You thought you had it made. You've sold an SEO program in the U.S. complete with content creation, consumer research and insights data, new product launch coverage, CMS fixes, page-level optimizations – the whole nine yards.
It could be year number one, but more it's far more likely you're in year two or three. Plus, the value of the SEO program has gone from a tenuous proposition on your PowerPoint slides to a real thing backed by quarterly revenues.
Your SEO program has made the final transformation to being a given. It's not "Are we doing SEO?" It's "How much SEO are we doing?" and "How can we get SEO involved here?"
Of course the natural progression is to move abroad. Take those processes and successes and move them over to new markets. It sounds like a great idea; the U.S. is hardly the fastest growing online market anymore, and there are billions of people searching for products and services abroad!
True. For global corporations the move to international SEO is inevitable. There are simply far too many prospective customers elsewhere not to expand eventually. As a digital marketer however, you have your work cut out for you.
Expanding to international business means you're most likely starting over. It's time to pitch once more, and this time the difficulty is set to "hard."
Here are some reasons why pitching international SEO is a pain.
1. There's No Budget
I felt like we should just get this out of the way. Spoiler alert! There's no budget.
Where there are normally nice fenced-off marketing budgets for this and that in the larger markets, as soon as you go far afield you're going to be pitching for much larger percentages of a country's funds – if they have any at all. Sometimes you can get funding at a global level – in which case this gets much easier.
Either way, it's going to be a decision between SEO and all other channels. That means you'd better have a rock-solid justification for why SEO is a better investment than...well...pretty much everything.
2. Social Uses U.S. Platforms*
At first this sounds like a bonus – no surprises here! We get to use Facebook (and the other usual suspects) for our social initiatives abroad. And in truth this can be convenient from an execution standpoint.
The challenge comes when you have to pitch the difference between the use-cases in different cultures. Most statistics are U.S. centric (or at least English-speaking centric).
Obtaining accurate and up-to-date information for other countries requires serious tenacity. On top of that, not every country has its own Reddit or equivalent – and most countries don't want to invest in social initiatives that are considered "U.S.-based."
*Note that there are some mighty exceptions to this one, specifically Russia and China being the clearest examples of developed social platforms stemming from U.S. norms.
3. The Web Ecosystem is Years Behind
We're so spoiled in the U.S.-centric corner of the web. Things are orderly here; we can sometimes convince ourselves that they even make sense.
Even now, it's easy to think of the publication community in the U.S. as being anachronistic – working to catch up with the rest of the web. Let me tell you that U.S.-based web publications are well-oiled machines compared to the blogosphere abroad. We have hubs of reliable information, combined with expert communities you can leverage that are easily locatable, organized, and popular.
Once you get beyond major international hubs that stability falls away. Web design changes too, as many countries deal with far less bandwidth than that of the behemoths. People even search dramatically differently from region to region, as in many ways we have all been trained over the past 14 years on how to "Google" efficiently.
When you propose projects in these areas, it's a completely different mentality than your standard project requires. It's not about what is new and sexy on the web; it's about what is going to work. Probably.
4. Search Engine Updates? What Updates?
On top of the ecosystem being years behind, so are the search engine results. These two go hand-in-hand because search engines have less high-quality local resources to choose from.
Questionable sites ranking well are far more common internationally. Because updates like Panda and Penguin get rolled out to the major markets first, smaller markets around the world are always behind on the ongoing crusade against spam. Often this means you're talking about search engine changes that will come in the future rather than pressing concerns for the here and now.
Ultimately, country stakeholders are worried about what is going to help them this quarter. Next quarter or next year will be dealt with when they come – and that short-term sort of thinking is death to many an SEO program.
5. Your Value Proposition Is Weaker
Smaller markets mean fewer searches to go around and less justification for strategic and long-term programs like SEO. SEO is very likely to have some of the greatest ROI in these regions; yet because budgets are much smaller and demands are so high, long-term plays get sidelined more often than not.
There are some definite exceptions to this. Most large consumer brands have massive opportunities in the BRIC countries that are "low hanging fruit," especially compared to developed ecosystems. The problem in these cases is that the companies/brands themselves aren't ready for the growth. Disparate payment systems and product stock, as well as differing product line-ups in developing markets, often influence the reach of SEO programs for the worse.
You can't optimize for the best products that are receiving all the interest, and in turn you may miss out on some of the best traffic gains.
So Should You Expand Internationally?
With this list of challenges, expanding your project across the globe may sound like a waste of time and effort.
This is not the case.
Despite the challenges, we're reaching the point where companies can't afford to avoid international markets, regardless of the difficulty. Each one of these difficulties can be overcome through education and communication within an organization – to plan for long-term company growth and strategic direction. Sometimes, the most difficult things are the things most worth doing.
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