As part of our ongoing commitment to helping brands and retailers accelerate their global online growth, we are starting a new series of blogs with our partners to tackle key issues and queries surrounding successful international expansion. Today we welcome Ben Morgan, Head of Partnerships at Pricesearcher.
“If I’m going into a new geography through an online marketplace then how can I best support this with international SEO for my own UK website?”
For UK based companies looking to grow internationally online marketplaces such as Newegg (US), Zalando (Germany) and Cdiscount (France) have established themselves as strong online sales channels that reduce barriers to entry and provide an established eco-system for UK companies to utilise with Pentagon at the forefront of this growth.
Listing on a new marketplace in a new country may be getting easier but this act in isolation, without any supporting activity, it’s not always a recipe for success especially for unknown brands. The following series of blogs will outline research undertaken by Pricesearcher and will provide actionable insights that you can take to improve performance on your own website in support of launching on a new international marketplace.
There is a huge amount of information online covering international SEO and domain strategy and there are many useful websites and blogs including (Search Engine Land, MOZ, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch) to help companies do their research. There is so much information available that it’s hard to draw out the key considerations so we’ve split this research into a series of three blogs and will discuss the most important factors in each:
- Web Domain Strategy
- International SEO considerations
- International keyword research
Web Domain Strategy – ‘’What is everyone else doing?’’
The options for companies regarding their domain strategy will be discussed but this has been complemented with additional research based on the retailers and brands who already use Pricesearcher as an additional source of organic traffic in the UK and nine other countries. This will give insight on what existing UK businesses are actually doing in this area and may inform the reader on what actions they might take going forward.
So what Research has been done? We’ve analysed a sample of 30 brands and retailers who use Pricesearcher. The sample taken was a mixture of major high street retailers, pureplays, marketplaces and mid-sized businesses. The full sample of 30 companies has been broken down into different groups with shared domain strategy and insights have then been pulled from each group.
BLUF – The Bottom Line Up Front ‘’Get to the point!’’
In summary if you have a .co.uk site only it is very difficult to rank prominently outside of the UK on keywords that aren’t your brand / product name. Retailers who choose not to compete internationally, including some of the UK’s largest, focus exclusively on the UK market and use the .co.uk domain to help them. Our research does show examples where companies do generate a significant % of their traffic from overseas with a .co.uk domain but this occurs typically when an international marketplace footprint is complemented with a strong, localised content marketing strategy.
The most common group were those using a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), a .com or .net domain coupled with some level of internationalisation in terms of shipping / payments to increase conversion rates of shoppers. Internationalising shipping and currency / payment options is the first step and tends to occur before any sophisticated domain strategy.
Appropriate geo-targeting when utilising sub-directories (.com/uk) is effective but seems to be under-employed in practice with only major global brands like Benefit cosmetics (LVMH group) or very sophisticated ecommerce players like GreenManGaming absorbing the cost of translation, web development, etc.
Investing in the country code Top Level Domain’s (ccTLD) like .fr and .de is utilised only by major international brands like Dyson and marketplaces like Amazon because it helps in terms of ranking in those domestic markets but it requires domain authority to be built from scratch and is a much more expensive process. Bear in mind that even though Amazon ships to ~200 countries it still only operates 13 ccTLD’s such is the investment and time required to build domain authority.
Group 1 – Use a .co.uk sites without international currency or shipping options
The companies in this group focus on the UK market and do not offer international options on their site:
- Margins for high street retailers with significant store presence are coming under increasing pressure, particularly in the consumer electronics category, so that to include international shipping (especially tracked air freight) and insurance costs makes exports from the UK uncompetitive. Given they are selling branded goods that are widely available internationally a domain set-up for international SEO is not required
- A co.uk domain give these UK focused retailers the best chance to rank in UK search results – this is the strongest signal to the search engines that this website is targeting a certain country. When the search engines see a ccTLD they assume it’s for that country and should appear in the local SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages). As such it hampers the .co.uk site when searches take place from non-UK based consumers
- Beds, furniture and any goods requiring a 2-person delivery mean it’s not practical to offer international shipping and so there is no need for international domain strategy
- Plugs and other current / voltage considerations make many electronic goods suitable for the UK market unsuitable for export and so making internationalisation an unnecessary cost
Group 2 – Use a .co.uk with international currency or shipping options
The companies in this group focus on the UK market and but do offer international options either in terms of local currency or shipping:
- Offering international shipping and / or payment methods are the crucial steps to make when internationalising your website and typically come before any domain strategy / international SEO work. If the customer can’t get it delivered it’s a non-starter and if they can’t pay the orders can’t come in
- Categories like jewellery and fashion are both high margin and ship in very small packages making the value ‘’density’’ well suited to international shipping even once tracking and insurance has been factored in
- If you want to do as much as you can with you .co.uk then SEO options include ensuring that you support enquiries from that language e.g. French, German and creating a version of your site in that language and using appropriate hreflang code (more detail below on this in section 2). It will help the search engine to understand what content should show up on, for example, the German or French SERP’s
- Custom Controllers is a great example of an entrepreneurial company (formed 2007) who already sell through multiple international marketplaces including Amazon and Newegg and have a localised content marketing operation. This international footprint is reflected in a reduced reliance on the UK for traffic to their site
Group 3 – Use a .com without international currency or shipping options
The companies in this group are similar to Group 1 in that the focus is on the UK market even though they use a .com domain.
- As per group 1 – Margins for retailers of branded goods, particularly in electronics, is tight and so international SEO is not a priority
- B&Q was an early mover domain wise in securing diy.com. Being part of Kingfisher Plc, B&Q and the other retailers in the group focus on the countries they operate in with great success – UK (B&Q, Screwfix), France (Castorama, Brico Depot) Turkey (Koctas). As such international expansion is through physical stores with domain strategy supporting the local retailers in local markets. Trying to push B&Q internationally where the group already has a strong presence with other group companies wouldn’t make sense
- If international SEO were to grow in importance for these companies, then adding sub-folders remains an option to build on their existing domain authority which will carry across the new sub folders and help them rank well in other countries
Group 4 – Use a .com with international currency or international shipping
The largest group in the survey use generic top level domains (gTLDs) which allows them to geo-target their site and gives flexibility going forward.
- All of these companies have undertaken the first stage of internationalisation which is to offer shipping / local payment options at checkout. As seen this step typically comes before any sophisticated domain strategy
- Gifting, fashion and cosmetics are high value and low size and so the opportunity to export is much greater and international domain SEO work becomes more beneficial
- As these UK companies target international markets and start seeing increased orders the business case to invest in website development becomes stronger
- The first step in internationalising would be to start building out using sub-folders as it will carry over domain authority and help rank in the SERP’s locally
Group 5 – Use a .com with sub-directories / folders (.com/fr or .com/de)
Utilising sub-folders maintains and utilises your existing domain authority but allows geo-targeting within webmaster tools to optimise for international markets
- Benefit cosmetics and the other brands within the LVMH group are good examples of where localised content is used for brand promotion and is a differentiator in the market though the costs involved can be considerable
- Companies like GreenManGaming who sell digital only products, have a very sophisticated international ecommerce set-up and utilise sub-folders to rank internationally for generic gaming keywords which ultimately accounts for 88% of their traffic
- The costs and time involved in geo-targeting using sub-folders involves professional translation and development resource to build the sites for different countries; the exact business case being dependent for individual businesses based on the complexity of the site build and the potential profit to be generated off the back of it
Group 6 – Use a cc TLD for major markets
Building up a new country level domain for a new market is the heaviest investment that a company can make and this is shown by the list of companies in our sample who do so.
- Major brands like Dyson and major retailers like Mothercare invest in country level domains to support their activities in these local markets they operate in. The fact that our research has shown this relatively low proportion of companies who undertake localisation at this level shows what an investment is required and that its not typically undertaken
- Marketplaces like Amazon, Newegg and Fruugo rely on generating very high levels of traffic for themselves and their 3rd party merchants and exist entirely for this purpose and so it makes sense that they invest in localised domain strategies to support their investments in warehousing and local marketing
- Consider Amazon in particular and the fact that they only operate 13 ccTLD’s but ship to ~200 countries. The ccTLD countries are: USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, India, China, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Mexico….and rumours are Australia is next. This being on top of the recent acquisition of souk.com in the middle east. Amazon serves as an interesting guide on:
- the markets that are big enough to warrant a full localisation – though obviously consideration must be given to competition factors and overall market opportunity
- How they use particular country sites to cover whole regions; for example, the German Amazon.de site which serves the whole of central and eastern Europe
- World of Books are an interesting example of a very enterprising company selling through a large number of international marketplaces with great success and they support this with their .com site which attracts nearly a third of its traffic internationally. They also have a.com.au site to support their growing Australian business
- In a similar way AO.com has invested in physical delivery operations in the German market and this is significant investment is supported by a fully localised AO.de domain
Check in next Thursday, when we will be looking at International SEO considerations