Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Developing an International Search Marketing Strategy

The international search marketing landscape is evolving at a rapid pace. The rules of engagement change weekly or even daily and the number of players in the market is on the increase. From the international giants: Google and Bing to the “smaller” country-specific search engines: Baidu (China), Yandex (Russia), and Naver (South Korea) – to mention just a few, search engine marketing is rapidly becoming very complicated. When you add social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to the advertising equation the complexities reach a new level. So how does one develop a strategy that can cope with the complexity?

First off, a search engine marketing strategy should be based on your target audiences and how those groups are likely to search for your product or service. Then of course there are a whole slew of other variables that are linked to your business like your brand name, your business model and your general marketing approach. If you are marketing online to an international marketplace in addition to considering the above, you will need to add in the complexities of your customer’s geography as this affects their search behaviour such as words used to search, seasonality, not to mention actual language differences. Putting these components together therefore requires a much more fine-tuned approach to segmentation and marketing differentiation. So when you have accounted for the above, how does one choose advertising platform(s) to ensure that you reach your customer target group(s)?

As you might expect, Google dominates the online advertising space with over 80% of the global market share. In the UK alone, 90% of businesses spend some of their advertising budget on its advertising platform (Ad Words) – making Google a must-use platform for any business planning to compete in the UK marketplace.

That said, Google is not the only search engine out there and in many markets Google is one of many. There are plenty of other advertising platforms that will generate new customers and revenue streams for your business. Depending on who you are marketing to, what you are marketing, and how much advertising money you have to spend, you can choose from a number of platforms both search marketing or display advertising. For most businesses the most prudent approach would be to select a few and then expand incrementally. This approach is especially useful when your marketing budget is more restrictive – the key being to get as much bang for your buck as possible – but is a good approach for any business wishing to spend only what they can generate.

There are other aspects to consider as well when reviewing your choice of advertising platforms. Two such metrics are cost per click and conversion rates. Take a case in point from our customer base. We advertise one of our customers on Google in the US (among other countries) and on Yahoo! As is expected competition on the Google’s paid advertising platform is intense and as a result the CPC (cost-per-click) is higher compared with Yahoo! So is one better than the other? Well, the answer is both yes and no depending on your viewpoint. The customer will get more business overall from Google, but their cost per conversion are much lower on Yahoo! Arguably, they need to be present on both (budgets permitting) in order to attract the maximum number of customers at the right price.

So, you may get more exposure from an international search engine, but you will also get more people coming to your site without the intention of staying, connecting or buying. Therefore, when you make your search engine priorities the expected return on investment for each channel should be included in this process. Your decision to advertise with the one or the other (or indeed several) would then be driven by your ability to generate a return in addition to the market reach it offers.

Getting the balance right will often require a bit of trial and error initially in order to find the engine(s) that work “best” in each market. But, by starting off small on a few platforms, you will already begin to gather information about how your campaigns convert visitors into buyers and how much each conversion costs on average.

If you depend on one search engine alone, and for most markets the “default” would be Google, you may be losing out on business opportunities. By simply increasing the number of “eggs” in your search engine basket you can maximise your exposure and be able to reach a wider audience with less.

Of course search engines are not the only players in the online advertising arena. The rise of social media offers unprecedented opportunities to businesses as an additional marketing and distribution channel.

One such channel is Facebook who over the last few years have gotten far ahead of the game in this regard with its display advertising revenue expected to reach over $4 billion in 2011 (according to eMarketer). Alongside the launch of Facebook Places, Facebook Deals, and Facebook Credit, their open API Facebook opens new gateways for businesses globally. With its 600 million users Facebook has certainly become a strategic platform to include in any digital media plan.

Twitter reached 200 million users this year and continues to grow. The advertising platform includes Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts and it offers opportunities to reach new audiences 160 characters at a time. As a highly interactive media tool, Twitter’s effectiveness as a marketing channels is potentially more short-term than other channels as it requires more continuous attention, marketing creativity, not-to-mention a very dedicated and engaged user-base. All this, however, can be managed with the right performance indicators and goals.

YouTube is the second biggest “search engine” in the world with almost 2 billion daily searches. The viral marketing effects of video are combined with the power of word-of-mouth allows YouTube to offer unique opportunities to advertisers who seek to broadcast a message to a wider audience. Depending on your target audience and markets; YouTube can become an important marketing platform for your business. Video traffic is on the increase and according to Cisco; video traffic will represent 50% of all internet traffic by 2012 –up from 40%.

In addition to the abovementioned benefits; the reach and the ability to listen to and engage with potential customers in real-time, makes social media an increasingly an important part of the search optimisation process. Today the signals and referrals of social media networks are taken very seriously by search engines in their ranking algorithms – thereby offering businesses that actively use the social media twice the marketing effectiveness.

Recently, during a keynote interview at the “All Things Digital Conference”, Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that his biggest failure and disappointment was missing the social media trend. The wider implications of social media as an advertising platform are huge and it will clearly play a bigger role in the future. Even today, a million businesses are using Facebook as part of their marketing and communications and this will only increase over time.

Search is continuously evolving and so are people’s search behaviours. From a marketing point of view you have to think beyond Google to take a broader perspective. You need to view your business in a more global context. In doing so, it will not only give you access to a larger audience and new markets, but it will allow you to reach these at different stages of the search and buying cycles enabling you to be an alternative at every junction. Additionally, by investing incrementally in a variety of platforms you alleviate some of your investment risk in time and money and with the collection of data you are able to make more informed decisions in the future.

International Search Marketing is not a one-time decision as much as a continuous business activity. In order to succeed you need to be agile and evolve along with the ever-changing marketplace. In the future, developing and maintaining a flexible search marketing strategy and will be intrinsic to a business’ survival.

At e-HotelServices, we are always keeping a close eye on the developments in the digital landscape to convert such offerings to opportunities for our customers. The developments are exciting and require real-time adjustments and on-the-go management. In a world with such intense competition and transformation; the only way to remain ahead of the game by embracing change and continue to add value to your customers - new and old. If you want more information on how you can take advantage of the international search marketing world, please contact us for more information!

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