International Search

A Few Thoughts on Entering an Emerging International SEO Market

I have been in the fortunate position just recently of being able to pop in to meet the guys from the MEC Dubai offices and a number of other expats in non-related sectors too, and this got me thinking about all the challenges and opportunities that these people must face in establishing new team’s in countries around the world so thought I would compile a few thoughts that came to mind when thinking about this.

My thinking was built around two different areas: the management of business elements in order to deliver an SEO solution, and the technical details of how the proposition is actually delivered.  So here, I’m just going to run through a few of the thoughts I had, but maybe you have your own you could add at the bottom too.

Firstly, to provide a few examples of how markets could differ, here are a few points to put the ideas in context.

  • The Middle-East sees an internet penetration of 29.8% but with an impressive growth rate of 1,648.2% over the last 10 years.
  • Europe in comparison sees 58.4% penetration and 257% growth rate over the last 10 years, the UK at 82.5% and growth of 234%, and USA with 77.4% and a growth rate of 146% over the last 10 years.  Stats collated by Internet World Stats.
  • Considerations around language usage and local dialects.
  • Different markets are naturally going to have different socio-economic demographic models.
  • The current SEO market is still emerging so may require a reasonable amount of client education.
  • There are few major competitors in the UAE of SEO services.

Simply put, these few points reminds us of the differences in internet consumption in different parts of the world, and that an SEO proposition may need to be adjusted in order to meet these differing demands.

So let’s kick things off with a few business challenges of a team entering a new market…

Establishing the business of SEO delivery in an emerging market

A number of challenges are going to be raised from growing the international delivery of SEO.  These are obviously going to be a number of differences that need to be addressed:

  • Planning to consider cultural nuances – communication and working processes
  • Project management considerations for:
    • Workflow design
    • Infrastructure and resource planning (internal, in-country and external)
    • Cross-functional and specialist team operations
    • Communication procedures
  • Education and training to consider the technology and opportunities available in the market.
  • Development of relationships with local partners – for marketing, recruitment, and training and development.
  • Possible incremental launch of offerings to maintain quality, credibility and adjust the new markets.
  • Financial management to consider budgeting, currencies and pricing models.
  • Define and track performance goals, and ensure these are consistent with local approaches in doing so.
  • Encourage feedback / performance appraisals from local clients throughout the development and the life of the campaigns.

Depending on your strategy, there may be ways of carrying-out readiness testing too.  That way, on creating or evolving a new business proposition, you can sense-check these ideas first.

Setting-up the SEO proposition in an emerging market

An awareness of where the region is in regards to its maturity is going to be hugely important in the development of an appropriate entry strategy.  Much of this will come out of the detail in research, analysing and planning for the business’ localisation and the development of the SEO proposition itself.

The use of research, analysis and report tools may require a level of pseudo-localisation where compromises on the tool and analysis may need to be made to get the ball rolling with ideas.  One example of this would be the use of keyword research tools for the same language but not necessarily from the same country.  This might not sound idea, but it might just help to kick-start the thinking process where PPC can then do some level of testing around the occurrence of search volume and efficiencies available.

Educational changes

It may be necessary to spend additional time on educating clients on the reach and opportunity of SEO than seen elsewhere, with any new emerging market.  Or rather, the time needed for education and training may not be different, but rather the sort of education, where more fundamental items are addressed.

Local, tactical activity directed by a relevant, experienced strategy

It is always helpful to define what your SEO strategy may look like, but when entering a new market, is this framework likely to change? Perhaps, in part, because it may need to reflect different ways of businesses operating in a different country, but the core principles of what is effective management of SEO are unlikely to change all that much.  The delivery might, but the algorithmic principles and leverage of other marketing activity by SEOs is unlikely to be all that different – it just might need a few creative ideas to get things moving.

So, with that in mind, it’s more for a matter of how the SEO is delivered within a tested strategic framework that needs to be considered. This requires local knowledge and testing to see where gains can be made.  Here are a few areas that may need to be ‘localised’:

  • Consideration of language usage.  So for instance, local dialects of Arabic are used when speaking and often when searching, but the more traditional form of Arabic is expected when reading content on websites.  This raises an interesting challenge when marketing and optimising a website for colloquial terms or phrases.
  • Writing or rewriting copy by locally fluent copywriters is an absolute must.  MEC, for instance, have a number multilingual speakers in the team, but as these other languages are not their first language, we always opt for a native speaker.
  • Documentation or template changes, updates or the development of locally relevant sources of recommendations, reports or analysis may be necessary to serve the demands of a different sort of client.
  • As part of educating clients, who is best to influence in order to make things happen on a website, PR, link-building, branding, etc?  Are the dynamics of these relationships any different?
  • You might be very familiar with link-building in one market, but maybe the same or better can be achieved through different channels.  Maybe SERPs are more easily manipulated in these less competitive markets?  Considering the ROI is always a must when choosing the right link-building channel.
  • Consideration of the different forms of influence in a market, in order to encourage the sharing of content with people and organisations.  This helps to understand and exploit the more social opportunities that exist within link-building for SEO.
  • It may be helpful to establish a benchmark of standards across international teams in order to work towards a globally consistent level of quality.  This though, would require a regular amount of engagement with these different teams.  The costs of which would have to be calculated against the returns.
  • And thinking more laterally, maybe working with a local partner may help adjust to the cultural nuances.  Partners may include educational institutions, other agencies, smaller companies, etc.

There are stacks of examples where changes in approach may need to be considered in order to enhance a local proposition, but just from this jumble of thoughts, few look to be easy.  Localising a foreign proposition is quite clearly going to take some time but huge gains can be made too from drawing from that experience of course, but it is of course always best not to be blinded by what you think you know but don’t.

The wrap-up

As with so many things, taking a preventative approach to planning can minimise all sorts of extra burdens on a team.  It’s by no means an easy task growing a new team, and I must give a hat tip to all those who do exactly this, but like with all challenges, the most testing are the most gratifying!

There are quite obviously far greater sources of information on international management and localisation advice than provided here, and more pertinently, localisation, but as it was on my mind I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

How about you – any thoughts on areas you would consider in developing a local team in a foreign land?

 A Few Thoughts on Entering an Emerging International SEO Market
Ben writes about managing SEO and the ever growing joys of consulting on SEJ and his blog, Just Me and My. He's an organiser of the not-for-profit search, analytics and social media conference, SAScon, and all whilst working as an SEO Director for Mediaedge:cia, WPP.
 A Few Thoughts on Entering an Emerging International SEO Market

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7 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Entering an Emerging International SEO Market

  1. From a customer POV I’ve not heard of anyone who has been shouting about global SEO capabilities, we have one site and we want it to be searchable within search engines globally not just the UK.

    I’m yet to also see a site structure which will work from a global/localised SEO POV also.

  2. Hi James,

    I think the growth in to international growth will typically take place behind the scenes, especially as SEO’s are often quite coy about how what information they share.

    Regarding your second point, I think a global site structure is still possible – I think it just needs each area of localised analysis / recommendations to feed in to a more holistic/multi-national viewpoint before anything is actioned at a local level. And of course, the site structure is going to be the only international factor, so for instance a geo-targeted link-profile could be a great help in this regard too.

    Marc, Sherman and Brian – thanks very much!

    Ben

  3. Great tips Ben. Thanks!
    I currently run an Arabic social news site and can relate to the “Consideration of language usage” for example an Egyptian blogger might submit a link written in local dialect and I get search engine hits mostly from Egypt and very few from other Arab countries