With the start of the new year, thoughts turn to new opportunities.
For many companies, especially with mature domestic campaigns, the biggest growth options involve tapping into traffic from foreign markets.
While going global can be complex, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
This is the first in a series of articles where I will explore strategies for international paid search efforts.
Rather than diving into adapt your SEM campaigns to a given market, it is worth to take a stepping stone approach and devise an incremental strategy.
In doing so, it is also critical to align your paid search tactics with your or your client’s wider marketing strategy and operational capabilities.
Taking Your Search Marketing Global: Where to Start?
Chances are your website already gets some traffic from outside your country. After all, it is the world wide web.
If so, examine what onsite behavior is like for the users and how it compares to users from your home market.
Examine your organic search data as a proxy for promising paid search geographies.
For many U.S.-based companies, Canadian and U.K. users make up a small but profitable group of customers.
Looking at your business across all channels and distribution by country can be another guide.
If that is not the case, consider a mid-sized market where these four criteria can be met:
1. Strong demand for your product or service (and that any regulations on providing them are well-understood by your team)
For a range of reasons, from weather to cultural norms, some items may not be as popular in other parts of the world.
Each country will also have different regulatory restrictions.
From seemingly simple items like books and toys to online language classes and travel services, one will likely need some government approval.
There could well be also restrictions on what may or may not be promoted or sold online.
2. Localized online assets
It is strongly recommended to secure a website with the local domain.
Click-through rate and conversion rate are generally higher for sites and ads with local country domains.
If multiple languages exist, (e.g., Simplified and Traditional Chinese), consider structuring the site so that URLs and ads can reflect that (e.g. domain.cn/zh for Simplified Chinese).
Rather than translating your site into the relevant language, localize it.
Take time to research what is most important to local users and create custom content around those value propositions, in the right tone and dialect.
Even in other English-speaking markets, important differences can arise.
By extension, localize your ad text and keywords.
Do not assume that the same ads and keywords can be merely translated into the new language or fully repurposed for other English-speaking markets.
Keyword research tools are a good starting point and, as with any marketing strategy, a thorough competitor analysis is also key.
Audit what your future competitors are doing, learn from their successes and take advantage of their failures.
3. Full customer service support in this country
For paid search to succeed, it is critical that the underlying business model can stretch across boundaries.
How would you feel if, while searching for a leather couch, you find a stunning designer Italian sofa on a site which only ships within the EU?
Or if you are mid-way booking a hotel in Thailand only to find that the booking engine and customer service is entirely in Thai and you can’t understand the cancellation policy?
Payment options also vary greatly around the globe.
While credit cards are common, in some countries cash on delivery is strongly preferred (e.g., Russia).
Still, in other countries, payments are routinely made through third-party online apps (e.g., Alipay in China).
4. You have a good chance of for strong impressions share on most critical non-branded keywords
You should plan running your branded terms in all markets.
However, this being a new market and your brand presumably unknown, generic terms will be most critical in jump-starting your paid search effort.
On Google, while the Keyword Planner does not report impression share, one can approximate with close accuracy budget needed to capture all impressions.
After a certain bid level, forecasted impressions level off.
You could still lose Impression share due to rank, but at least you should appear in all eligible auctions.
For China and Russia – where Google is not the primary search engine – forecasting is a bit trickier.
Baidu’s Keyword Planner is helpful but is available only to users with a Baidu advertising account requiring a business registration.
Yandex’s Wordstat does not provide budget and bid estimates, but will give volume estimates which can still be helpful to gauge overall opportunity.
How to Plan Your Budget?
Using traffic estimates, one can forecast the necessary budget.
Keep in mind, however, that the paid search auction dynamic will vary requiring different bidding strategies.
Research different bids levels for your terms, to avoid unnecessarily accelerating CPCs or bidding too low and underestimating how aggressive local players may be.
With a target market identified and test budget in hand, it is key to consider how to allocate it. Seasonality and campaign budget management come into play here.
With different holidays around the world, expect seasonality to vary.
While December is often a slow month for some verticals in the Americas in Europe due to Christmas and New Year holidays, this not the case elsewhere in the world.
For example, in China, the Lunar New Year Golden Week is the major holiday period instead resulting in a lot fewer searches for certain verticals (e.g., B2B) and spike for others (e.g., travel, entertainment).
On a more granular level for campaign budgeting, time zones are often overlooked.
Consider setting up campaigns targeting each individual time zone. Many countries have multiple.
Your daily budget can well be exhausted by the first few by the time users in other time uses in other zones start searching in full force.
The U.S. has seven time zones, Australia has five, and Russia has 11!
While China has a single official time zone, it spans five geographical time zones and so the concept still applies.
Given the unique user behavior in each market, an international search engine marketing campaign will need different KPIs from your domestic effort.
Your ROI and revenue objectives will need adjusting to each market due to considerations around affecting acquisition costs, pricing, and user conversion rates.
With varying competitive landscapes, there will be different CPCs dynamics, affecting your required investment. Your product or service pricing strategy may also need adapting to ensure the new local market can support it, affecting target revenues.
Online conversion rates will also vary by market. Logistical business issues aside, users around the globe have different confidence levels for transacting online.
Even if you offer relevant products, localized site content and accept favored payment models, users just have different levels of trust in using online distribution channels, particularly those like search engine marketing which are ad driven.
These considerations will impact how you project the success of your international search engine marketing campaign. It will also help educate your wider marketing team on why it should have a different target from your home market efforts.
While global paid search may seem daunting, it is a worthwhile endeavor for paid search advertisers.
With the U.S., U.K., and Canada being mature paid search markets, growth rates elsewhere are generally higher and offer good expansion opportunities.
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Screenshot taken by Ilya Cherepakhin, January 2018