Most of us know that SEO increases export sales: it's almost a given and therefore not that remarkable. However, for clients it can often be a different matter: they don't see SEO and link building as powerful and cost-effective tools with which to approach export markets. Indeed they see exporting as difficult and expensive – and therein lies a marketing opportunity for SEOs and link builders.
Let's look at three examples of how companies are using SEO specifically to generate export sales.
Lingo24 is a web-based translation agency was set up in 2001 by Christian Arno, a languages graduate. Although the company's headquarters are in Scotland, it has now grown to be a global company, with offices on four continents and customers in more than 50 countries.
Online marketing has been a key part of the Lingo24's strategy for reaching new markets and growing export sales.
In the last five years, the company has launched 70 country-specific websites, which have helped sales grow 268% to over £7 million in 2012.
Lingo24.com uses content marketing, public relations PPC campaigns, and social media to increase their profile in key markets, in particular in the UK, USA, Germany, Switzerland and other major European markets. Their content has been effective at increasing exposure and helping bring customers to the website.
News stories earned on major sites pull in a lot of visitors and provide some great editorial links. But there's an important bonus to such editorial - get a story on a major outlet and other journalists and bloggers will write about and link to you as well. For example, a piece about Lingo24 on the BBC, Virtual Business: Doing Deals in your pyjamas about working from home was picked up by other high-profile news websites and blogs (in the UK and overseas), generating some great coverage.
Lingo24's main teams are based in Scotland and Romania, but they also have a dedicated German blog writer and social media manager in Germany. This helps get country specific coverage like Zehn Tipps zur Keyword-Lokalisierung:
Founder Christian Arno has three pieces of advice on international online marketing:
- Localize the content as well as translating it for your main overseas markets. For example we have a German social media manager and blogger, as well as locally based content writers, who ensure that our content is adapted for this audience. This has helped us get coverage on high-profile German websites, and increased our search engine rankings.
- When it comes to SEO in other languages, don't assume that direct translations of your keywords will be the best choice. Do some research and consult native speakers to find out what users actually search for. For example, Italian users often mix in English words, and terms such as "voli low cost" (low cost flights) are commonly used.
- Social media is a great way to reach out to new markets, but research which networks are popular in each country. For example, Orkut is almost as popular as Facebook in Brazil, while Sina Weibo and Qzone are among China's top social networks.
Jeff Kear runs Planning Pod, a small business startup that has developed an online application for event planners and professionals – and their SEO efforts have pretty much been the only way they have built overseas markets, specifically in the English-speaking countries of the United Kingdom and Australia.
The company has never launched traditional marketing efforts (print advertising, trade shows, etc.) in any of those countries, and as a bootstrapped startup don't have a sales force. So 99 percent of its customers come from SEO, word-of-mouth and pay-per-click advertising.
As a startup, it had to compete against lots of companies who were well-established in search engine results.
"We focused on an organic PR and content marketing campaign, which has garnered us great mentions (as well as links) on well-respected sites such as the New York Times and CNN Money," Kear said. "As for advice to other exporters, I would tell companies to focus on making connections with members of the press in your industry as well as building sharable content. Those two things will get you mentions and links, but more importantly they will demonstrate your expertise and get people curious about your product."
Both Lingo24.com and PlanningPad.com are online companies and so you would expect them to get good results from SEO. But what about more traditional industrial companies? Can they also gain from SEO?
One such company is JED Alliance, based in Florida, which has been successful in attracting markets around the world. They sell refurbished machinery and, according to owner Edward Salazar, 90 percent of their business is exporting to other countries, especially in South America.
"The only way to reach those customers and create credibility is through the internet," Salazar said. "The average purchase value for our refurbished machinery is about $50,000. We need to create the necessary credibility to get customers to send large amounts money, without ever meeting us in person. Mixing the internet with business-to-business and sales-closing skills has proven very effective for our business."
On the surface, SEO and link building for such a company could appear difficult. Not too many bloggers want to write about heavy compactors.
However, according to Wanda Anglin who does their online marketing, they've been "quietly successful." "We've had articles accepted on industrial safety sites," Anglin said. "And while directories might be old hat in most industries, they're vital in ours – and that's because of the direct and substantial sales they bring in."
Can You Educate Clients to See the Benefit of SEO for Export?
Chris Gilchrist, owner of web design company Hit Reach, lives not far from Aberdeen in Scotland, an area famous for its oil industry, attracting business and supporting employment from all around the world.
"Anyone in SEO sees such evident benefits that it seems a crazy question especially from large, established brands," Gilchrist said. "You might think it would be the easiest thing to secure an SEO budget from world class companies but it can take a lot of work. I've found that even young businesses in a traditional marketplace settle for safe marketing and are not yet willing to embrace alternative approaches like SEO.
"Most countries support and promote their local exporters and that's true in Scotland too," he said. "That support can result in lots of links and PR without too much effort. And there's also trade publications desperate for news to publish, creating relatively easy promotional channels."
SEO isn't yet central to the strategies of many traditional companies, but the potential is certainly there – search engine optimization can really help their export sales. SEO professionals who can convince them of that should find a rich vein of opportunity.