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Black Cats on Landing Pages and Other International SEO Concerns: The @SurveyMonkey Interview

Searchmetrics Event Interview Series: Eli Schwartz of SurveyMonkey

Search Engine Journal has partnered with Searchmetrics to host a one-day, invite-only executive marketing event in San Francisco: SEO, Content Marketing, & Analytics: The Three Pillars of Online Marketing Success in 2014. One of our speakers is Eli Schwartz, the Online Marketing Manager for SurveyMonkey. His session: “International SEO: You’re missing out if you’re not doing it and it’s not as hard as you think.” 

I had the opportunity to interview Eli about all things marketing and SurveyMonkey, below.

I’m always interested to see what marketing teams at well-known companies are focusing on in the digital space. What are your main responsibilities as the online marketing manager over at SurveyMonkey?

Eli Schwartz, SurveyMonkeyMy primary responsibility is to oversee our global SEO efforts and ensure that we’re always following SEO best practices. Our site is fully translated into 16 languages, which allows us to target customers in over 50 countries worldwide.

To achieve my organic traffic goals, I not only have to develop solutions and processes which help our search traffic grow, I also need to evangelize SEO internally so search engine best practices are incorporated across the entire company. I collaborate on a daily basis with our content and social teams and I feel extremely lucky that I work every day with really amazing people that “get” SEO. I also work very closely with our engineering teams who really deserve most of the credit for our organic traffic growth. They’re the ones responsible for the heavy lifting when it comes to implementing solutions to some very complicated SEO issues.

In addition to SEO, I also work with our paid marketing team on our global advertising initiatives. My work on our paid campaigns means that I’m in contact with employees from international search engines. This gives me access into some great insights on how to grow our international organic traffic.

Your upcoming session at our Searchmetrics event covers international SEO strategies. What are 3 main ways international SEO differs from national SEO?

International SEO is essentially domestic SEO with the added challenges of new languages and search quality that’s a few years behind English search. However, there are many ways that international is different than English SEO.

Here are three top tips to know before you jump in to the world of international SEO:

  1. It’s easier to generate traffic internationally than it is domestically. Not sure about that? Have a look at the search results for competitive search terms in English and you’ll see relevant websites come up in page after page of search results. Do the same query (translated) in another language and after the first page or two, irrelevant results will start to pop up. There are millions of pages fighting for rankings in English, but you don’t have nearly as tough competition internationally. This opportunity can’t last so take advantage while you still can.
  2. Exact match keyword targeting is crucial for international SEO. Synonym matching in non-English is very weak when compared to English. Whether a user searches “online survey” or “online questionnaire” in English, Google knows that the user is looking for an online survey. In other languages the results are significantly different when the synonyms of survey are used. Additionally, there are special characters to consider such as the Umlaut vowels in German. To English speakers, a ü is just a U with some dots, but in fact Google considers this to be an entirely different letter than a U. The rankings will shift if you use a U in the query instead of a ü.
  3. Localization of content and keywords is extremely important. For English content, you don’t have to put too much effort into varying the content when targeting different locales, but internationally, you need to pay far more attention to the intent and wording of content.

We’ve all seen hilarious translation fails on Facebook so you need to be sure that you’re relying on the right experts when translating your content. Otherwise, get ready to be the next fail on Facebook! It’s not just text that should be localized; colors and objects mean different things to various cultures. You’d never put a black cat on a US targeted landing page—superstition, witches and all– but in Japan you might because they’re considered a good luck symbol.

Japanese translation failAn example of a translation fail

Why has it been so important for SurveyMonkey to focus on international SEO?

SurveyMonkey is in the fortunate position of being a highly recognized and popular brand. There are very few people in the US that haven’t engaged or at least heard of our product since it started back in 1999. When users look for a survey product, many of them will just come directly to us without the need of a search engine. Even when they do conduct a search engine query, we can rely on our brand recognition to help drive more traffic even on non-brand terms. However, internationally, we don’t have the advantage of a well-known brand to deliver traffic directly to us. SEO is far more important because it helps people to discover us right when they’re on the hunt for the type of solution that we offer—designing and launching online surveys!

Americans are very accustomed to giving information out in an online survey. In other cultures where online surveys are less common, the content on our site becomes even more useful. Our online presence encourages them to use our survey tool and also educates international folks on the usefulness of an online survey for collecting and making sense of data.

Let’s take a look at an example. Your average American business owner would probably choose to use an online survey to gauge customer satisfaction with a sales experience. In Russia however, people are a bit more reluctant to share information about a sales experience so it may never occur to a retailer to send out a survey to their customer base. It just doesn’t come naturally to them as a common business practice like it does here. If the Russian retailer would go on Yandex to look for a way to measure customer satisfaction, they’d discover and hopefully realize that an online survey could be the answer they need for all those burning business questions and challenges that keep coming up.

Of course, the main reason that international SEO is so important to us here at SurveyMonkey, and for any other business, is that the US population makes up a mere 5% of the entire world population. We also only represent 10% of Internet users worldwide. So why focus on a sliver when the rest of the customer pie is out there in the world just waiting to be shared?

Some methods of guest blogging and unnatural links are getting penalized by Google. What do you think will be the next SEO strategy Google and other search engines will start cracking down on?

You can never be certain about what SEO tactic search engines will punish next. In my experience, it’s always been something that began as a loophole and then was exploited to the point where it transformed into a mainstream strategy–this forces Google to act. Take Panda as an example. By the time Google got around to rolling out this algo update, they were being mocked by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times for not quickly catching spam. Everyone who was using thin content to gain easy rankings should have known that they were on borrowed time. I believe the same applied to widgets and infographics, bought links, press releases and now guest posts.

To that end, I think the Hummingbird algorithm update has fundamentally changed SEO. It’s harder than ever to find ways to increase Google traffic without a strategy that focuses on the experience of end users – kind of what Google wanted all along. Do a quick search for SEO tactics in 2014 and you will find blog post after blog post with user-focused recommendations that seems as if they could’ve been written by a search quality team at Google.

Where I think Google is lagging on quality is in vertical search. Local, images, video, and apps have nowhere near the quality results that we have come to expect in a Google web search. Keyword stuffing, fake links, and poor content is alive and well in vertical search, and I think an algo change that enhances vertical search quality significantly is probably not too far off in the future.

One thing I enjoy about digital marketing is that several different strategies and platforms can work together (e.g. blogging and social media). What is one outside component of digital marketing that SEOs are not taking enough advantage of?

I don’t think that many SEOs work closely enough with PPC marketers. There’s so much that can be gained by taking advantage of shared knowledge between SEO and PPC. [pullquote]By no means is it necessary to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing meta descriptions for SEO.[/pullquote] The PPC team is probably already well aware of the types of content that inspires clicks and ultimately, conversions. Just re-using the same kind of wording used in Adwords campaigns can take advantage of all the testing that went into the winning ad copy.

From a query perspective, a great deal of knowledge can be garnered from a PPC account. Keywords that generate high clicks and conversions on PPC are prime targets for new pieces of SEO content. A technical SEO looking at the search query report for Broad and Phrase matched keywords can find some fascinating data about what Google and Bing’s algorithm considers to be synonyms, modifiers, and spelling mistakes.

I am fortunate that I’m able to work closely with our PPC teams. I have access to a lot of the data that can help me make SEO decisions and I also manage our PPC agencies in Korea, Russia and Japan. As a result, I learn a great deal about the different algorithms that are in play on the non-Google international search engines. For example, I learned that most English speakers wouldn’t know that there are 12 different way of writing a noun in Russian, and Yandex Direct (PPC) does not broad match into these nouns. It’s even more difficult for the Yandex algorithm to rank content organically when they also have to try to understand the query intent behind noun forms.

Online communication has revolutionized the way we as a society socialize and do business. What is something about your job or the digital marketing industry as a whole that you wish “the rest of the world” realized?

You need to think about global competition and not just who’s competing against you domestically. A brick and mortar business only has to be aware of their local competitors and of any potential large brands that could open up shop next door. Digital businesses also need to be vigilant about potential competitors anywhere in the world and always be improving their product so they remain ahead of their competitors. The next startup to take on a digital business is almost as likely to be founded inside a dorm room in Shanghai as it is inside a dorm in Boston.

Ask anyone who h/she thinks Amazon’s largest competitor might be. Most will probably mention Wal-Mart, Target or other hybrid offline/online retailers. In truth, Amazon’s biggest competitors are actually in China. Should Tmall or Alibaba, its parent company, choose to enter the US market in earnest, they have the scale and capital to give Amazon a serious run for their money. Amazon can keep their top spot by building a defensible strategy that doesn’t just view domestic competitors as their greatest challenger.

Bonus question: At the moment, what is your favorite blog or website (besides your own)?

Search Engine Journal, of course! All kidding aside, I have had SEJ in my feed reader for many years, and it’s truly exciting to see so much awesome and really helpful content continuing to be published. I also really like State of Digital, which is my favorite site for reading about non-US SEO. Honorable mention goes out to–a brand new English language site from Yandex, the Russia’s biggest search engine.


Featured Image Credit: Airdone via Shutterstock

Kelsey Jones Marketing Consultant, Owner at Six Stories & StoryShout

Kelsey Jones is a marketing consultant, writer, and owner of and Kelsey has been in digital marketing since ...

Black Cats on Landing Pages and Other International SEO Concerns:  The @SurveyMonkey Interview

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