Expanding your business overseas has always been risky. Many companies have blown their chances by making relatively simple, avoidable mistakes.
Yet the web should make it easier because it's so much quicker and less expensive to target new countries. Why, then, do people still waste money going overseas?
Here are the 15 top ways to avoid wasting money with international rollouts!
1. Make Sure There Is A Market
There are many ways of deciding which market to rollout to first. By far, the most serious mistake marketers make is not checking if there actually is a market for their product, at their price point, delivered using their business model to that particular market.
Far too many companies decide which markets to target by geographic proximity or habit. In other words, if you're already in the U.S. and Canada, logic tells you to target the U.K. (the next closest market after Canada -- forgetting that Mexico might be better).
Once we're in Europe, why immediately target France, Germany, Italy, and Spain? There are 27 countries in the European Union alone and some of the other countries will have less competition.
Save dollars. Research and choose wisely.
2. Choose The Most Attractive Market First
It isn't always easy providing a service in foreign markets where you haven't worked before. Save time and money by picking the single most attractive market for your products and services first and learn by your mistakes in that market before adding others.
3. Decide Which Products or Services You Wish to Sell There
Some folks immediately decide that they have to sell the complete range or pallette of products to their new market. Don't do this!
Start by looking at your best-sellers at home and test those. Then expand your offering by adding complementary products and services to those that work. You might only find certain great opportunities a little later by this method, but you'll lose less money on failures up front.
4. Decide How Much of Your Website You Need to Translate and Localize
Don't phone your favorite translation agency and ask them to translate your website into French or German! It doesn't matter how closely you look at rates per word, this will waste your cash. Work the research and test different products to discover how much of your content you really need to support your sales in market.
Think also about trimming your English content to make life easier. It's quite likely you've allowed your website to grow like topsy in English. A little focus there would be a good idea too!
5. Study The Competition
Be clever and check out what your competition is doing -- but be careful how you definte "competition." For our purposes, competition is those suppliers who the customer currently goes to in the absence of our solution. To put it crudely, if they can't buy "cars" today -- have a look at buses and trains that are replacing the service.
For every fundamental human need, there is a solution. Never assume you have zero competition. That's highly unlikely.
Once you understand your real competition, then you have a better chance of making good decisions and avoiding wasteful cash investments that could never deliver you a return.
6. Undertake Professional Keyword Research
Why are people in businesses still making all their key decisions about where they will rollout without obtaining any professional keyword research?
Professionally obtained and in-language keyword research is so easy and inexpensive to obtain -- and you can learn so much. You'd be crazy to risk your cash without doing keyword first.
7. Develop a Strategy to Communicate With Your Target Customers
You need to figure out the most relevant techniques to speak to your new target customers. Maybe you won't be able to reach them using international SEO methods in the early days because of the length of time it takes to be successful there, but you also don't necessarily need to jump straight to buying online advertising.
For instance, you can test social media. I've had good experiences using online PR techniques to launch new businesses to new markets.
8. Think About What Your Customers Need From Your Website
This is more about how you think about "localizing" things for your customers. If you start from the point of view of how can we minimize cost -- you're already on a loser.
Focus on doing a really good job for a smaller group of target customers and spend more (per potential customer) than you were otherwise planning to. I call this "hyperlocal targeting."
What that means is target "Moscow" rather than Russia and include the distribution points you have in Moscow with Moscow addresses. You'll speak to fewer customers (spending less) -- but your conversation rate will be much higher.
9. Invest in Local Domains
If you aren't investigating and planning to invest in local domains, then your customers won't take you seriously. The farther you are from the U.S., the less a dot-com has value. Just as importantly, if you don't buy them -- someone locally will and your brand will be damaged.
10. Host Locally
Hosting locally will help your local page speed and improve your performance with local search engines. Plus, link building programs will work better.
11. Obtain Local Links
From an SEO point of view, local links are important everywhere.
In some parts of the world (especially China and Russia for instance), not having links will cost your money because they play different and important roles. Traffic in China is often generated from local links.
12. Make Sure You Know How You'll Get Paid
You would be amazed how many firms start spending money on promotion and then realize they don't actually have a valid method to get paid. They assume that their online merchant systems will work -- when in fact they won't.
You may also need to accept methods of payment that don't involve credit cards. Please check!
13. Make Sure You Can Logistically Deliver
To be fair, most companies have sorted their logistics and distribution methods before they start. However, they do often underestimate the distances involved.
Look at a map of Europe, for instance, and you can be fooled into thinking that distances are relatively short in Germany or Poland. Even parts of France can take multiple days to reach by courier.
14. Benchmark Your Performance Comparing Relative Market Sizes
Companies often ask us for benchmarks against which they can measure their performance. Measurement is clearly really important, but the best benchmark internationally is to compare the performance of your own businesses -- but then to take in local factors that affect the performance such as population and market size.
15. Work With an International Search Marketing Agency
This is stating the obvious, but by working with the specialists life is so much easier!
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!