Don’t be fooled by an easy solution. While rapid global flattening has consolidated both language and currency, there exists serious need for cross-cultural awareness among search marketers to stay relevant and foster success when launching a site across multiple geographic locations.
It’s often unwise and even culturally disrespectful to “copy and paste” campaigns successful in the U.S., in the hopes they will work the same abroad. Your offering may seem real at first gape, but taste fake to the cross cultural user. The “Key Points in Launching a Global Website” SES New York session, addressed these issues and more with entertaining case studies and sage advice.
Session moderator Kevin Ryan put the current global financial crisis into perspective, in that it’s teaching us once again that we are all connected. While monoliths like Google & Yahoo have been instrumental in connecting us, when you cross borders, things start to become very complicated.
Search marketing strategist and founder of AJPR LLC Motoko Hunt kicked off the Global Web strategy discussion.
While recent internet marketing focus has evolved towards link building and social media, Motoko wanted to bring some focus back to the website: what your organization is about, what you have to offer, and ultimately where conversion occurs.
More than 80% of internet audience is outside the U.S. and globalization of websites is one of the best ways to increase business opportunities. Of course, geographically localized websites cannot be simply be copies of your domestic site. In addition to obvious differences in market needs, there also exists a number of hidden technical challenges in the website globalization process, including differences in content management system settings, Geo Targeting in the SERPS, and indexing/duplicate content issues.
- Don’t run centralized ranking reports, run them in each local market you’re active in.
- Beware of domain issues, i.e. Where your site is hosted geographically and how it is affected by geotargeted SERPS.
Motoko gave the example of Google Germany which gives users three search results options: All the Web, Only German Language Pages, and Pages with .DE (denotes German domain). With the latter option, she explains that sites sitting on standard .COM domains will not be included in the search results. Motoko pointed out that multiple English language websites for the UK, Australia, and Canada are often treated as “mirror” pages with only the U.S. version indexing. The good news is that Google now offers Geotargeting preferences for sitemaps, where you can select and order which countries you would like mapped at a domain level.
Translation Issues: Don’t Translate – Localize It!
There is an obvious case for localizing US english to its variation, where soccer = football etc. You need to check and advise your keyword research across each language and test each permutation. This can often make or break your optimization efforts in different markets. Place focus on your tone of voice and watch for what’s lost in translation. A blunt Japanese-Engrish translation of “Please Do Not Enter” can become “Stay Out Of Here”
Be aware of budget disparities across local teams. A local team often has less manpower and can struggle to keep up with project schedules set by an organization’s headquarters. When you factor translation & localization in with time spent with bread & butter SEM processes, a local team can get overwhelmed quickly. At the same time, focus your cross-border management to make sure your local teams are all on the same page.
Be aware of the regional challenges that make it difficult to stay competitive in each market. This can include differences in seasonal behaviors. For example, March is graduation season in Japan and tends to have large shopping volume overall. Pushing a U.S. centric seasonal plan on Japan will cause you to miss out on taking advantage of this seasonal trend.
Be aware of differences in governmental content regulation and trademark laws between different markets.
Motoko offered these best practices for globalizing your website:
- Sort out technical issues at the initial stage of the project to save time, manpower, and costs.
- Make an SEO/SEM/Brand guideline that each market’s team can reference for some project continuity. Don’t be afraid to train your local team!
Kevin Ryan: What do you have to pay for these local experts?
Motoko: It’s different for each market, if you don’t have a web team, use advice from local reseller.
Next was Maura Ginty, senior web manager of the web content team for Autodesk, Inc. presenting a case study on SEO in Japan.
Maura confesses that she only got into online marketing because she had a language addition. She originally wanted to be a translator for an obscure language, which she jokes, does not pay. She became a marketer to translate content first as an international editor and later at Lonely Planet.
Maura advocates early attention to globalization. At Autodesk last year, over half of the revenue came from Europe, not the U.S.
You have to pay careful to changes in tone – Coca Cola’s original translation in Japanese was “bite the wax tadpole”.
For Autodesk, they employed a global site strategy comprised of
- Comprehensive current state analysis of all block properties and a translation workflow. You never know what local market will be a successful one for your company.
- A multi-year roadmap including efficiency improvements, and implementation.
Maura noted that local search engines are growing , China has surpassed the U.S. as the largest online population Autodesk picked one group in APAC and one in EMIA to test “what it takes to do it locally”.
In France they had new site sections about to launch, while in Japan they wanted to full utilize their engaged local web team.
Autodesk’s Baseline/Initial State in Japan consisted of few pages in the top 150 results and no best practices information. Once they had truly localized their content, 85% of their pages received a first page ranking for at least 1/3 major search engines. Their paid campaign CPC was cut in half and they received a 65% increase in site traffic.
When it came to their local product and PR teams integrating SEO, it was often a good thing that they said “no” to centralized suggestions to specific local market problems. This healthy “push-pull” dynamic ultimately helped them come to a strategically successful middle ground.
Maura says that its important to know exactly what’s broken in your global web properties.
Watch out for common publishing errors, incorrect URL’s or URL structure, site hosting on domestic servers hurting cross-border search results.
The also devised central knowledge repository which helped them organize materials to drive optimizations for teams in their own language. Like Motoko, Maura was an advocate of not hesitating to train your local teams.
Maura noted however, that they did not have the same success in France, possibly due to a myriad of vendor process/communication problems.
Kevin Ryan: Elaborate a little bit more about how you didn’t do well in France?
Maura: Well, it was a great reason to send me to Paris (audience laughs). It’s really about engaging the right people from the beginning. In the middle of the project they came out with keyword translation, Google France released keyword data for the first time, they had to re-strategize the campaign. It ended up incurring additional translation and publishing costs.
Speaking third was Marjorie Madfis, who is the interactive marketing manager and web editor for IBM. Marjorie relayed a great deal of site globalization knowledge culled from real world cases at IBM.
As you can guess, a company like IBM requires a fairly complex site design. The site must serve both multiple product divisions, and multiple user types ranging from stockholders to typical users to business partners.
IBM is currently presenting software group webpages in over 80 countries but they all have the same software brands in common. Despite the uniformity of brand, each page must serve content relevant to what each country’s users need.
Marjorie says that we should first understand what must be localized. User reviews, customer references, IBM contact information and news stories need to cater to its target country. Because localization can be both tense and time consuming, IBM identified and focused on localizing these most important items.
For web globalization, IBM divides their page templates into sections and identifies what sections need which specific treatment.
What must be in a local format? They focused on local offers, lead generations, white paper downloads and webinars. In some cases, it was optimal to display U.S. solutions with local solutions. In addition, ask “What must be translated? When are English words preferred?”
Marjorie moved on to the topic of process and communication with cross-border teams. Some tools they use included a web presence calendar in a lotus database and a web merchandising calendar wiki to give direction to their specific local teams. She reiterated the idea of balance between centralized guidance and letting local teams make logical choices.
Rounding out the session was Erik Qualman, global vice president of EF Education, highlighting three constructs in the struggle to “go global.”
It’s very important to know your corporations internal structure. Figure out who the leaders are in each country you operate; is it a CIO, CMO, or product presedent? You can’t expect that it will be easy to maintain leadership structure uniformity, so always be aware. As a golden rule, you should revert back to “what the customer wants”, but always know how your company is structured.
This includes web site elements such as linking strategies and platform compatibility.
Ask “what is your company’s bread and butter?”. We know that Coca Cola is brand, Wal-Mart is supply change management etc.
Ask “what is your mission?” as a company and then ask “what is your mission from an online perspective?”
Coca Cola’s iconic product line has and needs separate domains like dietcoke.com, coco-cola.com, cokezero.com. AT&T really just needs at&t.com and internal navigation to its parallel service offerings.
Do you need a country specific URL? If there’s not perfect solution, at least understand your core competency and be aware of what countries sites link to your pages. These all funnel down to affect the third construct.
This encompasses SEM, SEO, social media, partnerships and is sometimes the most important piece.
For cross-border SEM, should you manage centralized in house agency or decentralized? If your web strategy spreads across 50+ different languages, you probably won’t find a centralized seo to handle all those languages.
For SEO, the questions you ask are much the same but may include a combo of your internal agency handling bulk globalization work with field support when needed. It’s the model of a few talented internal folks for the main languages, and hiring out for smaller languages.
With social media efforts across Facebook,Twitter, and Youtube, you might need varying localized fan pages, or different tabs for each country.
Partnerships are about the leverage and coordination. Watch out for miscommunication that can lead to channel conflict with your partnerships and don’t let your partners spam. Partnerships need to understand global differences as well; there is a separate feed for Canada, a separate feed for the UK etc.
Erik reiterates that you should always revert back to what the customer wants. There is no perfect solution to launching a global website, so at least understand the core.