A German online retailer selling swords (I kid you not) recently asked me how to market internationally. Apparently, the trouble with swords (these are real ones for collectors by the way) is that they're a specialty purchase bought by a relatively small band of collectors. Thankfully.
This means their demand is relatively widespread across many markets or countries and, while the web is probably the most cost-effective way of reaching them, the cost of targeting all of these markets individually could be prohibitive for a relatively small business such as this one.
I found the problem intriguing and one that many businesses with limited resources, but the potential to take their marketing crusade to new territories, might face.
Research & Select Target Markets
Most international marketing errors are caused by those infamous "unknown unknowns." That is, reasons why the potential customers didn't want to buy your product that you simply didn't know about.
There is no perfect way of uncovering these prior to starting any marketing, but it is essential to undertake as much research as you can possibly manage to uncover "unknowns" thoroughly. This will frequently save the organization concerned significant wasted money and effort and -- importantly -- embarrassment!
An important part of the exercise is to identify which markets offer the greatest marketing potential. It's always wise to play to your strengths and go where you'll be strongest first.
Factors to consider when making this really important decision include checking out countries which are showing up in your web analytics -- though you definitely shouldn't rely on this alone.
Also, check out your keyword research findings for interesting markets that seem to have an interest in your products -- then factor in the temperature of the competition. However, watch out for low competitive pressures too since that is sometimes an indicator of a hole in the market -- rather than a gap!
Develop Test PPC Campaigns
But then the only acid test is to go and do some test marketing. The web is actually great for this. It's not that difficult to run up a campaign and do some low level testing -- even in several markets at the same time -- and get some great valid data.
You need to do "proper" keyword research. In other words, use expert native-speakers of the target language in order to make this work -- expert in this sense means that they are specialist search marketers and not simply translators.
And you have to factor in that the performance of the test may be below what you can achieve when you invest further. But even if you only achieve clicks and not conversions, you can still look for positive signals on your site that with work the visitors can be converted -- you can also compare one market to another to enable you to decide where to go jousting first.
Create Translated Landing Pages
For the purposes of the test, you won't translate the entire contents of your website -- you'll create landing pages which contain all the information the customers you plan to hunt will need. Bear in mind that these won't be your normal landing pages because you'll be compensating on your more limited page space for the rest of your site.
So, for this test exercise, the landing pages will need to cover the product, it's benefits and features, how it's delivered, and exchange and return policies.
You're entering a new market, so don't forget to explain who you are and to give some re-assuring information that shows you have a great track record. Even for this short-term test, you'll need to quickly develop some trust with your audience. Feature reviews and testimonials -- translated, as you won't initially have any of these -- on this page as a means of building trust.
Don't Rely on SEO
Odd this coming from a dedicated SEO, but SEO doesn't lend itself well to test marketing. It takes quite some time to build up momentum in the organic results relative to paid search.
Additionally, in less competitive markets, PPC is often actually less expensive that running an SEO program in the short term -- because the cost-per-click is quite a bit less than in the major markets. Yes, you have to keep on paying for paid clicks, but this is instant test marketing we're talking about here -- not the long term.
Link Building, But Not For SEO
Try turning your normal logic on its head for once. Mostly, when you link build you'll be thinking about what links are going to work well, with the right anchor text, for Google and other search engines.
As part of your test marketing program, it's useful to plug into resources which will generate traffic to your website or landing pages -- even if they have a rel=nofollow attribute. You want visitors and not rankings at this stage and if they have a high profile site that can bring potential customers to you -- go for it!
Off the Shelf Shops
Try testing your websites that will sell your product for you such as eBay or Amazon. There are actually many of these available specific to local markets and, while they don't create the kind of brand presence and reputation that you aspire to in the longer term, they do provide you with an immediate way of pointing traffic at your products with no commercial or delivery issues standing in the way of the consumer's purchase decision.
They're also an effective way of testing price points before you cross swords with your competition and launch full tilt into the market!