Slide Deck for “How to Expand to Different Markets” (Brighton SEO, April 27th 2018)
So, you’ve done everything right so far? You’ve implemented best practice on all marketing channels and your organic traffic growth proves that your product or service is nothing but awesome. Thinking about the next steps more often than not you will end up dreaming about expansion. And if we are honest – you might dream about that even if your original site’s performance is actually not super great. How hard can it be – you already have all that knowledge and structure, so why not apply that to another country and double your revenue? Of course, it’s far from being that easy.
Here’s a little guide on what to consider when going international. You’ll probably know that international SEO is a very versatile topic one could talk about for many hours. That’s why I’m concentrating on three learnings that I experienced as most valuable when dealing with new market roll-outs.
“The more realistic you are, the less it will cost”
Although you might be psyched about your roll-out and all the opportunities it will open for you, I strongly recommend taking a deep breath and diving into the details of your new market(s). Ask yourself:
- How much do people of the specific country spend in your category, and where/how do they buy it (e.g. online vs. brick-and-mortar, expected delivery days, …)?
- What part does SEO play? Which are important keywords and how many people are searching for it? How strong are you keyword competitors?
- What do your future customers expect from your product and your website? Be aware that people of different cultures could have a very different search / browsing behaviour.
- Are your current markets satisfied or is there still potential? Will your current business suffer from your expanding plans because of resource shortfalls?
- Speaking of which, how much resources do you have? How many people can spend how much time working on the new country? Will you need even more people?
- How long can you afford investing time and money without any revenue coming back?
These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself. It’s very important to be accurate with your answers and that you keep it realistic and honest. Otherwise you’ll just end up burning money.
“Plan your localisation before you roll-out”
Once you have all the insights about your new markets and still think it’s a good idea to expand, you can finally roll up your sleeves and prepare your going international. Among many other things, localisation is a part that needs some of your attention. A simple definition of localisation could be: You want the right user on the right country version, and you want the right ranking in the right search engine. There are different means to achieve this, and I’m going to share my insights on a crucial one – your Top-Level Domain a.k.a TLD strategy.
The most intense SEO moments I experienced are related to the TLD strategy. Google explains in their support forum what kind of top level domains you can chose from. What they don’t mention there is that when thinking about a TLD you automatically will end up making decisions about your international branding.
It’s quite natural for most people to incorporate their brand in the domain name. So, the only real option to go with for different brands in different markets is ccTLD (e.g. example.co.uk). However, if you are free to decide on your TLD strategy, most SEOs – including me – will recommend going with a global domain and host your different country content on subdirectories (e.g. example.com/uk). There are quite a few examples that show the power of a global domain to influence visibility for its subdirectories. And yes, this can go into a very good AND a very bad direction. Very important: If you are thinking of using an existing domain as your global domain, have a close look at traffic and visibility metrics. Even though the current numbers might be convincing – if you see a sloping trend for several months, be careful about chosing it. It seems obvious, but your global domain needs to be 100% “healthy” in order to unfold any SEO benefits.
“Accept failure – focus on countries that are worth it”
This third learning actually is something most of us could use as a life philosophy. It’s about how to react to failure, how to learn from it, and how the world keeps spinning (I guarantee you that it does). Even though the first two learning should show how important it is to prepare really well – there are some chances that you’ll fail with your expansion plans. Reasons might be:
- You put too much workload on your (or your team’s) shoulders. You can just invest 60% of the resources instead of 100% and your countries, including the original ones, are running on a minimum.
- The performance of your new countries doesn’t improve over a longer time frame (it depends on you, what “long” means). Your boss starts asking why the company is spending money on the maintenance while no revenue is generated.
- Even though your new countries perform well in search engines, the conversionrate stays low – people don’t interact with your product or service as you’re used to from other countries.
You could now bury yourself in denial and some lost hope that in the end everything will be alright. I’m afraid this (most probably) won’t be the case. Here’s a better approach: Once you’ve identified the factors that keep you from succeeding, try to find out about reasons and possible solutions. You might conduct tests to see if changes would improve something. But again, be honest. Sometimes you can only accept that your resources are better allocated in your original countries and it’s time to leave again.