If you want to learn best practices for expanding your search marketing campaign to the international stage, the best person to ask is someone who’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt. In the case of multinational search marketing, Barry Lloyd of Microchannel Technologies (aka MakeMeTop) has an entire closet full of t-shirts. For just about any place you can name, he’s been there, has a client in the country and can point you to must-see sights—and bars.
A British born son of a brilliant chemical engineer, Barry’s company today runs bid management tools and tracking for agencies in roughly 130 countries. He’s been in search marketing since before Google was created and started out as one of the original search engine optimization firms, and his reputation for SEO still lives on today. But his history as a programmer goes back way beyond the web, the internet and search. Internationally, he has lived in the US, Africa, the Far East, the UK and Canada. He now lives in Ireland “because it reminds me of England when I was a child.” He has worked everywhere from Iran to India to Russia to Taiwan.
I saw down recently with Barry in Belfast to gain insights which might guide search marketers to global success. What follows are excerpts from our video interview—if you’d prefer to watch the entire thing just scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “play” button.
We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto
Quoting from the Wizard of Oz, Barry stressed the fact that life and culture is different from market to market. “This ain’t Kansas, Dorothy” crops up numerous times in our interview. But his first key tip is really about not leaving Kansas in the first place but taking a step back before entering new markets. “Make sure you have the infrastructure in place to service properly the services and products in the market you’re going to be targeting. It’s only then that you can go onto the second stage which is thinking of having web pages in the correct language and idiom of the market to which you’re selling.”
Have respect for the market
“The commonest error is people not thinking it through properly. They’ll use a translator like Babelfish to go and translate their English page into what they think is an approximation of the language that they’re targeting. They go and do the same thing with their creatives and ads and not surprisingly aren’t overwhelmed with sales and conversions.”
For many years, Barry has had a close relationship with the far east, spending considerable time there. He works closely with leading Chinese search engine Baidu, including some joint development plans that he was keeping very close to his chest. You get the impression that the influence of the East shapes Barry’s advice fundamentally, “It can really be boiled down to one essential thing and that is people having respect for the market they’re entering.” Barry also cites IBM as an example of an organization which researches markets cleverly even changing product names when necessary to suit local marketing requirements.
He suggests you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, “Imagine you’re viewing web pages from a non-English speaking environment containing amusing double entendres. Would you buy anything from them?”
Make sure your tools work in different regions
Don’t forget to check the toolkit, “Tried and tested tools may not work in the country you’re entering, ” he adds. “This is simply because structures have been made for one particular environment and it may not work in other areas.” It was apparently spotting this technology gap within the big analytics and bid management providers which encouraged Barry and team to go and launch their own system, building in the capability to handle both multiple currencies and double-byte characters from the outset. Roughly put for each English character—one character equals one byte—Chinese needs at least two bytes or two English characters per Chinese character to function. The consequences? “The moment you start moving to other types of characters such as Chinese or Japanese, it is very difficult to incorporate the two structures together in your database and have it function. We built our software on day one to have the ability to work anywhere with any character set.”
Money and emerging markets
Barry believes the most frustrating and challenging aspect of dealing with the emerging markets is money. “We have a subsidiary in Russia and you’d think it would be a simple matter to send Euros or Dollars to Russia to pay the wages. It can’t be done. A contract has to be entered into, an agreement made with the Department of the Interior, sums of a certain amount are contracted to, the Department of the Interior gives permission to the bank to receive those sums—and then you can pay less but you can’t pay more. In China, you have the opposite problem. It is almost impossible to get money out of China. But getting money into China is no problem whatsoever.”
Don’t think it’s as easy as 1,2,3, Google
You may also have to rely on search engines other than Google. Markets such as China and Russia have local engines&mdashBaidu and Yandex respectively—which are strongly entrenched locally and that brings it’s own complications he says. I asked him which is the most difficult search engine to work with? “Paradoxically, it’s Google,” says Barry. “Every other engine from Yahoo and Microsoft and Yandex to Baidu provides us with a senior level engineer to work with and gives us between six to nine months notice of significant changes. With Google we get almost no warning at all.” I press him on the reasons for this, “I don’t think Google likes organizations like us,” he says, “Because they’re trying to stay a step ahead and we’re bringing similar technology to users of other engines.”
The next leap forward in search marketing
Aside from developments in the mobile market, where Asia is years ahead of the west in actually making use of mobile technologies, Barry believes the next big leap forward in search marketing will come from linking offline transactions to online using new technologies which are only just being developed. “My personal interest is in dealing with what is going to happen in attributing sales which resulted offline, to online activity. That is going to be the next leap forward in search marketing.”
Bing and Baidu
Barry made some particularly interesting observations about the relationship between Bing and Baidu. Barry explains, “Bing was, after all, predominantly built in China using engineers, many of whom previously worked for Baidu. If I was Microsoft, rather than striking up a partnership with Baidu, I might even take a punt at an acquisition. Stranger things have happened.”
Final thoughts? “Don’t take anything for granted. After all, this ain’t Kansas, Dorothy.”
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.