neglecting major cultural and social differences. Culture and online consumer behaviour are acculturated; stagnating campaign performance and brand awareness.

At Oban, we strongly believe the greatest factor in launching a successful international digital campaign is to localise online strategy. Driving engagement and brand visibility through a user’s preferential search terms and building a presence on relevant platforms for each territory.

So, what are the key differences when it comes to conducting a global online search strategy? We’ve highlighted some of the main principles to be aware of when creating an international digital strategy, proving examples of unique elements in language and behaviour.

Use of keywords

What happens all too often is the translation of keyword lists from country-to-country.  Failing to account that there may be one way of saying something in one language but four ways in another. Assuming each country’s top search terms are the same – for example, that the English are as motivated by brand names as Italians – is ultimately flawed.

The following example highlights online keyword volumes on Google Italy for the term ‘Cheap flights’.


The perfectly translated version of ‘cheap flights’ in Italian is ‘voli economici’ which has 33,100 searches per month on However, the term ’voli low cost’ – a hybrid of English and Italian – has almost eight times as much search volume and lower competition scores. This insight wouldn’t have been revealed through a translation process as it’s unique to the online market; emphasising the value of conducting local keyword research for search visibility.

To create effective keyword lists for international SEO or international PPC strategies, employ local experts who truly understand the language and culture. Apply insights to the products and services you wish to drive and use this as a base for search campaigns.

Localise ads and content

Just like keywords, translating ads from country-to-country is generally poor practice. Always take into account that international consumers are unique in their online buying journey. For example, German consumers have a preference for direct copy so they can ‘get to the point quickly’, while the French prefer messaging around quality and heritage.

A recent study conducted by DIBS shows:

  • 64% of Germans go online to purchase as it is easy to compare prices
  • 70% of Germans enjoy buying online as products are readily available
  • Meanwhile, only 44% of French consumers go online to purchase as it’s easy to compare prices
  • While 45% of the French like purchasing online as products are readily available

When it comes to strategising conduct market research and pinpoint USPs for each target market, taking into account how online users behave and what they expect to see.

Online user experience

The experience users have on your website has a profound effect on engagement levels and conversion rate. Understanding how a website’s functionality serves your target market is key to delivering a holistic and positive user journey.

Take a market like China. Have you viewed a Chinese website and thought it looked a bit messy? Consider Sina’s homepage, one of China’s biggest news portals. The page you see below scrolls down almost eight times over and features heavy use of content, as well as flashing and revolving imagery.


Now, let’s compare this to UK best practice by analysing the BBC’s homepage. Here, 90% of the content is above the fold, a large image consumes the majority of the page and only a small amount of supporting content is linking from the homepage.


This is a classic example of how different cultures view coverage on a website; the English prefer above the fold content with multiple links directed to specific pages, while in China preferences are different. Chinese users generally do not want to jump from page to page on a website but are happy to scroll down a long page to find their specific interest. Moreover, the Chinese are not deterred by numerous on-page activities – which are often active and vibrant – opposed to the UK’s simplistic form.


As you can see, applying Western best practice to the East would have a very different impact on consumer engagement levels. Diversifying strategy and embracing cultural differences leads to far better results, increasing consumer retention, SERPs and revenue. Develop bespoke online strategies per market – find an opportunity to beat existing competition and increase performance globally. The simple fact is most organisations don’t go to the lengths required, leaving a fantastic scope to gain market share and traction. Remember, the key to localising online channels is understanding cultural differences. If you haven’t grasped this within your strategy, campaign performance will possibly underperform and fail to benefit from ROI.