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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

SES NY Series: Key Points in Launching a Global Website and International SEO, My Interview with Motoko Hunt from AJPR

Global website strategy and international SEO.As companies start to develop global digital strategies, they begin to face new challenges and obstacles. This is often uncharted territory for many people. Sure, US-based online marketers feel comfortable when targeting US consumers, but what if they had to suddenly target consumers in Japan, England, France, or China? Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to assist several large companies and brands with building global website strategies, including international SEO. I have found that there is a lot of confusion with how to target multiple countries, as well as how to rank across country-specific search engines. Actually, I’ve spoken with several companies that were going down the wrong path...

Globalizing your website might sound easy at first, but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as setting up additional domains, pushing your content to local markets, and then ranking across country-specific search engines. And if you’re thinking about keeping just one website that will target multiple countries, you have another set of problems to deal with. There are several key items you need to work through before you can have a successful global presence.

Global Obstacles and International SEO
From an SEO perspective, you need to address several factors, such as performing keyword research across various languages, addressing cultural issues, understanding top search engines in other countries (yes, Google is not the top engine in every country), and how to adapt to unique market trends. You need to understand the optimal technical setup for your global website, including hosting, ccTLD’s, geotargeting, localized inbound links, etc. Actually, to understand more of the challenges that search marketers face, you should visit some country-specific search engines and start entering your queries. Chances are you will see some interesting results, to say the least. :)

SES NY Session: Key Points in Launching a Global Website
So, when I was reviewing the agenda for SES NY and saw a session about Key Points in Launching a Global Website, I was all over it! Since I know there are a lot of questions about global website strategy and international SEO, I decided to interview one of the panelists to find out more about the session. I tracked down Motoko Hunt, Founder and Search Marketing Strategist of AJPR. Motoko is a seasoned search marketer focused on helping clients enter the Japanese market. She has a thorough understanding of Asia and has helped some of the world’s top brands with their search marketing initiatives. By the way, the session is on Tuesday, March 24th at 11:45 in case you’ll be at SES NY.

Motoko was nice enough to answer some of my questions and I have included my interview with her below. Definitely feel free to post your comments after reading the interview. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Glenn: What are the top 4 or 5 things people will learn at your session?

Motoko: People will learn some important points that will help them better prepare for launching a global website. Often times, people experience these issues during or after the global website has been completed, and wish they'd known that at the beginning. Research indicates more companies will launch or relaunch global websites in 2009. I believe this session will have something for everyone, from agencies to in-house marketers, from small to large-sized corporations.

Some of the key issues I'll cover are:
- Language and cultural issues
- Geographical issues
- Cross-border management issues
- Leveraging standardized templates to develop global websites

Glenn: What trends are you seeing with regard to how clients and companies are approaching international SEO? For example, when clients begin speaking with you, what are you hearing, are they going down the wrong path, is there confusion, etc?

Motoko: Since most of my clients are in the US and Europe, the decisions often times come down from the HQ in Western market to receiving ends in Asia. I see that one of the biggest challenges is how to carry out the project that was planned by the HQ and dictated to each local market. The size of in-house teams in local markets are usually much smaller than what they have at the HQ. Also, they usually have less understanding of SEO, or have different challenges in doing SEO like different target search engines and different search user behavior.

I hear loud and clear that local teams are struggling to keep up with the globalization projects sent down from HQ, while trying to create and maintain the site that "works" for local markets. The companies who give some room for local teams to adopt the local trends seem to have greater success with their globalized website.

Glenn: What are a few core things you want people to know about launching a global website (or multiple websites targeting specific countries)?

Motoko: During my presentation, I'll try and identify the top issues. Some address the technical issues such as keyword research and content localization, CMS, hosting and geo issues. Some countries may have unique regulations about the products you can sell online, or keywords you can bid on. Some are the organizational issues such as manpower, budget, project management and education.

When companies consider "globalizing" their website, some of the benefits they expect to see include cost and time savings. However, by not taking these issues into consideration before they kick-off the globalization project, it ends up taking more time and costing more money.

Glenn: Are you going to touch upon some of the technical items that marketers should address for global SEO, like ccTLD’s, Google Webmaster Tools (geo targeting), inbound links, hosting, duplicate content, etc?

Motoko: These technical issues are often overlooked or unnoticed until it causes some problems after the website launches. I'd like to cover as much as I can within the given time limit. ;-)

Glenn: Should companies just focus on Google or understand more of the global search landscape? (OK, that was a leading question!) I know many marketers in the US understand that Google is dominant here, but there are a lot of people that don’t know the leading search engines in other countries. i.e. Yahoo Japan, Naver in Korea, Yandex in Russia, etc.

Motoko: You know, they shouldn't just focus on Google. Unless of course their "globalization" target markets are limited to those where Google is the dominant engine. When globalizing a website, you need to know each market you'd like to target to determine what types of adjustments are required. If you have an in-house team in a local market, talk to them, use their knowledge, and let them add what is needed to succeed in that market. If you are going to hire an agency, make sure that the agency really knows the market. Having native staff is a huge plus. You want to work with someone with globalization experience, and someone that understands the culture, including how consumers behave and how business is conducted there.

Glenn: I think keyword research is a big issue, including translation. Several tools only focus on certain languages and countries. What are you going to cover that will help people go down the right path? Also, once they find the right keywords and content, what’s the best way to have that content translated?

Motoko: Keywords are the starting point for both SEO and PPC campaigns. If you use the wrong keywords, the entire SEO program and PPC campaigns would fail. Simply translating keywords for other markets never works well. I'll talk about the process of keyword research that has worked really well for my clients. The content should not be simply translated, but localized for each market. I'm sure you understand that the translation tools are not perfect. In fact, they are far from perfect when it comes to Asian languages. You should invest in editing the content by an in-house team or local professionals. You'd want to avoid giving the impression that you are just pushing US-centric services to other markets, which will be viewed as you don't value the market enough to take it seriously.

Glenn: Are there any case studies you are going to provide (along with statistics) for companies that have successfully launched global websites or that are having success with international SEO?

Motoko: I've just finished a case study with Autodesk's Japan team. Maura Ginty will share the results of the case study in her presentation. Also, I will share some of the feedback I received from a client's in-house team in an Asian market about their globalization projects.

As you can see from Motoko’s answers, launching a global website is no easy feat. :) To learn more about Motoko’s session at SES NY, check out the session details on the SES NY website. The session is being held on Tuesday, March 24th at 11:45 and is part of the Search and the Future Track. As you would guess, I’ll be attending the session and tweeting from the conference. I’ll also be recapping each day at SES NY here on my blog.

Are you launching a global website or focusing on international SEO? Definitely post your comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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  • At 1:39 PM, Anonymous @mjleonard said…

    That was a great interview. I'm really looking forward to the presentation at SES NY. Motoko is spot on with the premise that initial keyword research is vital to the success. Many sites will try unsuccessfully to duplicate their local efforts. It's really not that simple. To be successful you must be authentic. "When in Rome..."

  • At 1:46 PM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Great point Matt. If you simply translate the exact keywords, you've got a chance of looking really foolish... Then to Motoko's point, you may be viewed as not valuing that market enough. Glad you enjoyed the interview!


  • At 9:03 PM, Anonymous MH said…

    Thank you for sharing a great interview with us, Glenn. Having worked in a HQ as well as a local office in Asia, I totally agree with Motoko's point.

    There was a constant battle between the HQ and local offices when localizing marketing assets that were initially developed for the U.S. market...we used to get copies that are simply translated from English to local languages by a translator who are not specialized in copy writing...oh boy, it was nightmare, and these copies never worked well in local markets.

    I'm pretty sure the same would apply for keywords. You definitely need local professionals who understand the market!

  • At 6:37 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Thanks @MH. I'm glad you liked my interview with Motoko. It sounds like you bring a unique perspective, having experienced the translation issues that Motoko brought up during the interview. I know that's a frustrating situation, to say the least.

    And you're right, adding keyword research translation to the mix opens up a new set of challenges.

    Thanks for your input!



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