Top International Search Marketing Failures to Avoid in 2010, Part 1

As we begin a new decade, our best chance for success in 2010 is to look back over the failures of our past in order to succeed with our programs in the future. Samuel Smiles once wrote, "We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."

Although it's nearly impossible to list all the failures I've seen over the last 15 years since our beloved industry emerged, I've seen five big ones. We'll look at two today, and three more in our next installment.

Failure 1: Misguided Research

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that, like many, I've often dreamed of selling something for a dollar profit to every Chinese and Indian citizen, but I would never base population as a target market strategy. Although it isn't entirely impossible, there are many things to consider when researching your markets.

It all starts with your primary objective. Branding a product, versus selling a product, versus obtaining a lead for your product would almost all have different strategies.

Log files can be used as a factor in target market research, but they aren't necessarily accurate. Some clients have discovered that even though China delivered the most non-U.S. traffic to their site, it was the French, number seven on their list, which converted 10 times more than their Chinese counterparts.

The key is to use analytics to figure out where your successful markets are, as well as what keywords they use to find you. You might be surprised to find out that your translated keyword was never properly localized to the market and you've been missing out on huge opportunities.

Basing your target audience on e-commerce research would also be a failure. When you compare a country's percent of online shoppers, their average amount spent, and the average amount of items purchased with their favorite items, your research may lead you to a different strategy.

For example, if you were selling airline tickets targeting the German market that, according to a Forrester European Technographic Benchmark Survey, has 83 percent of their Internet pollution considered as online shoppers spending €520 on average every six months, this wouldn't be a great market. The same research finds that Germans are less likely to search on search engines for airline tickets in comparison to its European counterparts. That little bit of research probably cost some PPC marketer $50,000.

Make sure there is a market online for your product and it sells in that country. If not, drop the ego of being first to market and let the local guys develop it before you put it on top of your list as a target.

Failure 2: Not Thinking Local

Search engines need to be local to have success in a country. By being local, it's obvious to a search engine to include local sites. Search engines look not only for language, but also if it's a locally hosted site, has a local domain registered locally in the targeted country, and (if doable) has a local office in that country.

Think local, in every way possible. I can't stress that enough.

Let's say you're happily living in Oregon and searched Google for "hiking boots" and the top ranked site was a Finnish company. You noticed the URL was www.Jalkineen.com/usa-amerikan/shoe/, the site came up terribly slow, the English translation for "hiking shoes" was "big shoe for climbing," and not only was everything in Euros, you had to pay for international shipping.

Is this a great search experience? Not even close. If you're going to impress Google or any other search engine, try your best to be local.

If possible, for best results, use a local domain, a local physical address/number, local currency, and local hosting. However, if it isn't possible to have a local domain, a subdomain would be better than a folder.

If it isn't possible to have local hosting, at least get regional hosting (e.g., hosting in the U.K. for Western Europe, Hong Kong for China and Southeast Asia). It isn't impossible to get ranked and listed without hosting and proper domains, but it makes it difficult to compete with the local guys.

Next time, we'll finish off our discussion by looking at three more international blunders: not understanding your audience, search positioning the wrong way, and getting bad help.

About the author

Michael Bonfils is the International Managing Director of SEM International, a division of International Media Management Corp.

Since 1996, Michael was one of the early pioneers in the search engine industry, working in-house for a multinational firm prior to being in charge of Search Engine Strategy at Business.com in 2000-01.

In 2001, his International passion led him to opening up his own firm and an office in Asia after recognizing the need for U.S.-based online marketing agencies requiring an outsourced solution to provide services to their clients outside of the United States.

As the demand for his company's services expanded into other countries, he spread out further into Asia, Europe and eventually Latin America. Today, SEM International is a global network of in-country search engine marketing agencies providing a one stop, centralized solution for Intl search engine marketing management.