How To Dominate The International Market, SurveyMonkey Style

July 2, 2015

We often get asked about examples of companies that are succeeding internationally. Of course, there are the obvious ones, like Uber and Facebook. But one that might be less obvious is SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey offers super easy ways to create online surveys, and since they started up in 1999, have expanded to support 17 languages and 28 currencies.

What makes SurveyMonkey so successful internationally is their deep commitment to the cause at every level of the organization. First Round Review recently talked with their CTO, Selina Tobaccowala, about how they cracked the international market. When she came aboard 5 years ago, 85% of SurveyMonkey’s business was in English. Now, they are in 17 languages, with just 55% US users and a goal of 25%.

Tobaccowala says, “The biggest piece of advice I can offer is that if you start thinking about this upfront, the investment you’ll have to make is fairly minimal. On the other hand, if you have to retrofit your application years later, it can be very difficult.”

Of course, there are many things to take into account when deciding to go international. SurveyMonkey has succeeded by looking at the bigger picture and incorporating their overall strategy across all levels of the company. There are many nuances of language and culture to think about. As an example, Eli Schwartz, SurveyMonkey’s online marketing manager, says, “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.”

But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. As Tobaccowala says, “All it really takes is sitting down with your team for one hour and saying, ‘Okay, if we want to go international in a year, two years or three years from now, it’s going to require these things.’”

Here are some of these things to think about:


It’s important to understand how people are using your product in other countries. Do they use it the same way everywhere? At SurveyMonkey they found that it doesn’t really matter what country someone is in, they tend to interact with the product in the same way (Tobaccowala found this at Ticketmaster, her previous company, as well). If usage patterns are consistent across borders, then direct translation will work fairly well. If not, then you may need to look at tweaking the UI and messaging to match how people are using your product.

One thing to note is that English tends to be shorter than other languages. Every other language takes, on average, about one and a half times more space than English does. This is one of those things that isn’t too big of a problem if you handle it upfront, but if you don’t, it can cause a huge headache down the line.

At SurveyMonkey, they incorporate this into their design strategy. For every page they create, they leave extra space in the UI to allow it to be translated. That way, once they decided to translate into a new language, they don’t have to worry about extensive redesigns, that ultimately, are a waste of a good designer’s time.


Never forget about mobile! SurveyMonkey has found that 75% of their traffic in Asia is from mobile devices. Of course, your mobile experience should always be a priority, regardless of what country you’re operating out of. But in the US, it’s easy to forget about the international differences. There around 188 million smartphone users in the US compared to 1.6 billion smartphone users in the rest of the world. If you’re thinking of going international, you need to be taking mobile seriously.

There’s another key difference: Android. In the US, iOS is super common, with only 55% of the country using Android. But abroad, Android accounts for 84% of smartphone use. In the States, many startups go for iOS apps first, and that works well for many of them. But if you want to compete internationally, you may want to consider going for Android first.

Tobaccowala has an interesting strategy for thinking through this decision. She notes that Android has about 2x the amount of app downloads, because of the larger market, while iOS still has 2x the amount of transactions. If you have an app that needs mass adoption, maybe go for Android. But if your app has payments or transactions, you might want to iOS first.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so make sure your strategy is aligned with your business model. But in the end, you’ll need Android in international markets. Tobaccowala says, “Android is a key part of any international strategy. Non-optional.” ‘Nuff said.


Not only has SurveyMonkey committed to international expansion on the product side, but it’s deeply ingrained in their marketing strategy as well. Schwartz (SurveyMonkey’s online marketing manager) is one of the world’s authorities on international SEO. He has some great content out there showing what he’s learned. We recommend taking a look at his SlideShare account, for starters.

SEO has worked really well for SurveyMonkey and has been a huge part of their international success. About their international thought process, Eli says, “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.”

One thing to take into account is that SurveyMonkey has great brand recognition in the US. They’ve been around for over 15 years and generally that’s who people think about when they think about online surveys. But internationally, they don’t have that kind of brand recognition.

SurveyMonkey uses SEO internationally to get in front of people right when they decide they need (or are discovering they need) an online survey. Interestingly enough, they’ve found that it’s much easier to generate traffic internationally than in the US. Care to take a guess why?

Okay, we’ll tell you. Competition! The web is so saturated with English content that it is incredibly hard to rank well in search engines — there’s just way too much competition. But when targeting another language, you immediately have the advantage. But remember, as Eli says, “This opportunity can’t last so take advantage while you still can.”

There are many, many things to take into account when starting to explore international marketing, so we recommend getting into Eli’s SlideShares to really dig in. However, here are a few basic lessons to get you started:

Google is not great with other languages

Exact match keyword targeting is crucial for international SEO. Simply put, Google just isn’t as smart in other languages as it is in English.

For example, if you’re searching Google in English and you spell something wrong, Google’s algorithm will guess what you’re really trying to say. And generally, it’s spot on. You don’t have to perform another search because Google has already fixed the results for you.

But if you do this in another language, you’re out of luck. Google’s algorithm isn’t sophisticated enough to understand what you’re trying to search. On top of that, it doesn’t take into account special characters. As Eli notes, Google thinks of “ü” as a totally different character than “u,” and your search results will be completely different if you use one instead of the other.

This doesn’t only apply to spelling, but to synonyms, grammar, and context as well. This SlideShare from Eli goes into this concept further.

Cultural localization

This is the reason there’s no such thing as “just translate this.” Language, slang, symbols, and even colors vary widely between cultures. Something that works in one language (or dialect) may not fly whatsoever in another language or dialect. For example, in Spanish, a word for an ordinary object in one country may be a vulgar word in another. In normal conversation, this makes for hilarity. In business, not so much. You don’t want to come off as ignorant, or worse, offend your potential customers.

As Eli says, “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!”

We’re here to help you not be the next fail on Facebook. If you are thinking about expanding internationally, give us a shout and we’ll help you stay out of the embarrassing meme sections of the internet.

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