While the U.S. may have given up its first-place status to China as the country with the most Internet users, it still is the primary country to target for many businesses around the world. As I advise U.S. companies who target Asian markets to do the homework and make necessary improvements and changes to the site and their business strategies, Asian companies should do the same before targeting the United States.
Here’s a list of five homework tasks that you should do to successfully target the U.S. market.
1. Invest in market and keyword research.
We know that even among the English speaking countries in Asia, there are some differences in the popular keywords, as well as what’s “hot” or “in.” Detailed keyword research will not only help you target the right audience once you identify the set of keywords, but also give you some insight into U.S. market trends.
In addition to well known and the well utilized Google keyword tool, use Google’s Insights for Search Tool and Google Trends since the data is richest for the U.S. The data you obtain from these tools will also help you determine, if the time is right for your business to enter the U.S. market.
2. Localize the content.
While conducting the keyword research, you may notice that they spell some words differently in U.S., which you want to replicate on the U.S. site. In addition to the spelling, U.S. English can be quite different in writing the sentences from how you write them in your native or English as a second language. I know many Asian professionals who are fluent in English, and many of them studied English in England, Ireland, or Australia, which, they will tell you, if often very different than American English. If a non-U.S. English speaker wrote the content on your site, it would be good to have it edited by a U.S. English speaker.
Oh, and if you use the U.K. flag to link to your English page, you may want to remove the flag image, and use country names in anchor text. If you can’t use text, you may want to use the U.S. flag since many Americans expect to see a U.S. flag indicating American friendly and relevant content.
3. Change the page layout and design for the U.S. audience.
If you are in Asia, you are used to, and probably prefer colorful and “busy” web page design with lots of information flashing everywhere. It’s not a problem to the audience especially when the site is in Chinese or in Japanese since we can glance at the characters and see pictures, and understand the meaning. It doesn’t work like that with the English language. In U.S., people prefer web design, which is simple, easy to understand and to navigate. The preferred color scheme can be different, too. See how Rakuten changed the layout and the design for U.S. site compared to JP site.
Also, there are some un-written rules for the page layout as to where people expect to find certain information and click buttons, which could impact on your site performance and most importantly conversions.
Consider using a U.S. design company to review and update your U.S.-focused site. If not, at least check some of your competitors’ U.S. sites to get an idea for layout and design improvements.
4. Geo-targeting through link building, domain, and hosting.
To have any level of visibility in the U.S. search results, your site needs to send the right signals for the engines to identify your site as relevant U.S. search users. In addition to setting the target geo-location in Google Webmaster Tools, it helps if the U.S. site is not on the ccTLDs domain such as “.co.jp” or “.com.sg.” It’s even better if you can host the U.S. site in America and even use a “.com” domain.
Now that you have the right geo set up, you will want to generate incoming links from U.S. sites. Look for the sites that make sense to link to your site. The quality of the links and the relevancy of the sites between the linked sites are what really works for you.
5. Identify the best analytics and other tools for your growing business.
Once your site is launched, you’ll want to track the site performance and that the right audience is finding your site, and most importantly, converting for you. Check to make sure that the analytics tools you use now generate the U.S. site data correctly. If you are already or plan to expand your business across the multiple countries, it may be the time to review options for global analytics tools.
Often times, the local tools are great resources for local data and the information, but not so good with other countries. I’ve seen that even some of the popular tools have huge gap in database between their functionally in local markets and foreign markets. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Do a bit of homework and use the tools that work for your growing business.
Apart from SEO and PPC, you should be aware of the trends and regulations happening in U.S., especially topics that the site owners and the business owners in America are interested in. It will give you an insight to how the online business environment may shift in 6 months or in 1 year, about the time, when your U.S. site launches.