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Getting Started With International Paid Search

Google’s Enhanced Campaigns brought about the ability to do more with fewer campaigns. Gone are the days of duplicating campaigns to target different devices, geographies, and combinations thereof.

For advertisers who have been mulling over international paid search expansion, now is the time. You’ll just need to think through where you want to target, how you should structure your international paid search program, how to calculate bid modifiers, and a few other nuances.

Where Do You Want to Target?

You can open up your international paid search to anywhere you ship or do business. If you’re an e-retailer, pull the list of countries from your shipping address drop-down menu. If you prefer to wade in slowly, start with your higher order volume countries.

How to Structure Your International Paid Search Program: Should You Use Your Existing U.S. Campaigns Or Create a New International Campaign?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding if you need to create new campaigns rather than using the existing ones:
  • Are all of your products eligible to be shipped overseas? Licensing agreements and international Customs shipping regulations may be limiting factors for your international paid search. In this case, creating a separate international campaign will be the way to go, and you can tailor your keyword list to the products you are allowed to market abroad.
  • Will you want the same ad copy to run internationally? Retailers who offer free domestic shipping and promote it in ad copy, for example, may not want to offer free international shipping. In this case, creating a separate international campaign(s) will allow for easier management of different ad copy.
  • Are your international URLs different than those for the U.S.? If so, you’ll want to create a separate campaign(s) for international in order to utilize different landing pages for users outside of the United States.
It's also important to consider that when you create a duplicate version of a campaign to target a different audience, location, etc., data is split across the different versions rather than contributing to a richer data set on a single version. For this reason, I recommend layering bid modifiers on top of your existing U.S. campaigns, if possible. In some cases, advertisers may want to create separate campaigns for each country. Reasons for this could include differences in product availability by country, multiple languages, or different URLs for each country. The principles are the same whether you’re creating one or multiple international campaigns, so in the interest of simplicity, I’ll stick to two scenarios here:

Scenario 1: Adding International Targets and Bid Modifiers to Existing U.S. Campaigns

In this scenario, you’ll be layering geo-targeting bid modifiers on top of your existing bids, so the big question is how much the value of the traffic differs from country to country. Depending on your analytics platform, you should be able to get an idea of baseline differences in revenue per visit by geography for your direct load and organic search traffic. Your data pull could look something like this:

Calculating International Difference from US RPV

The percent difference from the U.S. revenue per visit is what you’ll use as a baseline bid modifier. When in doubt, set your modifiers on the conservative side – you can always adjust them as you gather data and see the value of the traffic. Once you've calculated the bid modifiers you want to use for your international countries, you’ll just need to add new locations to your existing U.S. campaign(s) with the corresponding adjustments.

adding international bid modifiers to US AdWords campaign

Scenario 2: Creating a New International Campaign that Targets Multiple Countries

So, you’ve decided to create new campaigns for international paid search. Your keyword list should reflect the products or services you’re able to sell abroad. You’ll want to use those keywords’ U.S. counterparts to guide your initial bids, typically resulting in a reduction of bids for international targeting. Whether due to higher shipping costs or less brand awareness, we almost always see lower value per click for international traffic. Like I described above, see what insights you can pull from your site’s analytics program to get an idea of how you want to set your bids. The first goal is to figure out the percentage difference in revenue per visit, or sales per click, between U.S. and international.  Your data pull could look something like this:

calculating overall international difference from US RPV

In this scenario, the international traffic is worth, on average, 22% less than the U.S. traffic. This is the number you’ll use to discount your U.S. keyword bids for their new international counterparts. This number will not be used to establish the geo-modifiers, just the base bid for each new keyword in the international campaign.

US vs international base bid adjustments

Now, for geo-modifiers, we’ll use a similar method to calculate the difference in revenue per visit by country. Notice that we’re comparing each country to the international average. U.S. data is not included in this calculation since we already adjusted for that difference in the international base bids above. This will let us know how much we want to adjust the base bid for each country targeted in the international campaign:

calculating international campaign bid modifiers

When you’re ready to set up the new international targeting, you’ll create your new campaign as you always do, and then go to the targeting tab, and click on “locations.” Click on “add location” and enter the country you want to target, and the bid adjustment you calculated for that country. AdWords may default to adding United States to this tab for your account depending on your settings, so you’ll want to delete that location from this campaign if that's the case.

creating new campaign with international targets

So What Do You Do About Foreign Languages?

You can grow a successful international paid search program without using any foreign languages as there are plenty of people searching in English around the world. Testing ad copy in both English and the dominant language of a country can help to surface any conversion rate or CTR differences that may exist between language versions, helping you to better decide whether or not to use English. If you decide to advertise in foreign languages, you may need to split out additional campaigns for each different language so that you can tailor ad copy and keyword lists to that language. Keep in mind, if you aren't fluent in that particular language you’ll want to have a translator or quality translation resource available to help manage the foreign language portion of the account. Otherwise, managing search query logs, adding negatives to your campaigns, and making any ad copy changes will be difficult. Also, make sure you check your campaign settings for language and targeting method. You’ll need to include any languages you’re targeting in your campaign. Additionally, for most online retailers I would recommend opening up the targeting method to “people in, searching for, or viewing pages about my targeted location,” if it isn't already selected. This setting will ensure you’re eligible for as many relevant impressions as possible. With this setting enabled, your ad can be eligible to show even if the user isn’t physically located in your targeted location, but is searching about that location, or has been viewing other webpages about that location.

language and targeting method adjustments

Other Considerations

We often layer in bidding adjustments for time of day, day of week, seasonal trends, and holidays for greater optimization. Keep in mind that the adjustments you use in these regards for your U.S. campaigns may not be relevant in other nations. At the very least, exclude your international campaign from any irrelevant adjustments. If possible, boost the performance of your international campaign by customizing bidding adjustments, ad copy, and promotions to account for international holidays, seasonal effects, and time zones.

Ongoing Optimization

Your geo-targeting bid modifiers are not the “set them and forget them” type; the ones we calculated above are just baselines for getting your international program up and running as efficiently as possible. As your international program collects data, you’ll want to go in and update those modifiers. If you have your AdWords account set up to pull in sales values from Google Analytics, you can pull the data you need right from the AdWords user interface. Again, you’re just looking for differences in sales per click compared to the average sales per click for the campaign as a whole.


If you ship internationally, spending some time to add targeting for all those countries to your paid search program will be time well spent. It’s important to calculate the value of your international traffic to ensure you bid appropriately for it. Your site analytics program should help you with establishing baseline values, but be sure to pull paid search data once your international paid search expansion has gathered adequate data, and continue to update your bid modifiers. Now, go get started, and surprise yourself with how easy it is to expand into international paid search! Special thanks to Ellie Giles, Ross Koon, and Ben Mars for their contributions to this post.
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