Motoko Hunt: the year of Tiger
2010 is the year of Tiger, which represents a season of birth and growth. I hope the year will bring positive changes to the World economy, business and all other crisis that we have experienced in the past years.
I think that the Internet and the search marketing will no longer be 'not an option', even for small businesses in the countryside. Like a Japanese rice farmer, who only grows a special kind of rice in very limited quantities, communicate with his customers through the website and social media reporting the growth of their precious rice every week with photos and videos as if a parent reporting a growth of a baby to family and friends. The Internet has become the primary means to reach and communicate with the clients and the target market regardless of the size of the business.
While Internet users in the highly penetrated markets such as France, Spain, UK, USA and Japan have become mature and sophisticated, the Internet continues to grow rapidly in markets such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, creating a whole new set of users and business opportunities for your company. The decade of doing business by satisfying the existing client base is over. Whether you like it or not, the world will be knocking on your door in 2010, and it is up to you to take the opportunity and open it and welcome them or keep it closed and pass on this wonderful opportunity to grow your business.
Where to start?
Although Internet market is growing globally, depending on the type of the business or the size of the company, going after multiple markets simultaneously may not be a smart way to go. Here are some tips that will help you to determine if you should target overseas market and which markets to target first.
1. Existing Interest from abroad
Your business may be already attracting interest from abroad. If you have received any inquiries or questions from abroad, review the communications and analyze the interest level for each country that you have had communications.
Review your access log files and analytic tools. You can get a good idea of from where in the world people are accessing your website. If you are already getting a good amount of traffic from a country that you are not specifically marketing your business, it would be your first target market outside your country. Access logs also provides you with rich data of which keywords people are using to find your site on search engines. Also note, if you are not getting traffic from any foreign countries it does not mean there is no interest, it just means they are not finding your site.
2. Market size
Keyword research tools come in handy to check the potential business opportunity in the specific country. Check the search volume of the keywords related to your business. It also gives you good information on market trends and levels of interests related to your business by researching your related search terms.
For example, you sell "luxury pet supplies" for pampered pets and want to target the UK market. If the keyword tool shows there's a great demand for the search phrase "pet supplies", but it also shows many searches for "pet supply wholesale" and "cheap pet supply", your market may not be as big as it first seemed, since people may prefer discounted products rather than luxury items.
3. Market needs and trends
Thanks to social media services, you can do a quick check of the markets needs and trends by evaluating various social media sites for any conversations about your business related categories. Use on-site search tools offered by sites such as Twitter and facebook (or SNS popular in the market) to find out the types and level of conversations. People tend to talk casually on SNS sites, and you are likely to find more honest and close to real-time feedback from actual users and customers. You can also read the threads in the affinity groups and communities within local country SNS sites to see what people are talking about related to your products and services.
If you have certain competitors in your market, check to see if any of them are targeting overseas markets, if so where. It’s a good indication that the business opportunity is there.
Test the market
Now you have a good idea of which market to target first. You could kick off the full-blown search marketing campaign, but it is always best to test the market in smaller scale first. It’s not only the low-risk way to enter the market, but it also gives you valuable data from reviewing converting keywords and ad copy to understand unique cultural specifics and trends.
Pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising is one of the best and easiest ways to test a new market. You can start your test with a couple of landing pages in the language(s) spoken in the market you would like to target rather than to localize the entire site. This sort of test will give you a good idea of where the opportunities and interests are within a market in a short duration and a small budget. Once you know which keywords perform best, and what messages are more appealing to the market, you can apply what you learn from the test campaigns to your general PPC campaign and SEO project on a completely localized website.
Seek for advice and market information
You did your homework by checking the keyword trends, analyzing the test campaign results, and reviewing the social media conversations. However, there is a good chance that you haven’t found some of the standards and common business practices that are unique to the market. For example, there is an unwritten standard of what should be included in the “About us” page on a business site, as well as legal requirements set by the government for the e-commerce business sites in Japan. If you are serious about going after a specific market like Japan, it is important for your site to have the information that Japanese consumers are expecting to see there.
It’s a good idea to contact the local expert for advice. If you have a business partner or a business representative in the market, ask them to review your site. You should also check the trade organization and government websites of the market you’d like to target. Many countries have trade organizations that offer free information and services to help you export or import your products.
When targeting overseas markets, even if you are starting out with just one or two markets, you’ll have to manage many issues, which were not much of concern when you are targeting only your home market. In addition to the obvious linguistic challenges, you’ll deal with numbers of technical issues such as duplicate content when you target multiple markets that speak the same language.
With Google shifting the search results to more and more searcher location-based results, you should consider using country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and/or having each site hosted locally. Google lets you set the geographical targets for your local site using Google’s Webmaster tool, but if you are targeting the market such as Japan, China and Russia, where Google is not the popular search engine, this feature will not help you.
Optimize all digital assets
Even though competition is getting tougher and tougher with search marketing, the good news is that you have more than your website and the PPC campaign you can leverage. All major search engines now present blended search results showing not only web pages, but also images, videos, news articles, blog posts, social media conversations, etc. Like that Japanese rice farmer, you should optimize all of your digital assets to maximize the search marketing opportunity to reach and communicate with your prospective audience.
About Motoko Hunt:
"Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been working with companies from around the world helping them to enter Japanese market using the Internet. She also has been giving SEO/SEM seminars to promote the concept of SEO/SEM targeting Japanese market to companies and web professionals.
She is an editor at Multilingual-Search.com, where she writes Japanese online market news. She is a Chairperson of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) Asia-Pacific Committee, and a Vice Chairperson of SEMPO Japan."
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