Should marketers ignore international and inter-linguistic considerations when it comes to their SEO strategies?
Survey says: BZZZRRRT
In a way, optimizing for search is like participating in the game show Family Feud. To align with searcher behavior and intent, marketers must make educated guesses, and ultimately it is the people who will dictate whether we’re right or wrong.
As we develop content to draw visitors for targeted keywords, search rankings and traffic trends serve as either an affirming “Ding!” or a rejecting “Buzz!” regarding our hypotheses. Web users fulfill the same function as the random samples polled to create Family Feud’s survey response boards.
Eli Schwartz, who leads digital growth initiatives for SurveyMonkey as Director of SEO & Organic Product, spends his days immersed in data, and the actionable insight it can provide. As Google continually evolves its results to be guided less by keyword volume or technical inputs, and more by human behaviors (or machine algorithms designed to mimic them), marketing needs to deeply understand the way customers seek out information.
At Content Marketing World in September, Schwartz will urge us to extend that mindset beyond borders. In his session, “10x Your Content Audience by Going International,” he’ll preach the benefits of building out a global SEO strategy and what it entails.
In advance of his talk, we asked him about the changing search landscape, the importance of thinking internationally, and how smaller brands can gain an edge when competing against the heavy hitters.
What does your role as Director of SEO & Organic Product at SurveyMonkey entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?
In my role, I am responsible for the growth of organic traffic to all SurveyMonkey properties and products. As the architect of our SEO strategies, I have a deep partnership with the product, design and engineering teams to ensure everything works together to achieve the best organic results. In addition to SEO, I also lead the efforts to ensure that traffic to our surveys ultimately leads to wider adoption and engagement by people that are not yet our users.
Our mission at SurveyMonkey is “Power the Curious,” a mission that carries through every aspect of the company from the way we interact with customers to how we innovate new solutions. Grounded in People Powered Data — insights on the people that matter most powered by the latest survey technology such as machine learning — we have been able to gain deeper insights on our users — a diverse set of individuals with equally diverse needs. It’s my job to ensure that our website offers helpful content that will be visible every time a user seeks out a solution on Google where a survey could help them make better decisions. If someone is curious to learn more about People Powered Data in action, there is exclusive content and articles that we create for pages like Curiosity at Work. Whether it’s an HR rep looking to increase employee retention, a VP of customer service who wants to measure net promoter score, or a marketer who wants to understand their brand penetration, I make sure we have content that will help satiate their curiosity.
Once I tackle this challenge (and it never ends!) from a domestic and English standpoint, I replicate this exact same effort for every country where we have users. While the needs and the search queries differ between users all over the world, it is my mission to empower all curious leaders to discover the information that will help them reach their goals.
You have a great deal of background in search and SEO. What are the most striking changes you’ve seen on this front over the course of your career?
For as long as I have been working in SEO, the ultimate SEO best practice championed by the search engines has been to optimize for users and not search engines. However, the reality was that no one got ahead by following this widely accepted strategy. Content was stuffed with keywords, doorway pages brought users to unintended landing pages, whole websites were built around things like how to tie shoes or pour water, and there was a massive market in websites that sold links specifically for SEO purposes.
As Google’s algorithm advanced, these tactics stopped working and even caused penalty demotions in search. The ranking algorithms can detect whether content is of high quality and if the inbound links are contextually relevant enough to be natural. The net result is that Google’s algorithm uses artificial intelligence to mimic human behavior, and we are closer than ever to the truism of optimization for users and not search engines.
Google is light years ahead of the keyword driven search engine it was a decade ago. In fact, I recently saw an odd insect on the outside of my home,searched on Google by typing a description of the physical features of the insect — “long neck, wide wings” — and Google returned results that all had the word “snakefly” bolded as if that was the term I searched for! Google’s suggested results will change based on the time of day, your physical location, and your most recent searches. There’s no amount of bad SEO tactics that will help you rank when Google is inside the searcher’s head and knows exactly what they want.
Why is it so important for today’s marketers to think globally with their SEO strategies?
As evidenced by the furor around GDPR, which really is only an EU law designed to protect European citizens, we live in a global Internet world where users can come from anywhere. Fear of the penalties for GDPR violations are why the most American of all sites have cookie consent banners on their websites and notices of updated privacy policies.
Yet, most of the websites that were in a midnight panic to comply with GDPR have no European SEO strategy. To me, that’s a paradox that deserves a deeper look.
Serving a global audience begins with understanding them. By gaining insights on your audience through People Powered Data, you can create an SEO strategy that matters to them and reaches them in the vernacular in which they speak. To serve a global audience, your SEO strategy needs to be just as globally informed.
Depending on the potential value of these global users, it may not be prudent to translate the full site or offer free global shipping, but translating that one page that targets the most important international keywords is not that complicated. Additionally, companies can take the very first step towards global SEO by just having a look at where and how their website ranks on Google internationally. They may very well find some low hanging fruit worth building a strategy around.
For us at SurveyMonkey, international audience is very important. Our new accounts (and traffic) outside of the US, especially on mobile, are growing at accelerating rates. For example, on the product side, we extended our SurveyMonkey Audience panels to 100+ countries in 2017 and those global panels are now accessible to customers in 60+ markets. We want to be able to support curious companies and individuals in all countries who are excited to use our products, and it starts with thinking globally to reach individuals globally.
What are some misconceptions you often encounter about international SEO?
The greatest misconception around international SEO is not believing that there is a global audience looking for your product or website. I spent nearly two years living in Singapore and, while I was there, I was given a glimpse into how much people outside the US seek American content and online shopping. Even more surprising to me was that it was not just name brands like Amazon that people were seeking out, but they were also figuring out how to get products from brands like JC Penney or Shoe Palace shipped to them.
International SEO is at the core of having people outside of the US become customers. A website might not even offer convenient shipping options, but, if users can find the products online, they may be willing to pay extra to get the item to their home country. To this vein, easy international SEO could mean having an option to pay for shipping in a specific country or creating tailored product pages translated into other languages.
Where does PPC fit into the global SEO equation?
In English, smart marketers use PPC to inform SEO and vice versa. Globally, companies might not find it worthwhile to conduct PPC campaigns since they don’t know enough about the market or local keywords to run a search campaign. However, if they are generating passive SEO traffic internationally and take the time to analyze the keywords and performance, this could be a great resource for finding low cost PPC ideas to generate conversions.
On another note, if a company is seeing international traffic, it is prudent to ensure that they are bidding on their brand name in the locations where the customer base appears to be growing. If there is enough awareness that customers are bringing themselves to the website via search, there’s a high chance local competitors see this as a great opportunity to bid on your brand. Bidding on your own brand will help protect the loss of those users.
Aside from search, where are some other tactical areas where marketers could stand to think more internationally?
The most critical ingredient of a global marketing campaign is for marketers to put themselves into the target market’s shoes. Making assumptions that global customers are exactly like us or creating hypotheses for why they might act a certain way is absolutely the wrong foundation for an international marketing effort.
From my time living overseas and many customer research meetings, the most interesting customer insight I have learned is around payments. Here in the US, almost everyone has a credit card in their pocket and is very quick to use it for almost anything. Outside the US, fraud protections aren’t as robust as they are here, making people much more judicious about credit card usage. In Asia, customers are liable for all purchases if their credit card is stolen until they put in a stop request. In that environment, people are obviously pretty cautious over who they might disclose their credit card number to. Additionally, outside the US, work expensing policies are a lot more rigorous than what we are used to. Employees have to go through multiple approval hoops even for small purchases and expect to be reimbursed for purchases on their personal cards.
Ultimately, what this translates to is: companies need to adjust how they can complete transactions in foreign countries. In Asia, it might mean making arrangements for cash payments and, in Europe, this often means accepting a bank transfer. Additionally, for B2B products, direct response might be a challenge if the customer base is inhibited from an impulse purchase without getting approval.
What can smaller companies do to gain an edge in visibility when competing against larger and more authoritative brands?
In my experience, there is a very clear advantage in search for bigger brands, and brands can establish a ranking on competitive terms with little to no effort. This might make it seem like smaller brands don’t even have a chance; however, big brands have a huge disadvantage in that they are very slow to react and usually don’t focus on search the way a smaller brand can.
Even with a limited budget, a small brand can practically drown a vertical with content before a big brand can complete their myriad of strategy review meetings. Smaller brands will also have some headroom from their first mover advantage and can remain ahead by of the bigger brands by being more innovative and agile with their content.
Testing concepts before you share your content out to the world can be really effective and help smaller brands get this edge. For example, when you have a big idea that you want to get right, it can save you a lot of time and money to concept test it beforehand — just recently we’ve created a guide for our customers, many of which are smaller brands, to help them start implementing concept testing to refine their ideas, from new logos and campaigns to websites and landing pages by getting feedback directly from your target market. By the way, you’d be shocked to learn how many small companies still don’t even have websites — we conduct this quarterly Small Business Survey with CNBC, and only about a half of business owners have websites they can drive customers to.
Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?
There are so many presentations that I am excited about at Content Marketing World and I hope I get to all of them! The ones I am really looking forward are Jay Baer’s presentation on Killer Content, John Bucher on Storytelling, Dave Charest on Customer Experience, Dorie Clark on Long Form Content, Joe Pulizzi on the evolution of Content, Scott Monty on Knowing Your Customer, Megan Golden on LinkedIn for LinkedIn.
It’s Time to Play the Content Marketing Game
The game never stops, of course, but action will really fire up on September 4th when CM World gets underway in Cleveland. Will you be on hand for the fun?
To sharpen up ahead of the event, peruse the Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing by clicking through the slides below:
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