The Oban Blog

Top 5 International Digital Marketing Pitfalls – a NON-GEEK guide

If you look hard enough, you can see a lot of do’s and don’ts for international search engine marketing out in internet world. One of the things I’ve found is the content is good, but it does tend to be written by technicians and aimed at geeks. Please note – there is nothing wrong with geeks, I get my geek on regularly, but as a business consultant I understand that you need to look at the business and especially the marketing perspective of international expansion.

So, without further adieu check out my top 5 barriers to international digital marketing, from a non-technical viewpoint!

  1. Keywords research

We know that keywords are more a convenience than anything else. As Google looks increasingly at the “meaning” behind search, it’s likely keywords will become less critical. But for now, they are still a good barometer to measure audience interest. Lest we forget the international search market, while still a Google playground, is not the only kid on the block – and in some countries, it’s not the dominant search engine!

There is a phrase “lost in translation” that really explains the inherent problems. Things do not always translate literally. There are all sorts of language anomalies and quirks that only a native speaker and writer of a language will know and be able to apply. For an example of that have a look at this excellent blog post Oban wrote here.

Keyword research underpins other website work done in SEO so getting it right or wrong can be the measure of failure or success for international marketing whether that’s multilingual SEO, international paid search or global social media endeavours.

  1. Cultural mishaps – ignoring the local market

Cultural differences can make or break a web presence when launching internationally. This goes beyond language and into the realms of dialects, beliefs, superstitions, values and online behaviours.

This is where localisation pays enormous dividends. I know a lot of digital agencies who hire native speakers, and to them, this is an ideal solution… it’s not. When you live in a country, you stay integral to the culture, as soon as you move to another country you seek to fit in and adopt elements of that culture. Does this make a difference to your SEO strategy? In short, yes.

Cultural understanding will help guide you and unravel the motives of your target audience. Why do they buy, is it price, is it reputation, is it because you took the time to speak their language? Do you know what the local online trends are, why and where transactions are made, in what currency and using what payment models?

A true and recent story was that a possible client came to me and asked for help in launching e-cigarettes into some countries. On his top 3 list of target countries was one that has banned the sale of these devices due to health risk concerns. While no reflection on the product, without this knowledge the project would have cost the client dear if he had proceeded with this without knowing.

The lesson learnt? What sells in your local market may not be as successful on the international stage. It may be MORE successful but getting the foundations right will undoubtedly save you time and money.

  1. Content Strategy – not having one or shortcuts to save time/money

Content is at the heart of marketing; online or offline it does not matter. Without great content, you cannot share your brand message with your target audience. Search engines are valuing this more than ever, so content marketing needs to be a part of the thought process. If you have a large corporate site, what sections need to be targeted to a local audience? The same is true of e-commerce sites, how much is too much or not enough?

Translation with a local focus can be expensive, yet you have spent time and money getting great content in your own native language in the first place, so why would you then skimp on the translation? Surprisingly businesses do, yet this can harm the heart of your marketing strategy.

Reality check, we all have a budget to work within! Of course, it is easier to translate the core content but online searches will most likely occur in the local language. Therefore, localising content on web pages where traffic is driven is key.

  1. Link Building – where you can vs. where you should

Link building, contrary to popular belief is not a dirty word and is still an essential part of search marketing. You need authority sites to mention you to build your own authority. Links are now (and if a good agency, always has been) built in a natural way. Building reputations, sharing knowledge and being good at what you do will always naturally entice commentary and links.

Social media is a powerful linking strategy that occurs naturally and can be influenced. Like Google, not all social media sites reign supreme globally. Guest blogging and good content will always be a direct route to building brand, product or service awareness.

The problem many businesses do not factor in is working with an SEO agency whose credentials are locally biased. They may build links and have a network but unless it’s in the target country the links are all but useless! Again we are back to the immense power of localisation and knowing what websites in-situ will be a good or great link. This for many international projects is a painful missing piece of the puzzle.

  1. Technical considerations in launching internationally

I know – it’s a non-geek guide – so this is a surface overview. In short, the way your site is laid out, whether you have a .com with country folders ( another URL for each country|.de|.fr|.ch or if you have subdomains e.g. can have a major impact. If you host in the country you reside in or in the country you want to target this can also make a difference.

The main things to consider are; you are starting most likely with a website that already exists and has some degree of success so protecting that needs to be a core consideration. Making sure issues like content duplication are removed or at the very least minimised are vital. Fearful people will throw around threats of penalties; these can be a real concern if research and implementation are not done in the right way. Take time to avoid costly mistakes and if you don’t know where to start, then hire a good agency that specialises in multilingual SEM to help you.

We are often asked to do scoping projects, pre-entry market research and cultural assessments, to help businesses move into the international territory. Experts are a great investment at times like this as they are not hitting a vertical learning curve, once they know and understand what information you need.