SEO can be a powerful tool in attracting potential buyers via search traffic. However, with the changing algorithms of search engines and increasing global competition, an international SEO (search engine optimization) marketing strategy needs careful planning to be successful.
Use keywords wisely
To keep in good standing with search engines, use a variety of relevant keywords and phrases in a natural way. Greater importance is given to headings and titles, so optimize these to include your best keywords. While attention-grabbing headlines are great for attracting interest, these can dilute your SEO efforts. Consider instead including them in images.
Google's keyword planner or the Bing keyword research tool can give you an idea of search popularity and advertising competition for each keyword. This can vary significantly from one country or region to another, making it a good idea to research keywords for each market. Simply add your choice of country and language to the targeting section of the keyword tool to refine results in this way.
Each word matters
The majority of online customer-business interactions still rely on text. From consumer reviews to product specifications, customers look for accurate written information when deciding whether to buy. The words a company uses also influence how trustworthy and reliable it appears to potential buyers, particularly when not located in the same country.
Don't ruin this first impression by relying on free translation tools. Even if the words are correct, an incomplete translation of word order or grammar can make a sentence incomprehensible. A professional translator will not only help you make the best word choices for your keywords and content, but will make sure your text reads naturally to your reader.
Native speaking translators also have invaluable insider knowledge of their own culture, and can help you to localize your textual content for different countries. This could include everything from currencies and units of measurement to national holidays or customs. They will also steer you around those cultural faux pas that can all too easily damage your reputation.
One brand, many faces
Take the lead from top global brands such as McDonald's or Rakuten when it comes to visual design. They are masters of localizing their websites to appeal to regional markets, while keeping the overall brand identity strong. Even if you're not in the fast food business, it's interesting to compare regional websites such as McDonald's Hong Kong and McDonald's Germany. Or look at the Japanese version of Rakuten.co.jp along with the Rakuten.com site. Both companies are instantly recognizable, but present themselves differently to suit the local culture.
For instance, McDonald's promotions for Hong Kong feature local faces and national celebrities like Joey Yung. The home page design, with its changing promotions, is also visually more busy than the static German site. Rakuten's Japanese site similarly has attention-grabbing banners, a collage-style header and a tabbed menu in rainbow colors. This is in contrast to the single color menu tabs and fewer, larger category images of Rakuten's U.S. site. These differences in design take into account the cultural bias of Asian web users for information density and greater website interactivity, compared with that of Western users for simplicity.
By creating regional versions of your website, your business can similarly adapt the design to the local culture. Bear in mind that it's easier to accommodate these kind of differences by making them part of your design from the outset, rather than trying to tweak an existing site.
Connect via social media
Social media has changed the way people interact with businesses online, bringing the personal element back into e-commerce. Make sure your business has an active account on the most popular networks for your markets, both at home and overseas. Alongside global sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, include other sites that your customers use. In Asia, for instance, that could be image sharing sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, along with mobile chat apps like Line and WeChat.
By including social media buttons on your site, you make it easy for visitors to share content. Not only do web users expect to be able to do this, but it also gives you valuable word-of-mouth advertising, making it a win-win.
Global business made easy
Finally, for the smaller business, there are a number of options that allow you to explore international e-commerce without making a large investment. Amazon and eBay both enable businesses to sell internationally, giving you time to discover whether it's worth a more independent venture and where your best markets are likely to be.
Testing the market in this way can be a wise move. No matter whether your first steps into international e-commerce are modest or ambitious, one thing's clear: knowing how your customers search, what their preferences are, and where they communicate will all help you plan for success.
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March 19, 2014