In a connected, global world more and more businesses want to capitalise on the digital opportunity to market to consumers in different countries. However, international marketing isn’t just a question of translating your website with Google Translate or paying for advertising in different regions. In this article we look at how to lay the best foundations for international marketing, common mistakes and ultimately, how to do it well.
What is international marketing?
For the sake of clarity, we want to begin by defining international marketing. In a general context, it’s about any marketing activity outside your brand’s domestic location. From a digital marketing and SEO standpoint, it’s the process of optimising your website so that search engines can easily identify which countries and languages you want to target for your business.
International marketing is particularly popular for e-commerce clients who might be based in one country but are targeting customers in multiple countries. We also see demand from non e-commerce businesses however, for example, international law firms. In reality, it’s for any business that has or wants to pursue markets in regions beyond their own domestic market.
How can you lay the foundations to get international marketing right?
At Verkeer, we take a holistic view of businesses, so even though we’re focused on SEO, it’s contextualised within clear business objectives and realities.
With that in mind, when it comes to international marketing we make sure our approach is business led. That means understanding a client’s capabilities (you can make as many recommendations as you like, but if they’re not going to be actioned or followed up, then they’re not very helpful) and organisational goals (for example, which market produces the most revenue for them?). We then look at their existing website and where they can make an impact. We look at their website from a competitive market point of view, a traffic point of view, and work out where we can add value to their site.
More technically, we then set the foundations in motion with the following areas:
Hreflang is what we put into the HTML code to tell search engines and crawlers which language and country a site is targeting. An international website might indicate that its domain is targeting English in the United Kingdom, however it has multiple variations of this site targeting different languages and regions. These would explicitly be listed in the hreflang, to signal to Google the different versions to serve to users. This is really important if you have multiple websites with duplicate content, for example one serving American English and the other serving British English, because Google can penalise your site if it doesn’t understand the intention. By implementing Hreflang, you make sure you have these signals set up for crawlers to understand what you’re doing and why.
In an ideal world you would customise all the content on sites for different target countries. This is because the keywords you’re targeting need to be relevant to the regional language and culture – a direct translation generally won’t cut it. For example, if you’re an e-commerce website selling “trousers” in England, in the USA, the most popular search term would be “pants”. Similarly, a law firm in the UK might refer to “solicitors”, but in the USA they would need to target the term “lawyer”. This ensures that you are capturing the search volume and demand that is associated with these terms, as you are catering your content to what people are searching for naturally. Therefore, it’s important to understand local search trends and demands and tailor content for those markets.
Tailoring your URL structure
The next thing is to make sure you do, is tailor your URL structure so it’s clear what language and location the site is targeting. This not only looks more professional for users and can indicate what site they’re on (from a language and location point of view), but also has important SEO benefits, helping to identify the content and relevance within the site for search engines. Consistency is also key. What you do for one website and URL architecture, do for all.
Catering to different search engines
Different countries have different search engine crawlers. While we generally look to Google, particularly in the UK and USA, other countries use different search engines with their own ranking criteria. For example, Russia has Yandex, China has Baidu, and Bing is also gaining global traction. What we might see as useful on one, might not be favourable on another, so it’s important to tailor your international SEO strategy to your target market and the related search engine, to optimise the site accordingly.
Google My Business
Google My Business is typically used for local search, but it plays to international marketing as we produce content that’s relevant to each region. For example, if a company has offices in California and New York, you might produce content that will only be posted for one area and not the other. This also includes providing useful local information such as office hours. Apple Connect and Bing Business are two other local platforms that your business can utilise in a similar way.
What are the common mistakes in international marketing?
Perhaps the most common mistake in any kind of SEO or marketing endeavour is to think that it’s a static process – it’s constantly changing and evolving because people are constantly changing and evolving in their wants and needs. With that in mind, three of the most common mistakes in international marketing are:
Forgetting SEO is a human experience
One of the important things to remember about international marketing, and SEO in general, is that it’s deeply connected to the human experience as we’re (quite literally) trying to target what people search for. That makes language a really important focus because it’s tied to culture and how people speak. That means that when you are marketing to different countries, it’s important to have an understanding of local culture, language, customs and context when you’re designing your site, creating your content and thinking about your digital marketing strategy. When you’re creating for your domestic market a lot of that might come to you naturally, but when you’re looking to an international market, it’s a good idea to get local input.
Using Google Translate on its own
Leading on from that point, when you’re translating a website for a different market, a lot of people resort to Google Translate, but communication is about more than a direct translation – this isn’t the best way to speak to your audience. You might speak textbook French, but that’s not how people are likely to speak in Paris, for example. If you want to use Google Translate as a starting point that’s one thing, but it’s important to then go through and make sure the language is culturally relevant and perhaps colloquially relevant, that it makes sense, and that it also reflects the specifics of what you offer in that region.
Forgetting that search trends are always changing
People are changing the way they search all the time. For example, at the moment there are more conversational terms being used in search as people use virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. This presents a key area businesses can capitalise on. It’s easy to think that once you’ve put your website, your content and your keywords in place then that’s it. However, it’s an ever evolving process as demand changes – something that’s really searchable and popular now might not have been known six months ago.
Examples of brands that do international marketing well?
The businesses that tend to do international marketing best are predominantly e-commerce brands. Favourites include Airbnb, which is all about location and really tailors content to your search. Their social campaigns also encourage a worldwide view, with users engaging with the platform through photos and reviews, location specific. RedBull is also exceptional because they have the resources to create dedicated sites for each country they’re marketing to, as well as underpin their digital efforts with their event marketing strategy.
When it comes to international marketing there are key elements that can be implemented to set you on the right track and give you the strongest foundation for winning in this space. At Verkeer, we focus on meeting you where you are in your stage of development and helping you navigate your journey – you don’t have to have RedBull’s budget! If you would like help with your international marketing / international SEO strategy, whether you’re starting out or looking to improve your success; we’re always happy to help.