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Leveraging the Global SEM Landscape

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Want to go worldwide with your search marketing campaigns? Here's advice from global search marketing experts on the campaign intricacies for the European, Latin American and Asian markets.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, December 5-8, 2005, Chicago, IL.

"North America is a great marketplace, but there's more going on in the world" said Andy Atkins-Kruger of Web Certain, and publisher of the blog multilingual-search.com.

The global search marketing opportunity is growing.

For instance, InternetWorldStats.com reports that 69.2 percent of Hong Kong's population has Internet access, compared to 68.1 percent in the U.S. Asian Internet growth has increased over 200 percent between 2000-2005. And Brazil is Amazon.com's 10th largest market—a market they've developed without advertising.

"There's a lot going on out there," said Atkins-Kruger. "This is something that marketers have to consider on behalf of our clients and our businesses."

Breaking down language barriers

Keyphrase research for different languages has its challenges. Some research solutions such as Miva's keyword tool, Trellian's KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker are available. However, depending on the language, they may not provide an adequate solution.

"Far fewer tools exist when you leave the safety of the English language," said Atkins-Kruger.

Adding to the keyphrase research complexity, Atkins-Kruger discussed how people pluralize searches in Europe, while US-based searchers use singular terms. One word can have multiple spellings within the same language. And people may not include a word's accent mark when performing a search.

"One of the big issues when you get outside of English are the language challenges that present themselves," said Atkins-Kruger.

It's easy for companies to choose machine translation as a way to speed up the process. Unfortunately, the results are typically inaccurate and ineffective—and the text fails with the search engines and the local market.

"I would caution against using machine translations," said David Temple from Global Education Marketing. "If you are developing a global market, it would be the worst thing to do. It means that you really don't care about that language."

Instead, the panelists recommended a "trans-optimization" approach for global sites. After the keyphrase research is complete, translators are provided with a "glossary" of key terms to incorporate into the copy. Only after the text is translated does search engine optimization begin.

"It's a much more rational way of doing it," Atkins-Kruger.

Meshing marketing tactics with a country's culture

When adapting a web site for a different culture, you should go beyond merely translating content from one language to another, according to the panelists.

"Something to consider when you are localizing for a country, look at the areas within the country, too. You wouldn't market the same, or use the same keywords," said Temple.

It may be tempting to simply replicate your North American-targeted site, and change the copy based on the country. But international SEO is more complex, requiring marketers to understand the regional-specific languages as well as the cultural differences.

"In Latin American, online behavior is very different because people surf with dial-up," said Lucas Morea of LatinEdge. "Many people don't have a computer at home. They go to an Internet cafe instead."

The differences don't stop there. Buyers use cash—not credit cards—to make purchases. The mail service is less trusted, making cash on delivery the most common payment in Brazil. And customers prefer talking to someone rather than transacting online. For maximum success, dovetailing a site's focus and sales process with a region's preferred way of doing business is a smart move.

"Take a step back in the sales process and focus on leads," said Morea. "Human contact matters. People are transacting offline, but doing research online."

The key in the Latin American marketplace, according to Morea, is increasing the point of contact with potential customers. Rather than focusing all efforts on getting people to transact online, companies should consider setting up call centers, offering email support and launching live chat.

Morea shared a case study where a company received 54 percent more buyers because people could contact a call center. In another case study, an email campaign drove 170,000 visits to a microsite—with 100 percent of buyers converting offline.

"It's that trust factor. They know that they could pick up the phone if they wanted."

The complex nature of going international

Considering cultures can be wildly different, what are other things that marketers can do to control their international campaigns? Think local to go global.

"Working with people in the local market is the best way to do it," said Temple.

That means local hosting, local country domains (when possible) and working with skilled translators knowledgeable in the local language.

"The easiest thing to do is have local country domains. And if you don't, you're causing yourself extra difficulties and extra challenges," said Atkins-Kruger.

"Thinking local to go global" also applies to content creation. From a search positioning perspective, duplicate content across country-specific sites can create ranking dilemmas. "What you often find is an issue of what site ranks in which country. And sometimes, it's not the way you want it to be. You either accept that one site is going to win, or alternatively, rewrite your content and make it unique," said Atkins-Kruger.

What engines should companies target for maximum global search success? Although the panelists spoke of many country-specific engines, their advice was to start with the "big three" first—Google, Yahoo and MSN. "Google, MSN and Yahoo carve out a significant niche in the marketplace," said Atkins-Kruger. "If you're running a global campaign, this is where to start."

"In Latin America, Google and Yahoo are the main [search engine” destination sites," said Morea. "Ultimately, all PPC campaigns are powered by either Google or Yahoo"

Should your company leverage the global landscape? Temple cautioned the audience against entering the marketplace without a clear game plan. "Don't just go into a market because it's the latest thing." However, if you've done your homework—and it makes sense for your business—going global could open up profitable new markets.

"You'll have a huge advantage by starting now and thinking long-term," said Temple. "If you do it, you should do it right—and that means paying attention, and research, research, research."

Heather Lloyd-Martin is the CEO of SuccessWorks Search Marketing and Chair of the Direct Marketing Association's Search Engine Marketing Council.

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