Expensive Mistakes

The 5 most expensive mistakes brands make using international paid media

For digital marketers looking to invest in paid media campaigns in global markets, there are numerous causes for anxiety:

  • Has my ad copy been appropriately translated?
  • Are my CTAs appropriate in other languages?
  • Have my keywords been appropriately chosen? Are they the best options for my product or service?
  • Am I investing in the right markets?

Some errors cost brands significant sums of money, either in wasted budget or missed revenue. Below we’ve collated some of the costliest mistakes that we’ve seen along with potential solutions.

1. Translating, not localising

Translating long lists of keywords and ad content may be quick and easy, but how culturally accurate is this? An ad copy or USP that performs well for one market or language won’t necessarily perform as well elsewhere unless it’s culturally accurate or relevant. Direct translations of English content can often lead to grammatically incorrect or awkward phrasing. The resulting copy won’t read well and can lead to significant issues when translating keywords too, such as altering the meaning or merely missing high volume terms that are relevant.

Solution: Perform thorough keyword research so that ad copies and critical landing pages can be localised properly, helping provide users with the right context and message, while capturing the desired intent. A thorough approach will also help ensure you’re not bidding on the wrong keywords but prioritising your spend where performance is most likely to benefit.

2. Not translating at all

The need to translate your copy may sound obvious, but we’ve seen clients who have launched paid media activity in international markets, where they don’t have localised content, and rely on English. Even if you have local content, how sure are you that your ad copies are triggering correctly across different markets? You won’t want your English ad copy appearing to users who only speak Italian and taking these users to the EN version of your site. There are only a few limited situations where it is advisable to advertise in English to a non-English speaking market, and you need to be extremely careful to set up your activity to ensure that it targets the right audience.

Solution: If you’re entering a new market, the chances are you won’t be able to maximise your reach unless you produce content in new languages. As above, localise content, preferably with a native speaker who lives in the market. But also ensure you set up your account’s language and location settings correctly, including suitable targeting.

3. Poor paid media account optimisation

You may have a best-in-class paid search account structure and optimisation process in one market, but this doesn’t mean the same methods will work well in another. For example, producing translated negative keyword lists may result in costly errors, and you may negate a term that is essential to your business.

Solution: Involve a native speaker in essential account optimisation tasks such as negative keyword list building, and ensure actions aimed at enhancing performance don’t end up having the opposite effect. Cultural conversion optimisation is key to success in new markets for paid media.

4. Going after the wrong market(s)

Perhaps you’ve nailed your UK proposition and, looking to expand, you assume the US will be the most accessible market to try next. You may be right, but there are numerous factors to consider:

  • Is your budget sufficient?
  • How are consumers in other markets likely to respond to your products or services?
  • Do you need to adhere to any local laws?
  • Are there other markets you haven’t research with a high volume of interest in your products?

For example, your retail business may be generating a healthy return on ad spend in the UK and decide it’s time to expand to the US – and returns become losses. Factors such as delivery time expectations or clothing size interpretation may negatively impact performance, and even encroach on hard-earned brand trust and reputation.

Solution: Conducting thorough market research before deciding to expand your offering is essential in identifying potential barriers to new market entry. Any conclusions will help to inform how your international paid media strategy and ad copy should be tailored to unveil where the most significant opportunities exist.

5. Not considering platforms outside of Google or Facebook

Sticking with the major Search Engines or Social Media advertising platforms will not necessarily provide the healthiest gains in other markets.

For example, Microsoft Advertising may turn out to be more profitable when entering the US market or when starting with a relatively small budget – Microsoft Advertising CPC’s tend to be lower, and the platform attracts a higher net worth audience that may have a high propensity to purchase from your brand. Or if you’re advertising in Japan, at Oban our experts have experienced first-hand that Yahoo Japan can perform head and shoulders above Google Ads.

Solution: Carefully consider your ad platforms before spending, as depending on your products and services you’re expanding with, your choice in a new market may have a significant impact on your revenue and return on investment.


Before investing in paid media in international markets, it is essential to consider whether your assets are going to be consumed by the right users, on the right platforms, as intended. Only then can your international marketing be scaled further and deliver accelerated growth.

It’s worth investing time to set the right strategic direction for your international marketing, before you make mistakes which may turn out to be irreversible, or at least costly to correct.

If you’re looking for further help with your international paid media, get in touch with Oban to discuss how to make the most of your digital advertising budget.

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