Ever wanted to send flowers or a gift to a friend or family member while they were staying in Rome? Have you ever lived abroad and wanted to buy something from a US based web retailer? Marketers sometimes forget that it’s the World Wide Web, not the US web.

Many brands are unaware of the significant demand for their products outside the US. More importantly, traffic reports show that enormous amounts of organic traffic from international locations go unnoticed. Particularly in the US, there’s a tendency to have a much narrower view of the world. Many marketers only think in English and market their products in English. A recent Google internal study into the top U.S. based search query demand for the gift & floral market revealed over 15% of queries were targeted to countries outside the U.S. How well are you connecting with shoppers who want goods and services shipped abroad?

If you are thinking about expanding your brand internationally, you may want to consider some general best practices:

101 The Basics

Fish where the fish are.
  1. Perform a cursory analysis of general market statistics such as GNP, economic and social indicators, political analysis, etc. Does it make sense to start in Latvia or Italy? Some things may surprise you, so a good first step is to verify where your current international traffic is coming from.
  2. Perhaps to make it even simpler, US retailers can start with one of the biggest markets first – the US Hispanic market. This market represents almost 15% of the US population with domestic spending at just over $1 trillion [1]. Over half of that market wants or needs to communicate in Spanish. It’s not simply a matter of preference; it’s a requirement to access this lucrative market.
  3. Canada is an ideal opportunity for cross border sales since this market is familiar with many US brands. It is the perfect place to jump in and get your feet wet.
In-Language Splash Pages for English sites. Drive potential customers to your site and greet them with an in-language splash page. Speak to those users in their native tongue and you’re sure to see a lower bounce rate than if you hadn’t.

Display prices in the local currency. Particularly in light of today’s economy, buyers are price sensitive. If they can’t figure out how much something costs, they likely won’t pull the trigger.

Keywords and ad copy for paid search should be in local languages. People tend to search in their native languages. Leverage translation services that many SEMs offer for a fee.

Include negative keywords to prevent mishaps and ads showing against unwanted/inappropriate content. Be careful with your choice of keywords. There are many linguistic nuances that could cause you to be associated with the wrong type of content that may damage brand perception.

With these simple strategies, you can easily enter a new international market, often without needing additional resources. On Thursday we’ll discuss some more advanced strategies.

[1] US Census and 24-7pressrelease.com, December 2008.