Michael Bonfils believes that if you are going global, it’s marketing 1st, translation 2nd, not the other way around. That’s the philosophy behind SEM International, the firm he founded that specializes in multilingual internationally-based digital marketing services.
Since Michael founded the firm in 2004, it has grown to over 30 offices worldwide, and they’ve worked with Intel, AWS, and Salesforce, among many other well-known brands.
Needless to say, Michael knows a thing or two about helping software and big tech manage their global marketing presence.
I interviewed Michael about successful global marketing strategies. You can stream the full episode below or read highlights from our conversation. You can also find this episode of Growth Stage by FastSpring wherever you stream podcasts.
Note: FastSpring can help you offer a web storefront and e-commerce checkout in over 20 local languages and currencies. Learn more about our localized branded checkout.
Stream the Episode
Highlights From The Interview
1. Market Research: How to Quickly Test The ROI of a New Region
I asked Michael how to quickly test a new market. One strategy he recommends is creating a microsite before expending resources to localize your main web presence:
“Use localized keyword research, run a paid media campaign, analyze the competitors, and see what the demand percentages are. Just do a small test demand gen case study for a specific market, and you’ll gain a lot of knowledge by doing that.”
Michael goes into a lot more detail about identifying new international markets to expand into around 14:30.
2. Global SEO: The First Thing You Need to Verify
One of the first things that Michael checks when he’s working with a new client that has a website translated into multiple languages is their hreflang tags.
Hreflang is a metadata tag that tells a search engine which language and geographical region a webpage is targeting.
“Here’s a page in English for the UK market, and here is a page in English for the Canadian market — they are not duplicates,” Michael explained. “Setting that up properly and correctly is really critical.”
3. Paid and Organic Search: When to Translate Keywords
There’s a reason Michael identifies as a marketer first, and a translator second. Sometimes a straight translation is not what you need. He explained that, on average, 30 to 40% of relevant keywords a company should be considering aren’t translatable.
“Quite often, other countries use different terms. Some countries use a mix of their own language and English when they’re searching, and a translator, if they would have translated that, they’d get fired. But the most amount of searches are based on these words that are kind of a mumbo jumbo of different languages, and there’s no way a translator can ever understand that.”
This is a big reason to work with local partners who understand the local market and common marketing efforts.
4. Marketing Campaigns: Identify The Primary Motivation of Your Target Market
One common mistake global brands make is not identifying whether a market they’re targeting is individualistic or collectivistic.
Individualistic markets, like the U.S. are interested in things to improve the individuals or the company. They’re more competitive in nature.
“There are other countries like China, ” Michael explained, “where the primary motivation is: how do we help our community? How do we help our people?”
This especially matters when you start promoting on social media apps like WeChat — marketing channels that are conversation-based.
5. Brand Strategy: How To Compete With Local Competitors
Even if you manage a well-known brand name in certain markets, when focusing your marketing efforts in a new region, a local company will often have the competitive advantage.
“Google wants local, and the people want local,” Michael explained. “So if I’m in Germany, I want German firms .. So you’re kind of an imposter as an international one. So you better make sure that you understand when you’re getting in this market, that you’re at that same level of quality as any German business otherwise, that is a big barrier.”
When working on brand awareness in a specific region, you’ll want to identify all of the local competitors and understand how they’re seen in that market.
6. Product Marketing: Learn Local Preferences
When you’re building a marketing plan around your product offerings, one thing to keep in mind is that specific cultures may have different business priorities.
“A lot of times you find othat customers like a piece of your product that may not be the best part of your product here in the US. You’ll think, ‘Wow, this piece of our product is bringing in everybody in the US, but in France or some other country, it might be an entirely different part of your product that is actually the driver.”
Check out these related resources for more insights into international marketing strategies and managing an international business during an economic downturn.
- An Iterative Approach to Localized Marketing.
- Pricing Strategies to Combat Stagflation
- 2022 Emerging SaaS Customer Markets
How FastSpring Can Help
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Learn how using a merchant of record can help you scale your business faster and remove many of the headaches of breaking into new markets and transacting across borders.
Sign up for a free account or request a demo to learn more.
MB: When you’re marketing, you can’t do a transaction. You can’t do, here’s the keyword that I’m succeeding with in the U.S. Just translate it for Germany and pop it into German and it’ll work just fine. And yeah, the translator’s like, yeah, I know marketing too, so I’m gonna translate it and we’ll pop it in and it will work fine.
It’s like, no, it doesn’t work fine because you missed all of the human and all of the components and all of the strategy, all the culture, everything that what Germans actually look for. They. You did everything right by translating, but you did everything wrong by translating too.
EJ: That was Michael Bonfils the global managing director of S E M International. And I’m EJ Brown, co-host of the Growth Stage podcast and senior content strategist at Fast Spring. On this podcast, we share stories from global SaaS leaders like Michael that you can use to inspire new growth strategies in your own business. [00:01:00] Enjoy.
Michael, thank you for joining. Why don’t you just start by introducing yourself?
MB:, well, thank you for having me. Um, I really appreciate the opportunity. Um, I, uh, run a company called S E M International, soon to be named, um, digital International Group. So our name this year is gonna be changing. Um, I’ve realized that over the years s e m became, um, just paid search and that’s not what we do.
We do everything from paid to social to search to everything you can imagine on digital marketing. So with that, um, S E M International, we, we specialize in providing on the ground multilingual, internationally based digital marketing service. Primarily direct response based campaigns in in both paid search, paid social, programmatic, organic seo, organic social. Video. Now we’re [00:02:00] starting to dabble in connected tv, uh, which is exciting for us and understanding how that works. So I think the video space is a big trend area that we’re starting to see in a global front, and I’m sure you’ve seen that as well. We do this for both direct companies that come to us. Um, Either they’re already multinational companies or they’re expanding to new countries, or they’re migrating.
So I think there’s not a lot of comments or topics around migrations. And migrations happen when you emerge, right? So you purchase a German company or you purchase a company outside of the US and you have to try to merge these two into one domain or separate domains, and so there’s a whole strategy around all of that.
So we do a lot of that as well. I just noticed a lot of SaaS clients that we’ve worked with in the past have been migration clients, and those are the most challenging. I’m I, my role is I’m the founder and I’m the [00:03:00] global managing director. I started this firm back in 2004, and I realized one day that, you know, there’s a need for companies to not only have globally standardized digital marketing programs, cause other countries were just completely doing something different. But in order to really be successful, they needed to have specialists that knew what they were doing on the on the ground. So what I did was I took best practices from an agency that I previously sold, and I applied those best practices and taught those best practices starting in China.
We were one of the first agencies where you can develop a program in in the US and carry that program over to the Chinese market, and we would just do a great job. Our first brand client in China was Intel. They loved what we did, and they asked us, you know, can you expand into different markets? And I said, yeah, we can.
So we just copied the same model, [00:04:00] taught the teams and people in different countries, and eventually we grew all over the world. And now we have people and 30 well over 30 offices around the world on the ground. And we’ve been doing hundreds and hundreds of campaigns ever since.
EJ: Tha’s so much fun. Um, I got my first taste of globalization localization when I was, uh, freelance writing for a company called Smart Cat. Have you heard of it?
MB: I haven’t.
EJ: Yeah. It’s a, it’s a platform that helps pair up, uh, translators or translation companies with businesses or individuals that need them. both a mix of, of human translation and. machine translated services and really started to learn what localization and globalization meant for companies that were starting to expand beyond where they felt comfortable serving, I guess, and I don’t know. To me it’s just such a [00:05:00] really exciting field to be in, you know, like how, how do we serve, how do we help other companies serve the rest of the world?
MB: Yeah, and it’s, I mean, we’re gonna get into a lot of these questions today with our interview, but, um, but yeah, that, you know, one of our, you know, one area that we do a lot of, I don know if it’s head butting we’re partners in, a sense is with translation firms and platforms like you, suggested because it’s, you know, we’re, we’re a marketing agency first and I would say a translation or localization company second. And usually the translation firms are translation companies first, marketing second. Um, and that’s a problem, that’s a big problem with the strategy on what we do. And, and the reason why that’s a problem is because there’s what I call, I call transaction, um, services.
When [00:06:00] you’re marketing, you can’t do a transaction. You can’t do, here’s the key word that I’m succeeding with in the U.S. Just translate it for Germany and pop it into Germany and it’ll work just fine. And yeah, the translator’s like, yeah, I know marketing too, so I’m gonna translate it and we’ll pop it in. it will work fine.
It’s like, no, it doesn’t work fine because you missed all of the human and all of the components and all of the strategy, all the culture, everything that what Germans actually look for, they, you did everything right by translating, but you did everything wrong by translating too, you know? So that’s why we believe it’s a market first, translation second, and make sure everything is correct and don’t make mistakes, you know, and then you could build that trust and then define a strategy that’s gonna work in the market.
So, and that’s, that’s given us a unique advantage, you know, against translation firms that think it’s just [00:07:00] a transactionary type service.
EJ: Yeah, that makes so much sense. And you use the word trust, and I think that is the scary part about this, right? That you’re . oftentimes you’re trusting another company to really grow your brand presence in a language or culture that you might not know or understand. There’s a lot of trust in that process.
MB: Yes, there. There really is. I mean, trust is something that it, I say the word trust over and over and over because there’s trust signals and you know, the way that people purchase things in different countries is different than ours.
Ours is, we’re very forgiving. You know, we’re blatantly forgiving. We’ll still buy. We’ll look at a site that was translated from Chinese to English auto translated, and it’s, it’s almost funny to us reading it and we’re sharing it with our friends, and then we [00:08:00] still buy something there. You know, other countries, it doesn’t work like that.
It’s like they’re not so forgiving. They don’t understand. They’re like …. You’ve humiliated them. You’ve, you’ve broken their trust. you know, people are very particular about their money in other countries and they a, a lot of countries are smaller so they don’t get their money back. It’s like they get taken advantage of.
So breaking that trust signal by something as silly as a mistranslation, you know, is really sad. After you spent millions of dollars to gain entry in that market. You broke trust by something you thought would be forgiving and it’s not.
EJ: So I think you started, as you talked about the, um, how you grew this organization, your experience in helping SaaS and software companies with global localization.
Do you have any specific success stories that come to mind?
[00:09:00] MB: Yeah, so, you know, SAS is a very strong suit, sweet spot for us. Um, we’ve worked with companies such as, um, AWS with their global organic and, uh, content marketing programs. We work with HP Enterprise on their technical international migrations. Um, I don’t like to brag, but I have never dealt with anything… I mean, millions and millions of pages across every country in the world, across different technical regions who have different pieces and components and then migrate that with a whole different business. I mean, it was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever worked on. But, um, yeah, that was, that was amazing.
Salesforce, MuleSoft, we’ve done their paid media campaigns across a bunch of markets that a lot of times these companies, they don’t have staff in certain markets, so they need [00:10:00] us to fill that role, whether it’s… you know, maybe they have staff in Germany, but they don’t have staff in France or in Poland or in uh, Japan or Korea or something like that, where we would fill those roles for them.
We’ve had, uh, um, one case that, this is one that I’m always kinda giddy about is Google. Google. Um, back in the early days, I think it was about 10, 12, maybe about 12 or 13 years ago, but, um, Google, uh, in Japan, they couldn’t get their business apps to outrank the other software firms, um, on Google. So they hired us to consult with them, which was the weirdest consulting time I’ve ever had talking to Google about how to rank on Google, you know, but it was a almost, it was an honor.
It just, it was so awkward though. I think everybody on the call, all our teams in Japan, everything, we were all so socially awkward on [00:11:00] it. It’s like this is your company.,
Uh, others. Um, we’ve, we’ve designed organic on and off, uh, pay off page SEO programs for a company called Baji throughout, um, Asia and Eastern Europe, focusing mainly on, you know, their digital transformation interests. Um, Cinch. Um, we work with Cinch and their properties. We’ve increased their conversions by few hundred percent now, both domestic, US, Canada, Mexico.
Uh, Microfocus, we’ve gain, uh, over a 400% improvement in conversions with them as well since they started with us. So, you know, all we’ve done well in this sector, surprisingly enough. SaaS is just so good and so easy to make global, but the thing to remember is that they need to be set up correctly and the relationship needs to be a partnership.[00:12:00]
You know, it’s not a agency telling a company what to do. It is being a part of them working with their internal teams, working with their sales teams, working with their executive staff, and really making it a partnership for it to work. Um, the moment it’s, it’s an agency business relationship is the moment that it doesn’t work.
You really need to have that kind of educational level that, okay, in France, here’s what we’re gonna try, here’s what’s not working, here’s what is working. Here’s, you know, a lot of times you find on global that, that customers like a piece of your product that may not be the best part of your product here in the U.S..
You know, you think, wow, this, this piece of our product is bringing in everybody in the U.S. But in France or some other country, it might be an entirely different part of your product that is actually the driver of everybody else into [00:13:00] becoming a lead. So having that one-on-one partnership with SaaS companies, it, it really makes it, it makes it so it, it will be success.
EJ: That makes sense. So this is one of those follow up questions that feel free to, uh, pass on it if, if you don’t wanna think off the cuff, but you were talking about like the different parts of your product or different features might work in different markets. And I’m just curious, like what is the testing like for that to figure out, like essentially how, how to market your product differently to different cultures or regions?
MB:, well, there’s some other questions you have where I go in a little bit more details around, around that. Um, how do you think of the strategy to identify new markets touches into that, but I mean, to answer your question, it really. It almost depends on what the client wants to do. I mean, first of all, they’ve gotta be [00:14:00] structurally sound, you know, and localized properly before they even test.
Otherwise, their tests are gonna, not gonna work, but you can create a microsite and throw it into, um, I don’t know, on WordPress or whatever, little microsite. See how things go. Use localized keyword research, run a paid media campaign, analyze the competitors, see what the demand percentage is, you know, just kind of do a small test demand gen case study for a specific market, and you’ll gain a lot of knowledge by doing that.
That’s a great way as an entry point before you do a heavy investment into a new market.
You know that, that’s what I would suggest doing.
EJ: That totally makes sense that different aspects of your, your product are going to relate to different keywords, et cetera, so you can. You can test demand and interest that way.
Um, it sounds very much [00:15:00] like something that David Vogelpohl did on a, a similar interview. Um, no wonder you’re acquainted .
MB: Yeah, yeah. David is a great guy and he is just like, I think we’ve probably learned from each other over the decades that, that we’ve known each other , you know?
EJ: Yeah. So the, this next question when she brought up, you know, how do you think about strategy related to identifying new international markets to expand into, I wanna add that one of the reasons that this is such an important question for us at FastSpring is this is often a reason why new companies start to want to partner with us as we help on the, all of the financial end of that. You wanna break into this new market, we can help you with the tax, uh, the sales tax on the VAT calculation and remittance. We can help you with payment methods and currencies. So it’s something that comes up a lot with our, our customers.
If, you know, how do we, how do we better partner for this? How do you think about strategy [00:16:00] related to identifying new international markets to expand into.
MB: Huh, that’s such a great question. And you’re right, your, your company, um, is a component of my answer to this. So, you know, there are a number of things that we look at when it comes to identifying new markets.
Um, we typically put together what we call as, uh, a benchmark analysis, right? We get a spreadsheet basically, and use a benchmark analysis. With a number of factors in it. Um, and these factors carry certain weight. Um, for example, we look at your web analytics, um, and we’re looking at global demand data. You know, where do you already have some kind of presence on a global level?
Maybe the clickthrough rate is dropping off and everything, but somehow, you know, India might be coming to your site quite a bit. You know, we would try to understand why are they coming to the site, what are they looking for? Talking to [00:17:00] sales teams, finding out if anybody from other countries, you know, that they’re seeing a trend there.
Um, so these are areas where we kinda put that into a factor. Just your analytics itself. Another is keyword research, right? So we’ll take keyword research and localize it. So that’s, yeah, that’s part translation because we can take your successful keywords and then translate it. But good local keyword research, um, is finding words that are used in a market that are not necessarily translatable
Quite often other countries use different terms. Some countries, they use a mix of their own language and English when they’re searching. And a translator, if they would’ve translated that, they, they get fired. But that’s the most amount of searches are based on these words that are king of mumbo- jumbo of different languages into one that there’s no way a translator could ever understand that. So we find and [00:18:00] analyze these words and then we look at the data around it, right? How many searches, how much competition does it have, and so forth. There’s also a barriers of entry. And red tape factors of each market.
And this is where your company comes in really well. Cause it’s like, okay, tax issues, you know, that and just different like setups. Red tape. I mean, Neighbor in Korea requires a, a business, uh, a stamp from the business before you’re allowed to advertise and put anything on Neighbor.
Same with China. China, what, which is what they call a chop, which is basically your stamp of your company, um, proving that you have a business and a business license. And it’s so frustrating cause it takes, you know, it could take months for us to get a client into Baidu and or into, um, search engines in China or platforms in China because, We have all [00:19:00] this red tape to do to get around.
So we look at that as a factor. You know, how much red tape, how much involvement is this gonna be? How is this gonna slow down the process? Maybe you don’t wanna get into China because it’s by the time you do and it’s ridiculous. I mean, they ask, like for Intel, they ask me to have, have me send them their business stamp.
That proves that their business. and I go, how do you, how do I prove they’re not a business? Just go online and type in, you know, the stock exchange and you’ll find them there. They’re a business open up any computer inside their business. They’re like, no, we need a, a real business certificate signed by their CFO or somebody.
I’m like, there’s no way me, a little agency is gonna be able to get their CFO to sign on a business certificate. So it’s that kinda frustration. Things are a little bit easier now, but it’s like, oh, [00:20:00] um, we also analyze the structure, right? So the structure, um, of the site. If your site quite often, you know, unfortunately with a lot of SaaS firms, I mean, they didn’t code their site in a way where it could be easily indexed by Google, especially on a, on a global front, right?
They may not have the right tags or know how to put in tags that, so there’s a technical challenge on their end, on the client’s end that that is a waiting factor of whether they can succeed in a new market or not. So it’s, you know, it’s, it’s all of these things, um, competitors too, right?
So we look at the amount and level of competition you have in a new market. And remember, you have two competitors, one that is all international and one that’s all local and. Local will always have the advantage because Google wants local [00:21:00] and the people want local, right? So if I’m in Germany, I want German firms, Google, Germany wants German firms.
They want to be as German as front. So you’re kind of an imposter as an international one, so you better make sure that you understand when you’re getting in this market that you’re at that same level of quality as any German business. Otherwise, that is a big barrier. If you’re not, you know, um, cause it could mean changing the design, changing the content, all of these other things, you know, to succeed.
EJ: So you, you’ve already given a little bit of this answer about, you know, advice for companies seeking to translate their website or their service for new markets. I think , it seems pretty obvious that one is don’t just trust a straight translation company, , you need, um, market specialists. What else?
MB: Well, let’s, well, I’m gonna break it down. Um, so, you know, the [00:22:00] first a as like the worst thing you could do to the best thing you can do. The worst thing you can do is to, you never, ever wanna auto translate. I understand the thought process that, you know, it’s cheap and visitors will figure out if it’s wrong, you know? But like I mentioned earlier, on a cultural level, the US is made up of this multicultural environment where, We’re more forgiving with our language.
We’re more forgiving with our culture. We’re used to hearing different accents. We’re, we’re used to hearing all of these things. In other countries misspellings, bad grammar, God forbid, something really humiliating or insulting, it can do so much harm to your brand that it’s so difficult to repair you know, um, it’s often better to, rather than just do auto translate, leave it in English and let your users in other countries translate it with their own browser or their own [00:23:00] settings.
That way it’s not your fault when it’s messed up. The next step, which is better than that, is of course translation agencies and machine translation. Um, but remember, that translation agencies have a certain percentage of failure, um, that they calculate on all translations. So they have a percentage. It could be 90% is accurate, 10% is not.
And then they kind of go back to your client and say, okay, well here’s our translation, you know, may not be perfect. Well, that 10% could be something bad, right? I’ll give you an example. Um, Intel, right? So back when we were launching Intel, they had campaigns in the US with a clean suit, which they, which is known as a bunny suit.
Right, so a bunny suit, and they used to have all these ads of guys going into making an intel chip in their bunny suits and everything. It was very, all white and clean rooms. It was all [00:24:00] professional and everything. Well, the Chinese translator translated that into an actual bunny rabbit suit. So he is like, okay, a bunny, a bunny rabbit suit is actually going in and cleaning. You know, somebody wearing a big rabbit like for Easter Bunny, you know, is going in to take care of your chips. And it became a laughing stock in the market for years. So it’s like, okay, that’s. That’s in that little bucket, that small percentage of mistakes that can easily happen. They didn’t know. How would they know?
They translated it, right. A bunny suit is a Easter bunny suit, you know? Um, and then, you know, not to toot my own horn, um, but there’s company like ours, right? Where, we’re marketers first translators second. And we will do what’s called transcreation. So we’ll take that referenced English work and then recreate it for the market and build it up.
[00:25:00] So, I mean, there’s pluses and minuses to all three of these. The first with auto translate, it’s free. It’s simple, it’s easy, pop it, good to go. You know, see what happens. Not smart. Um, translation is usually, it’s not that expensive to do translation. We do a lot of translations, so you know, it, it’s not that expensive.
Um, and. I like the fact that we are a marketing company first and a translator second, because we get companies like, um, uh, Facebook, right? So Meta uses us for, for translating their ads in different countries around the world and um, because they know we’re marketers first, translators second. They could easily go to their big, giant translation company, um, that does their mass translation work to do this, but it doesn’t work out.
Right. So they do it well by, by, by doing this without mistakes. Um, and then there’s, you know, our. [00:26:00] The way, you know, we’re expensive and it’s more time consuming. So that’s the challenge on using a service like ours. Cause it’s, it’s not quick and easy, you know, we have to queue it up. We have to get people to understand, do some research and everything else.
And that does cost. It is the right way to do it. It, but that’s when you’re really serious. You know, you really wanna make a market work..
EJ: So, um, switching a little bit from translation to SEO. What are some of the top things to consider for international SEO efforts and when should marketers look at regionally dominant search engines, like not Google.
MB:, well first of all, the structure of their website is the first thing to consider when you’re looking at SEO efforts, right? So, uh, there’s tags called hreflang, um, hreflang tells Google that here is a page that is in, in X language, right? in English for the UK market, [00:27:00] and here is a page that’s in English for the Canadian market.
It’s not duplicates. Um, or here is French for the Canadian market. Here is the French pages for the French market, right? So hreflang guides Google into identifying the right pages for the right markets and setting that up properly and correctly is really critical. . Um, we’ve seen lots of times, I mean, you’d be surprised.
I mean, we have one company, major, huge publicly traded company who couldn’t figure out why all their traffic wasn’t going to any country in Latin America. And we looked at it and they put in their, um, hreflang setup. They put LA for Latin America, which in hreflang, that’s not a, that’s not a re– that we, they don’t do regions.
It’s it’s country by country, [00:28:00] but LA stands for Laos. So all of these people in Laos, were getting all the traffic from all of the Latin American Spanish pages of this big public firm, you know, so it’s just like really, it’s really easy to like mess up and, um, so you’ve gotta have that structure. Right? Um, also does it have local signals like a local office and local contact information?
Um, have you done all those proper keyword research for those that, for organic. Remember, you know, every market’s different. It’s building up what the market actually uses, which can only be done by a professional and search that’s on the ground that will understand that. Right? Um, do you have engaging content?
Some markets they expect more content and more details than others. So, you know, that’s important. I mean, Chinese, Germans, they expect a lot of details that [00:29:00] we would never even think of. Um, an example, you know, it’s, it’s not related to web, but it’s definitely related to culture in this, in this comment is, um, some tires.
I had these Porsche tires that I was selling, um, and some guy came over who was Chinese and he looked at it and he had this chart. He’s going through all of these numbers and everything and I’m like, what are you doing? And I told you the size, you know, and he’s all, no. All of these different numbers are different markings that tell me where the rubber is manufactured. where is the steel manufactured and where, how is these elements put together? And all of these, like things I never thought in a million years anybody would ever think of, but they go to that extreme level of detail in order, you know, to do their research.
So it may, you know, in the US we may see something. Okay, well that’s simple. It [00:30:00] it’s an email provider. and other countries, it’s not simple.
They want a lot of details and um, that’s something to think about. How much you have on an organic front. Um, the other is just understanding English, right? So English verse German verse Spanish, for example. So English is the richest in terms of vocabulary.
We have the, you know, what, two or three times more than any other language in terms of words. In Spanish, they don’t have nearly as words, so when they search something, we may think that it’s mistranslated because it’s so basic. It’s not going into details where Germans, You see their words, you see that it’s, you know, they go deep and deeper and deeper and we’re the basic ones to them.
And remember what I [00:31:00] said earlier is like they want you to compete against other German firms. You know, I see probably more failures with Germany and Japan, with SaaS companies than any other market in the world because it’s… they don’t understand the complexities of the mind in these cultures that you have to think about when doing SEO.
Um, in terms of non-dominant, you know, uh, Google search engines there, there isn’t that many. The ones that there are, they’re real small. Like I think in the Czech Republic there’s a small one, Seznam it’s called, um, where it’s mainly not, it’s not relevant for SaaS. Right. Um, the good thing is most countries, most companies, they will default to Google for SaaS related terms and for b2b.
But I’ll break ’em down anyways, there’s, there’s three big ones, Yandex, Neighbor and Baidu. Yandex is in Russia. It’s, it’s like Yahoo used to be in [00:32:00] the US. Um, it’s trusted as a portal for local searches. Typically, the behavior there is, I go to Yandex to find out, you know, where my local post office is. Get the news, get my mail, just like, like Yahoo.
And then when I’m going to do some serious b2b, I’m gonna go to Google, Russia. Neighbor is kind of like Yahoo. It’s in Korea. And um, however it looks and behaves very differently. Organic is not prominent. It’s actually based on like a block of paid, a block of what’s their forums called? Cafe.
There’s some organic, I mean, it’s just a mumbo jumbo of just little blocks of different… it’s like little mini search engines all in one page. Um, it’s really complicated. So again, I mean, Google used to have no market share until the last three, four years, where now they’re second in [00:33:00] second place. And this is again, people kind of realizing that going to Google in Korea is better for a B2B search.
And however, Neighbor in the cafe. it’s good for a conversation about a B2B search. So, uh, Baidu is the big Chinese search engine. They’re great for research, right? So you can definitely gain in both paid and organic and, in Baidu. But there is all that red tape I was talking about earlier, to just get in.
Um, you also have to be, uh, you have to have your server there in the Chinese market, so, If you’re gonna host in China, um, you have to get a whole different set of licenses to host there. Um, so it’s just, there’s all these things. And remember, it’s also about speed. A ranking factor on Baidu is speed, a major ranking factor.
And because of the [00:34:00] firewall, when you’re not hosting there, um, you’re stuck in the firewall that slows you down, which is really smart for China to keep out people from outside of China because their search engine doesn’t have the patience to wait for the signal. They just move on to the next page that provides more speed as a ranking factor.
So it’s like, okay, but in China they, A lot of people use WeChat as a conversational tool, right? So if there’s a SaaS product I’m looking into most people, they’ll go to Baidu, do a search, learn a little bit about it if it’s there. But WeChat is the go-to place. It’s a social like platform where I could put in any SaaS software and, and I’ll have a whole full conversation with other people, um, that are using it, what the pluses and minuses are and everything. It’s almost like a Facebook group just, or like a Reddit group, you know? It’s just, it’s [00:35:00] really, really useful. And, um, they’ve been using that for, for years, um, as a way to, to find things.
EJ: Makes sense. And I, I’ve heard that before and I, it also seems like if you wanna get into something like WeChat, you really need local partners to be able to understand it’s not, it’s not just like, let’s translate this ad and post it and we’re done.
MB: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah. It’s more of a, a conversational, I mean, there’s, that’s another thing I didn’t mention, um, but…
and I’m, I don’t understand why people don’t bring this up more often, but there’s what’s called an individualistic market and there’s called a collectivistic market. So individualistic is like the US. Like we’re out for ourselves, you know, we wanna win the lotto, we wanna do things ourselves. We wanna be successful ourselves.
We wanna. That’s our culture. Um, other, there’s other countries like China where [00:36:00] it’s more collectivistic, where the primary is how do we help our community? How do we help our people? How do we help our, you know, um, uh, Israel, you know, Jewish people are very collectivistic. Um, Swedish people are very collectivistic.
I mean, there’s different all around the world. Um, The mentalities are different and you have to market toward that, right? So if you’re gonna market on WeChat, you have to have the mindset of let’s market from a collectivistic point. How do we help the community? Cause that’s a big bonus point right there, you know, um, to, to have that collectivistic nature.
EJ: That’s interesting. What kinds of conversations are happening? What’s the next big social app or something like it. What are you excited about?
MB: There’s not… you know, there, there’s, you know, WeChat was a good discussion that I just had about, you know, a big social app that [00:37:00] is used in a specific country. Um, Germany has what’s called XING, X I N G, which is, uh, their version of LinkedIn that is more popular.
WhatsApp, telegram. These are used quite a bit as, um, communication, um, devices, right? Communication tools around the world use a lot more than here.. What’s big for me and what I’m doing research around, um, right now is really like chat GPT, so the ai, right? AI content creators, and how much a game changer that is to the international side of things.
This is where it’s like, okay, this kind of throws out a lot of what I’ve talked about in our conversation today. It, it cha, it’s a game changer. And the reason for that is if I’m Chinese and I don’t know our culture, but I know a question that I can ask [00:38:00] about my product in English, and I know how to write that question well in English I can actually go to chat GPT and write the question, and the answer will be as culturally relevant as it possibly can be for the US market, they didn’t have to use a service, they didn’t have to use a translator, they didn’t have to use anything. This is a game changer because it’s like, okay, now, . Now we have a whole world of competitors, right?
It’s not just US companies competing and going in other countries. It’s other countries now have kind of an equal footing to get into ours and become our competitors. So that’s one that just kind of think big and broad around how is that gonna change? I know you know the, so far from what I’ve seen with AI content creators is that it’s missing the human element that you can [00:39:00] almost feel, you know, you could tell you’re talking to a robot, um, a robot that has no empathy, right? And you are like, okay, it’s factual. Factual enough. There’s no empathy. It’s not human. Can’t say I trust it, but at least I got my answer that’s where it’s hung up.
But that’s changing, you know? Who knows? I mean, maybe five years. They put little sad emojis in with the content .
EJ: It’s interesting, when I was, when I was working with Smart Cat, uh, when the big conversation was, you know, trying to convince more and more localization companies to to work with machine translation and it not being that your translators are gonna be out of jobs, you know, but how can you use this new technology to your benefit to make your work faster?
It’s a [00:40:00] yes and situation as David Vogelpohl would say, like you don’t need to think about it as, uh, one or the other or try to disprove that. It’s, it’s never going to take the place of humans, but how can humans work with it, you know, and yeah, it’ll be interesting to me anyway, to see how that happens, you know?
And I mean, I’m super against it as a writer, so I just groan whenever I think about it. But it, it challenges me to think like, well, how, how can I use this to take work off of my plate and be able to work smarter and faster, you know? And I, I don’t know yet.
MB: Yeah, and you know, I’ve, I’ve been doing that cuz I, I’ve had some articles that, well an article that is overdue as per usual with search engine land and, um, um, I’m like kind of, you know, how could I speed this up?
So I went to chat, G P T and I asked the question, [00:41:00] and the answer was kind of blah, blah, blah, boring. I already know this and I think everybody else knows this, but there were a couple things, like a couple bullet points in there that I hadn’t think of I thought of, and it’s like, okay, well shoot, this actually helps me because I can really capitalize on those bullet points and really dig deeper in on.
So you know, it is that opportunity to use it as a writer’s tool. , but it’s also dangerous. I mean, it’s really, really, really dangerous to me because it’s like, it’s not saying that you’re out of a job. The problem that I can foresee is we’re junk. We’re gonna junk up Google
So that search, that seek and find way of, of searching on Google is at risk. It’s, it’s disruptive to that. And, um, that means that, you know, if I go in and ask a question in Google and all the [00:42:00] content is AI generated content that comes up. The similarities of all that content is a big, such a waste of time. So your article that you wrote by your hand may be pushed so far down because there’s 300 articles above it that are all AI written that just happened to be optimized the hell outta, you know?
And for a user it sucks because it’s like, I’m never gonna find my answer it sucks for you as a writer because you have the answer, but you’re not displayed. And the other choice, you know, the group, the user will naturally go to a, a chat GPT and just give me the one answer then, you know, which then still avoids your good content that answers the question, right?
So it’s like, so there is that. . I don’t know how to put my head in it cuz it’s, I mean, I’ve been doing this [00:43:00] since 96, so I’ve been in the space for, you know, 25 years. And, uh, it’s like, it, I, I’ve, you know, I always hear, you know, Google’s dead, SEO’s dead and all this stuff for years and years and years and years and I always shook my head and this is the first time where it’s like… This could possibly make it really difficult for Google. Google’s feature of search and find it changes the search and find dynamic. You know, the mass population doesn’t have the patience to dig deeper. It’s like, sure, give me the simple facts, and that’s that.
EJ: Yeah. Interesting. Well, we should talk again in like two years , right? See where things are at. Yeah. . So last question, we, we dug into SEO and organic search and, um, finding keywords [00:44:00] and anything else on the, um, paid search strategies that brands should be considering when they’re expanding into new markets.
MB:, so there’s, I’m gonna talk about two things, um, here. One is on the paid search strategy. Um, when you’re expanding in the new markets, it really is a key good keyword research game. Remember, 30 to 40% of your keywords are typically words that are words that aren’t translated. So you’re losing out on a lot of opportunities.
So keywords are really, really key. Test and try test and try. Keep an idea, you know, really focus on your local competitors and your international competitors and, and make a list of what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Typically, multinationals, um, they have especially big companies, they can’t deter [00:45:00] from their brand so much, which gives them a disadvantage.
They can’t, they can’t make that German page any smarter than the Spanish page because they’re not allowed to. Cuz they’re so big and they’re so filtered. Where a small company, they can do that. But you know, they may be forgetting hreflang and something stupid, you know, like that. Or putting in the wrong pictures, you know, so photography or elements or colors or fonts that even fonts can be… you know, something that, that, you know, the Japanese don’t like Chinese fonts, for example, if they see a Chinese font, they’re gonna think that this is cheap. You know, they’re a cheap service. I don’t wanna buy from them cause they’re, they’re probably a Chinese company in disguise and gonna steal my money or something like that.
You know, it’s just… you can, you have to think about all of these factors. You know, that, that [00:46:00] competitors don’t really think about. Um, and then the second thing is, is a question that, um, I think you were gonna ask about ccTLDs. Um, and that’s one that I definitely get a lot of people asking me about.
And, um, you know, to succeed as a multinational. You could do hreflang and it’s, and it’s set up properly, you could be fine. Um, however, if you’re serious in a market and you already have presence and you already have traction and you are a player in a market, switching to a ccTLD is a great benefit.
Cause it’s like, it’s like you becoming local. And that you becoming local to that market is it builds up those trust signals in everything that you want. So there’s a, um, a site, Xerox, Xerox. If you go to xerox.com, they have a language country selector. And you’ll notice that the countries that they’re really good in, um, they have a [00:47:00] ccTLD for Xerox and all the other countries where, you know, they have market presence, but they’ll use hreflang setup. So, you know, you can do a mix of both. ccTLDs are hard because you’re dealing with a whole different server. You’re updating everything. It’s like a whole new company.
But you can even do microsites with ccTLDs, you know, and, and try to gain that organically and then just drive traffic to your hreflang. You know, we’ve seen that too. We’ve, you know, with one of our, um, brands we’ve had, we’re doing paid two different microsite and their main site as a ccTLD and they take up 70% of the the page.
So for their terms, it’s just like, you know, which is great to be.
EJ: That’s great. . Yeah, . Good job. Yeah. Oh, fun. I mean, it, it’s so technical, but it, uh, it’s a fun challenge, it [00:48:00] seems like. Yeah. I’m sure every company’s different.
MB: Every company’s so different and every culture is so different. It’s like…. and then, you know, the funny thing is if you knew like my background and how I got into this, so my parents, my mom’s side is Greek, you know, they came from Greece to the US.
My dad’s side is French Canadian. , they divorced when I was one. My dad married a German. Mm. So I grew up in, you know, in an environment where we always had different cultures, different languages, different, you know, and that kind of affected me a lot because I always saw things in so many different ways and different foods and different behaviors and different acts that like shaped me as a person, you know, and eventually I married a, a Hungarian, we’re divorced now, um, but we had two children and we have this family reunion and my kids are [00:49:00] like, oh my god, you know, um, there’s all these different languages and cultures and just like . And I’m like, that’s kinda cool. Your dog said, “I know” just now it sounded like it.
EJ: Yeah. . Yeah. My dog thinks it’s cool too. . No, that that’s awesome. And, and, you know, it’s, it’s great for your kids too to have that same exposure, so…
MB:, totally. That’s great. Totally.
EJ: So this has been very, um, eyeopening. I, I really appreciate, um, you talking to me and going into such detail. So thank you so much for your time.
MB: Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It’s, it’s a lot of fun and I love informing people, you know, it just makes a world a better place, so thank you.
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