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Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, bottom left, after the first United Nations vote on the election of the five non-permanent members of the Security Council October 12, 2010 at the United Nations in New York.

Advertising globally has been good to Jonathan Defoy.

The founder and CEO of BizTree, a Montreal-based business-in-a-box service, is running ads against about 100,000 search-engine keywords around the world.

BizTree's focus is on one product: its $200 collection of 1,500-plus pre-written document templates covering everyday business transactions, and it sells most of them online as digital downloads. To get the word out, Mr. Defoy runs search ads that cater to clients in each market he'd like to be in.

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"Don't do one general campaign in English, all over the world," he counsels. "It's easy, but the bidding and the keywords are very different from one country to the other."

The trick worked for him. Careful global targeting helps explain how he built his business into a 40-person operation, selling products in eight different languages to customers in every country in the world.

Globe-spanning platforms such as Google make international advertising look simple - perhaps deceptively so. In truth, it's easy to send online ads around the world with a few clicks. Crafting the right ads is another trick entirely.

Here's how to go about it.

Pick the right platform

Search-engine and social-network advertising is as appealing a prospect internationally as it is domestically. The same targeting features you use to determine whether a Google campaign will run in Victoria or Calgary can be used to send ads to users in Milan or Moscow.

Facebook, the master of fine-toothed demographic targeting, offers the same potential.

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With that in mind, don't assume those services are popular in every market you'd like to tap. (After all, Friendster - remember that? - is big in the Philippines.)

Google's biggest blind spot is China - it ranks a distant second in the world's most populous country behind Baidu, a homegrown competitor. Its foothold has been doubly precarious since its very public fallings-out with the Chinese government over cyber-security and censorship.

Baidu has launched a search-engine marketing tool that's not unlike Google's AdWords. However, while it's making public-relations forays into the English-speaking world, Baidu's software is none too friendly to anglophones.

In Russia, the leading search engine is a Russian-language site called Yandex, which controls the majority of the market. controls a sizable share of the Indian search market - though Google still dominates there - and across most other parts of Europe and Asia.

Plan the campaign

"You want to separate your countries," Mr. Defoy says. "That's extremely important."

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One thing he has learned, he says, is that languages and countries are not the same thing. An English campaign that works in Canada isn't guaranteed to work in Australia, the United States or Britain. Consumers search for different terms in different cultures, and each has its own English idioms.

The same goes for French: Quebec French doesn't play well in Paris, and vice-versa. (Mr. Defoy remembers discovering that the colloquial verb for saving money in Quebec - "sauvez" - was poorly received in France, where people say "epargnez.")

Mr. Defoy suggests starting with one campaign, then copying it into other markets and adjusting it to fit as regional differences suggest themselves. Trial-and-error is a time-honoured part of the search-advertising process, and it's no different when working globally.

Find the right terms

Search-engine advertising is all about clever wording. First, advertisers need to pick the keywords that their ads will appear next to when users search. Second, they must write pithy ads that are compelling enough to entice users to give them a click.

"Bid on the keywords in the local language as well as in English," says Avi Goldfarb, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business.

Even if you're not planning to translate your entire web presence into other languages (and you shouldn't, unless you can handle follow-up inquiries in that language), advertising in the local tongue will catch casual web searches, while English ads will attract users who are deliberately looking for services abroad.

Advertising in languages you don't speak can be effective, but it's important to flag in the ad the fact that the product is in English only, so as not to confuse buyers. An ad in Italian for books in English, for instance, might end with the words "available in English."

Writing the ads calls for a native speaker, which can be found locally or through online freelancing sites. Translation software such as Google Translate can help you find basic keywords, and Google itself will suggest phrases you might want to advertise against. But fine-tuning the phrases and writing the ads is a task that requires a fine sense of tone and an awareness of cultural context, which only a native speaker can provide.

Reach out

Making yourself accessible is a critical follow-up to any advertising. If the website your ads point to is in English, and you're hoping to reach a global audience, make sure the English is simple, straightforward, and accessible to an audience that will be speaking it as a second language.

A simple site layout and plenty of illustrations will help.

Mr. Defoy also suggests tactics that have helped bring his web presence closer to his international clients, especially once a firm has the staff available to work in different languages. Registering a local web domain (for instance, in Britain, or .de in Germany) helps to appeal to locals, and improve ranking in local search engines.

Skype lets you purchase a local number in another country, and it will redirect the call to your own office.

"That way," he says, "those customers have the feeling you're serving them locally."

It might be a Google earth, but it's still up to business owners to make the connection.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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About the Author
Technology Culture Columnist

Ivor Tossell has been writing columns about online culture for The Globe and Mail since 2005. A reformed web programmer, his writing on urban affairs, technology and culture has appeared in Canadian publications ranging from very glossy to downright inky. He lives in Toronto. More

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