International expansion can be a very difficult experience, especially when it comes to Web search. Obviously the rules will vary based on the type of customers you are trying to attract and the products or services you plan to offer.
Each market will have completely different draws and pulls around keywords and the ways you can rank in the engines. It is also important to note that differences exist in some countries, like Korea, which is a market that operates solely on paid search.
In English speaking markets, different words can be used to describe the same product. This is illustrated in some very simple examples such as pants vs. trousers or cell phones vs. mobile phones as used between the U.S. and U.K. markets. This type of mistake can make or break a search campaign.
When trying to expand with a search engine optimization strategy, there are several important factors you must adhere to, otherwise the sites will not rank. First, you should consider having a local TLD (Top Level Domain) within the specific market. For example, this might be mynewsite.co.uk. This tells the search engines you have a local domain within the market that is targeted to the market. If you simply attach a sub domain, for example, uk.mynewsite.com, you will be assigned a US tag in most search engine algorithms. If you have no choice but to stay within your .com domain, acquire hosting in the local market with an IP address assigned to that country.
It is also best to consider hosting in the local country whether you have a local TLD or not. If your customers are experiencing extreme latency going across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, they are not going to be all that pleased. I also believe this latency is a ranking consideration in some search engine algorithms. Otherwise, it would not be shown in the Site Maps feature of Google’s Web Master Tools. Time over time, I have seen sites gain significant traffic lifts naturally from Google when they decrease the latency to their sites.
Consider the effects of design and appearance by examining the local market to see how people respond to different designs. This is especially important when you are considering the effects of having Unicode languages on the site. For example, the direction of Japanese is read differently from English. Will it look like it belongs on the site?
Consider the effects of what drives business in a specific market. For example, some markets depend highly on social media for their buying needs. Countries like China have a completely different buying demographic. For example, female shoppers are the most prominent online and will not buy without the approval of their friends. Some Web sites competing in the market allow consumers to send pictures of products to their friend’s mobile phones before they buy. Thus, they can feel comfortable with the transaction.
If you are running an e-commerce shop, there are many important factors to consider. Some countries do not buy with credit cards online; they use ATM cards that carry different names based on each market. Some markets work extremely well with systems like eBay’s PayPal, which has fairly low commissions and is easy to integrate.
Fraud can be a serious problem as well; each country has completely different laws around credit and how you can protect yourself from charge backs by stolen cards. It is also critical to understand about taxes and where to collect them in order to save on taxation. Ireland offers some great programs for operating in Europe; however, you should talk to your tax professional before procuring any means of expansion.
Other problems can surface in hiring foreign personnel. You may not want to hire local employees in some countries due to that country’s employment restrictions. You could get stuck with a lemon for months or years before you can get rid of an unsatisfactory employee.
Overall, there is a lot of money to be made in Europe and other countries, but think carefully about your options before you pull the trigger.