Overseas treasures: Why marketers are thinking internationally with their search campaigns

A growing appetite for British brands overseas is paving the way for companies to launch international search campaigns. Suzanne Bearne takes a look at the steps brands need to take in order to fully exploit untapped global search opportunities.

Slowing sales growth on home ground coupled with strong demand overseas for British goods is prompting many brands to turn their attention beyond the UK in a bid to secure future revenues and profits – and with that new focus, the spotlight shines on online.

With consumers worldwide purchasing at the touch of their keyboards and mobiles, shopping is more global than ever before. Add to this the pent-up demand for British goods – UK e-commerce exports are predicted to surge to £45bn by 2020, up from the current market value of £13bn, according to a study by OC&C Strategy Consultants and Google – and the opportunities for online sales overseas are huge.

An essential component of capturing the attention of online consumers in any potential new market is the creation of a targeted search strategy.

But where to begin? First off, thoroughly research the potential new market and the habits of locals.

“We would advise brands to understand how consumers use the internet in their path to purchase,” says Google’s UK country sales director Peter Fitzgerald. “How do they search and how do they buy? Know what devices they use and make sure you offer a great experience across screens. Understanding path to purchase is key. For example, in Spain only 20 per cent of people buy on their phones, while the number is more than double (46 per cent) in the US. That means that if you are doing a search campaign in Spain you might want to focus on brand awareness and informing people just doing their research, while in US you want to be more transactional.”

Jonathan Jones, head of digital marketing at shirt specialist TM Lewin, which has websites in countries such as Australia and the US, says it’s important to consider local market forces when preparing a website for a new country.

“This may be the different terms used for products – even between English-speaking countries – or simply the weather across different continents. You have to tailor your spend, copy and focus to this. Of course the fundamental principles of search remain the same, but customers and potential new customers expect to see retailers understanding the local market and adjusting copy and promotions accordingly.”

Whichever market your eyes are on, it’s important to consider a country specific domain, communicate with consumers in the correct language and seek out local native speaking specialists who are aware of the terms and nuances of a market that outsiders may not be so familiar with.

Chris Camacho, managing partner of precision marketing at Starcom MediaVest Group UK, says: “We would always create local content where possible. We would very rarely agree to or recommend running an English website in, for example, Spain because if someone is searching using Spanish keywords, they expect to land on a local website. You’ve got to make sure that native language is running all the way through.”

Brands should remember that the type of content and structure that works in one market might not be ideal for another, according to Helena Lopez, head of search at media agency OMD.

“For example, imagine that you’re a cosmetics brand. In China your potential customers would be attracted to whitening products while in Russia they would look for bronzers,” explains Lopez. “Therefore, the type of content, hierarchy of the content and images used on the Chinese site should be different to those used on the Russian site.”

While brands will be fully au fait with running SEO and PPC campaigns through search engines such as Google and Bing, it’s crucial they get up to scratch with the big players in other markets so as not to miss out on potential new customers.

Take China, where the most dominant search engine isn’t Google; it’s Baidu with a market share of about 70 per cent. What with strict Chinese rules and regulations to adhere to, setting up search campaigns in the market can be daunting (such as filling out a barrage of documents to set up an account), but with online retail sales in the region set to reach 2.76tn yuan in 2014, rocketing 45.8 per cent on last year, according to market research firm iResearch, overcoming such difficulties will be worth one’s salt in the end.

However, without an office in the UK, it’s worth working with a third party to help simplify the process of working with Baidu. One such company is China Search International, which helps and gives advice to overseas companies looking to advertise on the search engine.

“In the old days, advertisers would try and organise search campaigns in China on their own and it would take months and months,” says Matt Brown, UK sales and marketing director at China Search International. “Now, we are able to produce a service – we’re a bit like the Post Office, where we check and verify documents and make sure everything is set up correctly. We guide the advertiser in terms of keyword strategy and set up the campaign.”

For SEO in China, Brown says brands must remove links to banned Western social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. He also recommends setting up a Chinese language website. “In the past we’ve had brands run English language sites with a splash Chinese page and then the rest of the content is in English. That doesn’t work.”

One of the ad opportunities on Baidu is its Brand Zone, which enables companies to dominate search results for their branded terms. This means if a user searches for Burberry, they’ll be presented with a branded page featuring images, videos, social media, and links to the company’s website.

“Whenever anyone types in certain keywords from a signed-up brand, they’ll have blanket coverage of that word,” Brown adds. Brand Zone is not cheap, though – he says current campaigns range from $25,000 (£15,514) to $400,000 (£248,226) a month.

Over in Russia, Yandex dominates the search engine sector, raking in a 63 per cent share of the market. Brands looking to tap into the Russian search market should be aware that locals search for products differently to their European counterparts, says Tatiana Kalinina, business development director international division of Yandex, which means “my personal index”.

She explains that while a typical British consumer would search online for a particular product by typing in specific terms such as ‘Zara collection 2014’, a Russian shopper would search more generically and without a brand name, entering keywords such as ‘pretty summer dress’. This means brands may wish to gain traction by using generic search terms.

Once the site is geared up for SEO purposes, search experts suggest it’s crucial for brands to run a paid search campaign in tandem.

“If brands want to test the market and to get sales quickly, they need to do some paid search,” advises Ian Harris, chief executive of search agency Search Laboratory. “It’s always a good step to discover which keywords work, what products sell and what kind of messaging works in the paid ads. It’s a good testing ground for the market.”

For a search campaign to really deliver results, there must be a co-joined effort across the whole company, says Jamie Peach, head of SEO at House of Fraser.

“Search can’t be expected to capture lots of demand if not enough demand is being generated. This needs to be considered from the outset and flagged to relevant teams if the channel mix isn’t working.”

Social media is also equally fundamental to a successful search campaign.

Henry Ellis, managing director at digital marketing agency Tamar, says: “Social media is a key part of SEO these days, so brands should think about talking to bloggers. You have to have an international social media strategy as you can’t just talk one language on social media.” Ellis recommends tracking down the top 10 social media sites in any potential new territory and building a presence on them. “This will increase authority and brand recognition.”

Against a tough economy in the UK, forward-thinking brands should cast their net further afield and capitalise on the growing demand for British brands overseas. A strong search strategy is required to gain both brand awareness and pull in the sales, and as daunting and complex as it may first appear, a committed and determined approach will soon enough turn those once untapped opportunities into a burgeoning revenue stream.

This feature was first published as part of a search marketing focus in The Drum's 29 October issue.

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