Search Observations From the South of France

The fact that I’m on vacation this week in Saint-Tropez (Ramatuelle, actually, near the beaches) gives me an opportunity to share some observations about international SEM, SEO, and general web visibility. One realization that immediately struck me after my arrival is just how spoiled I am by digital connectivity. In Saint-Tropez, you can find Wi-Fi in the hotels and other selected establishments, and you can pay for phone connectivity to connect to the Net. But despite the fact that both travelers and locals are heavy Net users, connectivity here isn’t as ubiquitous – nor as free – as it is in the U.S.

Nor does it appear that businesses here seem to find much of a need to do SEO and paid search. The exception is the larger tourist-driven industries such as hotels and rental car aggregators, which are actively catering to searchers expressing both explicit and implied local intent. But the local restaurants here often have no websites of their own, even when such sites would add significant clarification, value, and buzz.

You might be thinking: “These places exist because of buzz, and they sell out every night, all night long. So why bother with a web presence, advertising, social media presence (Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook), or SEO?”

Indeed, I thought about that possibility, but two weeks in Saint-Tropez has reminded me that even businesses reliant on this kind of “hype marketing” need to maximize yield. For example, there are still empty tables at restaurants – late at night or before the peak dining hours – but one often has a hard time booking an off-peak table. Sometimes tables “magically” become available at the last moment. This kind of inefficiency, easily solved with an online-connected reservation system, seems beyond the grasp of many proprietors here.

Another problem unique to Saint-Tropez is that a lot of the beachfront restaurants in Ramatuelle are on dirt roads, and don’t show up on any regular map. If they do show up, the pins are often in the wrong place. I made the mistake of assuming that my restaurant of choice – the Zanzibar – would be mapped accurately enough by TripAdvisor/Bing to easily navigate to, so I parked a mile or so away and attempted to make the trip on foot. If I hadn’t carefully scrutinized every road sign along the way and been lucky enough to run into a local who gave me accurate directions, I would never have made it. While checkins on Foursquare were closer to reality than Bing’s pin map on TripAdvisor, they’re little help for one too reliant on Internet technology.

Obviously, there are many places on the globe that are running a few years behind the United States when it comes to the deployment of business Internet presences. And this lag may actually be a good thing for businesses that aren’t on board yet. New adopters will be able to use highly template-driven, SEO-friendly content management systems and set up social media presences, integrated with websites, at costs that are lower than ever. Remember that just a few years ago a hand-coded site with a few Photoshop-generated images cost thousands of dollars, francs, or euros; today, a much better site can be had for little more than a case of vintage champagne.

I hope my overseas observations have some relevance to my readers in the U.S., where many of you work in industries where you and your competition have been slogging it out in PPC bidding for a dozen or more years, and your SEO efforts have matured to the point where you seamlessly engage in social media marketing and content marketing.

There are several takeaways that I’d like to leave you with:

  1. Don’t assume everyone behaves like you do. My search and research behavior is quite different from that of the business owners who would like me as a customer. The same is true of your prospects and customers.
  2. Search remains the foundation of both desktop and mobile business research behavior. Make sure you have a great web presence, but don’t stop there. Ratings and review sites as well as business profile pages may rank higher than you do for local searches.
  3. We all need to watch consumer behavior and once that behavior has reached critical mass, we need to invest so that we can have a message in front of the right prospects at the right time.
  4. Even if business is good (like many of the restaurants in Saint-Tropez), there is still additional money to be made with smart marketing – particularly smart search marketing.

Thanks for listening – now I’m off to the beach.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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