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Organic search (SEO) for international marketing: think international, act local

An oft-heard comment from many Singapore companies is that the local market is very small and that they would like to expand into overseas markets. There are several commonly used strategies to fulfill these international aspirations- finding local partners, advertising locally, attending trade shows, joining trade delegations and so on. The assistance provided by various bodies of the Singapore government to facilitate such international expansion is certainly quite valuable. 

One aspect that Singapore companies need to look at closely is whether they are fully capitalizing on the opportunities provided by search engines in creating visibility and penetrating the geographic markets that they would like to. Using paid search advertising (also referred to as pay per click advertising) is a relatively easy and quick way to being seen in international markets; however, the focus of this article is on what local companies can do with generating visibility, website traffic and international leads through natural/ organic search results. 

Considering how search engines are demonstrating significant ‘local bias’ in search results, I recommend adopting a ‘think international, act local’ strategy to a company’s international marketing efforts. To put it simply, I suggest that companies should adopt most of the key aspects of ‘Local search engine optimization (SEO)’  to the different markets they are targeting. I list below three important points for this:

  1. Move away from using a .com.sg or .sg domain name
    Carrying the Singapore identity has its own advantages; but ‘wearing it‘ on the domain name may prove to be more of a hindrance than a benefit.  For example, let’s say a company is targeting the UAE market. It is much more beneficial having a .ae domain name than having a .com.sg, if the company expects to be seen high enough in search results in the UAE.

    Obviously, this can raise questions on what the company should be doing if they are targeting multiple international markets. Is it practical and cost-effective to have multiple country-specific websites each with a country-specific domain name?

    There are a couple of different ways this issue can be tackled: either by using a multi-domain approach as suggested below; using a generic .com or .net domain name and then creating country-specific sub-domains, which can then be targeted for those countries (through simple settings that webmasters can do); or using a combination of the two ie. set up separate domains for the most important international markets, and use the sub-domain approach for some of the lower- priority markets.

  2. Localise content on the website to the target geographies
    Leave enough signals on the website pages for search engines to determine the local relevance of those pages. These can include: including local physical addresses, if the company has one in that market; having some of the content in the local language; inclusion of information pertinent to the market (eg. stating costs or fees in local currency; adding news or articles written with a local context), etc.  

  3. Getting listed on local directories and obtaining “inbound links” from the target market
    External popularity and the quantity and relevance of links to a website continue to be key factors that search engines use to determine relevance and rankings of a website in its search results. So it is important to list their businesses in local directories in the markets that they are planning to operate in; get media coverage on local portals; and, obtain links from other relevant websites from that particular geography.

    While none of these steps is easy or without cost implications, I believe that adopting this ‘localisation’ approach to international marketing will yield faster and sustainable results for Singapore companies from natural search than working on a centralized, “global” approach.

- By Manoj Aravindakshan

Manoj Aravindakshan is Director of On Target Media, a Singapore search engine marketing company.  An online marketing and content specialist, he provides search engine marketing consultancy to companies in Singapore and overseas on leveraging search marketing for business growth. 

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