How to increase the reach of your international and global AdWords campaigns with advanced language targeting

Last updated on Jul 15, 2015

When running international or global AdWords campaigns, lots of businesses miss out on potential reach by overusing AdWords language targeting. Here’s how to maximise the reach of your international or global AdWords campaigns by using language targeting in AdWords in a clever way.

Use AdWords language targeting carefully!

Language targeting in Google AdWords is a feature that can limit the reach of your AdWords campaigns if you don’t use it carefully. For national campaigns, the effect remains small: If you are advertising in France with French ads, or in Germany with German ads, you can increase your reach by adding English as an additional language targeting to your campaigns. Even Google itself recommends to set this additional language targeting.

The reason for this is that Google determines the language of a user based on his or her browser language and IP or on the language he manually selects on the Google home page or in his account settings. Chances are high that in the country you are targeting there is a small part of users that use Google in English instead of the local language.

In international or global AdWords campaigns, the effect of overusing AdWords language targeting is a lot bigger. Let’s have a look at how you can optimise your language targeting for campaigns that target a big number of linguistically diverse markets.

Step 1: Determine which languages you are going to use in your campaigns

This decision depends on various factors:

  • Which languages do your (potential) customers speak?
  • Which language versions do you have on your website? (DON’T EVER run campaigns in a language you don’t have landing pages for!)
  • Which languages do you offer support in? (Don’t waste your money on visitors whose questions you won’t be able to reply to.)

You might decide that English is all you need for your campaigns or you might end up with a long list of languages you want to create campaigns in. However you decide, make sure you do include English. In all international and global campaigns I have seen so far, English has been the language with the biggest reach and the best results (and I believe that the internet will become more and more English speaking over the next decades).

Step 2: Divide your keywords into two sets

Once you have decided which languages you are going to create campaigns in and you have determined all the keywords you want to include, you should divide the keywords of each language into two large sets:

  • Language-specific keywords
  • Linguistically ambiguous keywords

The keyword “handyvertrag” in German, for example, would be language-specific, because it doesn’t mean anything in any other language. If, on the other hand, you want to include the keyword “samsung smartphone” in your German campaigns, this keyword would have to go with the linguistically ambiguous keywords, as it could also be a keyword in Dutch, English, and many other languages.

Another example: In English, the keyword “cheap cell phones” would be language-specific, the keyword “iphone 7” would be linguistically ambiguous.

Got it so far?


Step 3: No language targeting for language-specific keywords

I guess you already know where this is leading, right? Now that you have a set of language-specific keywords in every language you are targeting, why would you need AdWords language targeting for this type of keyword? If a user searches in a language that you can determine just by the search query he enters into the Google search, why should it matter which language Google assigns to this user based on his browser language or the language he uses Google in? If a user searches in French you can show him French ads, even if he uses Google in English.

With this first set of keywords you will generate a reach that is a lot higher than the reach you would be able to generate using traditional language targeting in AdWords. Especially English is a language that lots of users search in, but use Google in different languages. And even for the other languages you will see a similar effect. In today’s world, it is many people’s everyday reality to use more than one language in everyday life.

Step 4: How do I deal with the linguistically ambiguous keywords?

With this second set of keywords you will obviously have the problem that there will be lots of duplicates between the languages and that the search queries the users enter into Google search won’t let you identify the language they want to see ads in. So you need to rely on AdWords language targeting to determine the language each user is searching in.

Start creating campaigns in each language you are using and target them at users that use Google in this language. At first, this will look a lot like the traditional approach:

  • French ads targeted at French speakers
  • Dutch ads targeted at Dutch speakers
  • Italian ads targeted at Italian speakers
  • Japanese ads targeted at Japanese speakers
  • …and so on

Now, once this is done, the trick is to determine fallback languages. The easiest case would be to create an English campaign as a global default fallback, meaning that you target it at English speakers and at speakers of all the languages that you haven’t included in your other campaigns yet. This works just fine and will genereate a huge reach compared to traditional language targeting.

If you want to build a campaign structure that is a bit more sophisticated, you can create fallback campaigns in different languages for certain countries, for example Spanish for South America or French for certain countries where it is more dominant than English. But, as I mentioned before, English will dominate the global communication of the future even more than it already does, so I guess English will always do the trick.


This article has explained to you how to maximise the reach of your international AdWords campaigns:

  • Divide your keywords into language-specific and linguistically ambiguous keywords.
  • Don’t use language targeting for language-specific keywords.
  • Set up language targeting for your linguistically ambiguous keywords and use one or more languages as a fallback.

If anything remains unclear or if you have any comments, please just give me a shout.

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  1. Sarah
    13. September 2016

    Hi Eoghan,

    That is a great read as I have been searching for info on how an e-commerce company can set up a succint GA strategy that covers many languages and many countries. I would like to get your opinion on a plan I have put together for my business located in Chile selling to families and friends of the many thousands of expats from around the world who live here, as well as nationals living within the country. Would you be willing to take a look?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Eoghan Henn
      14. September 2016

      Hello Sarah,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I would be happy to have a look at your strategy!

      I’ll send you an e-mail about this.


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