A few weeks ago I spoke at the International Search Summit. There I shared stories of my trips in the last year, For the different stories I had, I tried to connect them to digital. What lessons could you learn from that? Of course there were a lot of stories from my Iran trips, but also from the Ukraine, Sweden and other countries.
For the International SEO Mini Guide, I wrote down my lessons. You can get the full guide here, but part of my chapter I am publishing below, another part on my Linkedin profile. Enjoy and let me know how your experiences are when it comes to different audiences around the world!
International SEO isn’t the easiest trade. It might seem easy; if you Google “international SEO checklist” you’ll find links to plenty of great tips to help you get under way, some more obvious than others.
But before you start thinking about all the different search engines, site structure, technical SEO considerations, and link building, everything starts from understanding the international audience. Yes, there is keyword research to be done in the different countries, and there are content strategies, but none of them will work if you don’t truly understand your audience first.
Links Matter: Different Rollouts Of Google
When speaking in the Ukraine I quickly understood a big difference from other countries I had spoken in: that of what SEO tactics still work (or not). I was doing a session on influence marketing, a topic that doesn’t directly involve technical SEO or link building (though in all fairness can be related). I was warned before: the audience will be looking for “old- fashioned types answers.” And the organizers were right. After my talk the first question of the audience was not about my talk at all. Their question: “Where do you buy links?”
This showed the difference in culture, but mostly it showed that “old” tactics still work. In some countries, like the Ukraine in this case, search engines haven’t updated like they have here. You have to take that in account. That doesn’t mean you will also need to go and buy links, not at all, but you will have to realize for example, that your competitors might. And you will also have to realize other tactics might also still work.
Knowing this can be an advantage: you can do things different, but you can also be prepared as one of the first when the changes do happen. It’s like having knowledge about the future.
Making It Local
The first time I went to Iran before my first session I talked to the wife of the organizer. I asked her to tell me how to say “thank you for having me in Iran” in Farsi (the language spoken there). I used that at the start of the presentation. I try to do this in most countries I speak, because it instantly shows that I make an effort to get closer to the audience. I try to use their language. It always helps getting closer to the audience, they are all more willing to accept what I have to say.
This isn’t just about localizing the language. It goes beyond that.
In Iran I also told a story about a World Cup match between Iran and Argentina in a presentation about storytelling. Whenever I talk about celebrities, I try to pick the local celebrities wherever I can, and if there are local cases I present, I will.
The lesson here is to really localize your content. Make it so they will recognize themselves in it. If you don’t, the distance between you and your audience will be bigger; if you do, your audience will be more easily convinced to listen to what you have to say.
Be Careful What Images You Use
I’m used to using a lot of images in my presentations. I try to do the same with my other content – after all, visual marketing is “hot” right now, and we all know an image is worth a thousand words. But you have to be careful to understand what that image actually says in a specific country.
Before my presentations in Iran I was asked to run through my slide decks with interpreters. Those interpreters, however, turned out to be just a bit more than just interpreters. They were also “filtering” my content. Don’t get me wrong: they weren’t censoring me, they were just making sure I didn’t “break any rules.”
So I was surprised when they “advised” me to take out some images and even videos. I had been careful not to select images that might offend people and yet they found one of the dancing woman in the background had a bare shoulder.
Seriously? Yes, seriously.
I had to edit the videos and images so I could stay within the rules.
This might sound ridiculous to us in the Western world. But it is highly important in their world. And I was smart to change it as well. Why? Because if I hadn’t, they would’ve looked at me differently and wouldn’t have trusted me.
The same goes for websites and marketing in general: if you use the wrong imagery, or even the wrong content for that matter, you lose trust. And if there’s one thing you can’t lose in marketing, it’s trust.
Audiences (People) Respond In Different Ways
When speaking in the Nordics I found an interesting difference with for example speaking in the Netherlands, the UK, or the U.S. The first time I ever spoke in Sweden I was smart enough to sit in with other presentations at the conference I was speaking at. What I noticed was that the audience was quiet. Very quiet. The jokes that were made, which actually were funny jokes, didn’t seem to “land.” What was going on here?
I informed with local people and found that, in contrast to other countries, the audience was much more “held back.” They wanted to absorb, but not be part of the session itself. This meant that whenever you tried to ‘involve’ the audience, they wouldn’t respond. Sure, they would laugh at some jokes, but the one thing I avoided was trying to get them involved.
I didn’t aim for questions, I didn’t ask questions to the audience, I just gave them knowledge and made sure to tell them that if they would have any questions, I would be available afterwards. This worked perfect. They loved my talks and came up to me afterward because I told them they could. I also used it in my advantage by asking them to contribute in a way I knew they would be more comfortable in.
How does this relate to digital marketing and search? Even in SEO, when optimizing your content, you should consider how “involved” audiences want to be.
The Dutch want to be able to have a say, like the U.S. people. The Nordics seem to lean more toward “subtle” ways of responding, so don’t throw “share this” in their face. Be more subtle in both your on site content as your search results, for example.
The Most Important Lesson Of Them All…
Really make an effort to understand your international audiences. Make sure you don’t just understand keyword research, but also the cultural differences as well as the similarities. Stand out by getting close to them.
These are just four lessons from the seven I wrote down in the guide. If you are curious about the other three, go to my Linkedin profile. In the guide itself you can also find contributions of some of my friends like Michael Bonfils, Gianluca Fiorelli, Bill and Motoko Hunt and Anne Kennedy.