International Search Summit – #SMX London Roundup

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  • June 4, 2014
Jack Cornwall

Jack Cornwall

Search Strategist

The International Search Summit is always one of the biggest gatherings of international SEO experts anywhere in the world.

May’s edition in London was one of my first experiences of a conference, so it makes sense to start with one of the most prestigious. There are events in Seattle, New York and Milan still to come in 2014 which I strongly recommend based on my day at Stamford Bridge.

09.30 – Immanuel Simonsen

Immanuel Simonsen of Web Certain introduced the conference with a quiz style slide deck that made everyone think: how much of the world’s population is online?

Immanuel asked the audience to list the top 5 online ecommerce markets; estimate Google’s global search market share; and consider which countries are growing the fastest online.

There were some surprising answers. Most of the tables believed that Google had over 80% global share of the search landscape. This myth however was quickly debunked when he pointed out that 1 in every 4 internet users is located in China: a place where Google has virtually no presence.

Immanuel went on to look at how the world’s internet population is evolving.

All the countries you’d expect do have a high percentage of internet users, however what’s interesting is that some of the countries with the most users – such as Russia and China – only represent a low percentage of their population. The already massive volume of searchers is only destined to grow in numbers.

Predicting which countries represent the biggest opportunities for businesses as the population grows closer to maturity. Not only did Immanuel talk about the emerging BRIC Markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China) but also the MINT markets (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) – these are nations where the internet population is already a high figure, but has an absolutely massive potential for growth simply due to the sheer number of inhabitants who have yet to become connected.

10.30 – Tatiana Kalinina

Tatiana Kalinina was next up. Her talk was something I was quite curious to hear about – not only because I had never had the opportunity (or need) to look into the Russian search landscape, but also because Russian market leading search engine Yandex is no longer relying on links as a ranking factor. How would this work, and is it something that could potentially find its way into our own search engines?

Sadly this wasn’t really mentioned – Tatiana pointed out that Yandex had turned over $14.2bn; was the fourth global search engine; and has an incredibly intricate system for paid advertising. This was really more opportunity spotting, with business growth front and centre rather than any insight into the inner workings of the search engine.

Yandex Russian Logo

Tatiana listed the ways Yandex differs from Google – for example the homepage is a hub of information where some of the more relevant display ads can be shown, more like search engines such as Yahoo! and MSN than Google and Bing.

PPC ads work in a similar way to Google, however the Russian search engine apparently puts commercial queries underneath the organic results: the company’s research has found that users searching with the intent to purchase will be more likely to scroll down a webpage in order to find a wider variety of options. Yandex Market, Russia’s largest comparison website is also an outlet for a variety of paid advertising – at this point it’s significantly more advanced than Google’s comparison services.

The most interesting implementation of display advertising is in the form of banner that appears under the search box, but above search results. According to Tatiana this helps to build brand recognition. Testing on our own clients in Google UK we’ve found that increasing PPC spend also increases the trend for users searching for the brand name, so paid media in the UK can work in a similar manner.

When Tatiana did mention the lack of backlinks I enquired whether or not it is harder to build brand reputation, especially since any website can be optimized on page. For example a massive brand that has been about for years with an old CMS which is sluggish and hard to edit can easily be out-performed by a new WordPress set up – especially if backlinks aren’t taken into consideration and social signals have to be opted in to (as far as a ranking factor is concerned.)

She replied saying that there was such a volume of black hat SEO tactics that they had no choice but to disregard backlinks. Although it’s hard to rank for generic, highly searched for terms, it would be easy for big sites to rank for long tail keywords. It seems that Google has gone down the route of being able to distinguish between a good and a spammy backlink, were as Yandex has simply decided to remove them from the equation.

11.00 – Gary Illyes

Next on was highly-anticipated Googler Gary Illyes . The content of Gary’s talk is largely covered in our guide to implementing the hreflang attribute and common errors implementing hreflang, but there were a few new things for us besides, including the history of the hreflang tag, which was devised in a joint effort by both Google and Yandex as ccTLDs were not a strong enough signal to help pages rank in the correct countries.

11.30 – Andy Atkins

Andy Atkins was up next. Andy is the CEO of the company hosting the event and had chosen a fairly lofty topic for his talk: “Targeting the remote customer globally”.

He looked at the difference between online and offline shopping; the fact that there were different methods of payment; shop assistants almost always speak your language and that the website isn’t interactive enough to answer complicated questions you might want to know about a product or service.

Andy’s main point was that generic translated websites are no longer the way forward and that different shops need to target different demographics by doing actual research; something much more common in print advertising. Much like I recently wrote, UX is becoming a larger and larger part of SEO, and different countries have different users.

13.30 – Johann Godey

After lunch came Johann Godey of Vista Print.

This very analytical and number heavy presentation excelled at offering a new way to look at paid and organic search side by side (after all, very analytical and number heavy does not = bad). He advised ensuring both paid and organic campaigns are conducted in tandem with the same KPIs. Although these tasks fall to different departments, Johann pointed out that they are actually fighting for the same real estate.

His conclusion was to look at whether or not you PPC traffic was cannibalising your search traffic. He pointed out that very easily you can see if turning PPC on is actually reducing your Organic traffic and your efforts might best be spent elsewhere. Johann takes the view that informational queries are just as good for discovering a brand and more often than not using PPC for terms that you rank well for on informational queries can actually improve on organic traffic as well as bring in paid visitors.

According to his data, informational queries made up 80% of searches, leaving 20% for transactional queries (searchers looking for a product to buy), the organic search of which can often be cannibalised when used in conjunction with PPC. He went on to say that this is so easy to check by simply seeing your current organic traffic compared to a time when your PPC wasn’t turned on, you can optimize your CTR through organic.

Another set of survey results he presented also offered a click share model, much like the one we use to report on our own clients. Interestingly whereas we assign 18% to top ranked keywords, his figures suggested that for a top ranking keyword in conjunction with a PPC result the CTR became about 50%.

14.00 – Ben Lefebvre

If Johan’s talk wasn’t insightful enough, Ben Lefebvre was up with an impressive piece on international keyword research. He introduced the talk by showing snippets of this documentary (watching the first 5 minutes should be enough) in order to show how eastern and western culture’s perceptions of simple objects differ.

Some words simply don’t translate. Each country will have its own idioms, sayings and expressions that just cannot be used or compared to an equivalent in a different language. Ben’s point is that international keyword research is much more than translating a list of keywords you had found suitable for your English website.

He then went on to show how leaving accents out of keywords can not only have a massive difference on meaning, but also on search volume, something that we don’t have to deal with in English queries much. There are hundreds of variations of this idea; for example special characters that we don’t have in the English alphabet such as: ӧ,ȇ,ǽ,ǻ, etc. can be interchanged with letters with “standard” letters from our 26 letter alphabet – however the volume of search traffic differs greatly.

This is also true for different alphabets entirely. The example Ben gave was that the famous computer chip brand Intel is often searched for most commonly in Latin characters, even when it came to countries like Russia and Korea, however this was not true in Japan for example where the brand has a lot higher search volume in Katakana, one of Japan’s three alphabets.

14.30 – Emily MacKenzie

Emily MacKenzie looked at the logistics of launching international websites in her talk. She reaffirmed the need for native input and high quality translation, as well as research into the demographic of the market that was being launched into.

15.15 – David Carralon

David Carralon currently holds the responsibility of international search strategy for the entirety of more than 100 websites owned by The British Council. Having limited resources; an archaic CMS; and severe duplication issues – he pushed ccTLDs for all the websites rather than a single gTLD riddled with subfolders.

David pointed out that with limited resources he focused only on certain technical aspects that he believed would have the highest ROI:

  • The websites were all defaulted to the country’s specific language, whereas before they invariably launched in English
  • The URL structure was shortened and UX experts ensured that the websites offered the best experience possible

Although David’s team are still having trouble with the content failing to geotarget correctly – i.e., Colombian and Argentinian pages returning for Spanish queries in Spain – they have plans to implement hreflang tags in the future. So far most of the websites have seen a substantial increase in traffic – traffic to the correct pages and in the desired language.

15.45 – Marcin Chirowski

The day was brought to a close by Marcin Chirowski with his talk on managing international content marketing. He knew his topic well and had a clear method to his approach to content marketing, which looked something like this:

  • Plan: This is a continuous process, as new data comes up plans are refined.
  • Audience:Extensive research is put into the target audience. This was by far the most innovative technique I have seen. He suggested that once you have done enough research into your demographic to come up with a “persona”. Basically create a made up person and enough details about them so that they fit the demographic they are trying to target. Then you target your content to this persona or model customer to ensure you are making the most of your research.
  • Channels: Much like David’s talk he recommends that when resources are short, you should research what channels you are going to use to push your content. Social media accounts for example take time to maintain and if they are not going to suitably target your demographic then you should spend your efforts elsewhere.
  • Process: This is the creative process, sometimes content needs to be optimized or edited before being distributed depending on any feedback that you may have gotten from your target audience.
  • Conversation: This involves using social channels, or any other means necessary to receive feedback from your target audience before using this information to improve your future creative process.
  • Measurement: Again much like in the conversation phase, you are going to want to know what works well and what doesn’t. He listed a variety of tools you might want to use to measure the success of your content, but my favourite, which was also free, was Buzzsumo.

He did also the mention the importance of internal infrastructure, such as ensuring copywriters are briefed correctly in tone of voice and level of accuracy, and the comparative ease of managing everything by using editorial calendars.

The quality of the speakers overall was fantastic, and I strongly recommend the other upcoming International Search Summits. The opportunities overseas are only increasing, so it’s vital that marketers know how to capitalise in international search.

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