Good preparation and planning are important when running global campaigns. But one topic we don't cover often enough is how you can use search marketing tools to enhance your research and planning to launch and maintain a new export project.
This omission was partially corrected at Search Engine Strategies Chicago, where I participated in the "New Exporters: How Search Marketing Can Be Used to Build Overseas Trade" panel. Let's consider the key steps.
Decide Which Products and Services Truly Have Global Potential
Many people jump right in and start trying to export. The first question you face in other markets will be, "Who wants to buy what we sell?"
Keyword research has a lot to offer in this field, provided you do it correctly. You've heard it from me before, but I'll say it again: translate your keywords and you'll get the wrong answer.
In this field, translated keywords checked in keyword tools would almost certainly tell you that there's less demand than there actually is. This is because local search patterns are determined by local history and experience -- not a dictionary translation from English. You need native speakers who are professionals at search marketing (so they understand the keyword process) to carry out this kind of research.
The good news: unlike more traditional forms of export and market research, this research project can be done extremely quickly. The bad news: your competitors also may be discovering that "time-to-market" has become even more sensitive than it was before.
Decide how you Enter the Market
You need to decide whether you're going go to work through distributors, agents, directly through you own offices, or indirectly purely through your online presence. Of course, your Web site will still be key for all of these approaches, but your research will be different. One recommendation: look at sites such as Alibaba.com first if you're considering working through distributors or agents.
Create a Selection of Candidate Countries Where Your Product has Potential
If, according to your Web analytics, you're getting a lot of interest from the Netherlands or India, don't conclude that that's where the market is. A great many more significant markets may just happen to use English less in their searches.
You can use the same keyword research approach you used for deciding which products and services to market to also create a list of candidate countries where you have potential customers. Then you need to factor in your own logistical "can we deliver to that market?" types of questions and, most importantly, "can we get paid?" China may demonstrate a lot of interest in your products, but you may find you can't get your money easily out of the country!
Create the Resources to Test the Market
Ideally, you'll want to do some test marketing on the most important country of countries to see how it goes. At this point, it's probably best to be cautious in what monies you're planning to invest.
Don't start by localizing your whole Web site -- only what you need for your test marketing exercise. You may find that using PPC is a good method to test market quickly with a controlled investment level, and then expand your presence in many other ways.
Expand and Develop
Once you're confident that a country is producing good results, then it's time to up your marketing effort and invest in, for instance, SEO techniques to build a strong presence in that country, develop online PR, and build out your network to strengthen your early success and create a more significant barrier to entry for your competitors.
Repeat the Process for Your Wider Global Rollout
Start once more from the beginning. If you succeeded once, you'll surely do it again. And don't forget two things: first, there is probably much more demand globally for your products and services than you expect; and second, you'll leave your competitors in your wake!