When you have a product with broad appeal (think SaaS businesses), it’s hard to imagine there isn’t huge market potential in any region of the world with reasonably good Internet access. Having said that, there are a few steps you can take to immediately limit the the number of countries in Europe you go after, which will help focus your efforts.
So before you start building out an extensive infrastructure on your website for international SEO, first you have to figure out where you want to go, and if that place is worth going to. You can begin by trying out a series of content marketing growth hacks we’ve been using at the HubSpot EMEA office in Dublin. (EMEA refers to Europe, Middle East, and Africa.)
Part 1: Basic groundwork—don’t waste time
1. Is your product able to comply with various European and European Union (EU) laws?
Both Facebook and Google have had issues with compliance in the past few years. This can turn into a costly and lengthy legal process, which not something that all businesses branching out into Europe can handle. Europeans are far more sensitive about data protection and privacy than their U.S. counterparts. Do not underestimate this. This article can give you more information on how to operate as a SaaS company in this region. Oftentimes, individual country research is required, as local and regional laws can vary greatly.
2. Is your product a cultural/political fit locally?
This question is centered around what your product enables others to do. Twitter has had many issues in Turkey, which has repeatedly banned and blocked social media services. Apple and Android will potentially have to remove apps in Russia that allows users to read banned books. Uber has been banned in France. Can you confidently say that your product will be able to successfully enter your target countries and weather any backlashes?
3. Can the locals afford your product?
It’s not a good idea to offer a SaaS service at a price tailored to the U.S. market. Although it sounds like the right thing to do, there is a chance you will be cheated out of income. In a world where IP addresses can be masked or faked, it is entirely possible that users from richer countries could access your “cheaper” prices for South Africa than, say, Canada. Search for competing local services and compare their prices to yours (since average household income isn’t a perfect indicator of what people can spend on products and services.) Can you match them?
4. Can you hire talent in that language, and do they have good English?
Are there people proficient in the target language that can fill the roles across your entire sales and marketing funnel? Check out local education standards, popular professions, and their ratings against the standards you are familiar with. Reach out to other similar businesses that you know have recently branched out into Europe and ask them what the hiring process and was like.
Although translation and other language services can be outsourced, this is not a great strategy to use for the long term. You need to have a team that understands and works towards fulfilling the business’s objectives, and has an insider’s experience of the unique brand and culture of the company. And, most probably, they are going to have to speak good English in order to communicate with the rest of your multicultural team.
Part 2: Understanding location-based and language-based marketing in Europe
Just as the United States is no longer an all-English speaking nation, neither do country borders in Europe denote the best language to use.
But most Europeans speak English, right? Here is a map of the English proficiency of people across Europe:
Logically speaking, “IP country + English proficiency” does not guarantee that the persona you are targeting is in that group. So, how do you split up who you market to in English, and who you market to in other languages in Europe?
Important: Don’t dismiss going multilingual after looking at English proficiency statistics. People in Europe want to use their native language more than their school-taught, intermediate-level English in day-to-day business. Doing business in the local language can also give you a significant competitive advantage:
“In a Common Sense Advisory study of 2,430 web consumers in eight countries, 72.4% of respondents said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. The same study found that 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price, and more than half of consumers are willing to pay more to companies that provide information in their language.”
Equally, don’t simply jump on board with getting your product out there in all the major languages if you don’t really need to. Instead, do what all growth-focused businesses should do: test your theory.
Make analysis your friend
1. Analyze your website traffic based on browser language and IP country
A green flag would be if you have already established good levels of traffic from certain countries. Take that list, remove the “I can’t do business there” countries, and you’ll have a shortlist of places that you can start segmenting your database with at a high level.
2. Analyze your backlinks
Find out what backlinks you have accumulated from other countries, and investigate as to whether they are high or low quality. If you are getting a lot of good backlinks from a country, it is worth understanding why (are people strongly interested in buying your service, but just can’t work with it in English?), and if these backlinks are a good indicator for countries you should do business in.
3. Analyze your community
There are multiple tools out there for analyzing your social media followers, including Followerwonk. Run reports by location and determine if you have an active community somewhere in Europe that can be added to your list of “places to consider.” Also, start creating a list of local evangelists. These are powerful allies to have and useful to reach out to when you need advice that only a local could know. Should you send emails to contacts in Germany beginning with “Hey [insert first name],” or is better to use “Hello, Mr. [insert surname]?” How disastrous would it be, locally, for your brand, to make a cultural mistake in this regard?
Of course, these steps don’t solve for the chicken/egg dilemma of answering questions like “Would I have more traffic from Germany if my website content/product was offered in German?” However, they do offer a lower calorie option to begin exploring markets where you already have some foothold.
Part 3: How to hack testing for preferred content type and content topic in a European language
If you are a company that invests a lot in content marketing, it can be really hard to know what content to produce for the European countries on your shortlist. What format do they prefer? Is English okay to start with? If I promote this content to the French, should I also promote it to the Swiss because 21% of their country speaks French?
English content makes up the majority of content on the Internet, as do English-speaking users. For SaaS and other online businesses, offering your service in the lingua franca of the web is standard.
However, when you consider the fact that English speakers actually only make up 28.6% of Internet users, doing business online in alternative languages becomes very attractive. For example, 7.9% of internet users are Spanish, but only about 4% of online content is available in Spanish.
If you’ve begun to think about doing business in Europe, chances are it’s because you’ve seen good traffic from particular European countries, you’re getting a lot of high-quality backlinks from these countries, or your community contains a significant portion of people from these countries. But there’s also an unknown factor you might not have considered: If your content were available in these other languages, would that cause traffic to flow in higher volumes from otherwise “insignificant” countries? This is something we wanted to find out at the HubSpot EMEA office.
So, how do you test languages via content marketing?
Content marketing can actually help you raise a green flag over which languages your business should to diversify into. There are number of ways you can start to figure out these answers:
- Use workflows to segment content by region
- Create a minimal viable website (MVW) in the target language
- A/B test your content marketing campaigns in both English and the local language
These ideas are in no particular order. Which one you use will depend a lot on a) how much data you have gathered, b) how much reach you have in the target countries already, and c) how much detail your marketing software allows you to segment your database.
Goal: Discover if our primary persona prefers different types of content in different regions in EMEA.
I have been using workflows to segment and test content on various regions of interest to HubSpot in Europe. This is a very efficient way of automating the answer to that question.
Our primary persona, Marketing Mary, was split out into UK/I (United Kingdom and Ireland), DACH (areas where German is the official language), NORDICS (the northwestern European countries of Scandinavia), SEMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), BENELUX (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemberg) and CATCH-ALL categories.
The contacts all receive the same series of five emails, each with a content offer. Depending on the open rates (OR) and clickthrough rates (CTR) of the emails, plus the view-submission rates on the landing pages of the content offers—we can compare what content types and content topics perform best for our target persona across regions in EMEA.
We also have a workflow that is fully translated into German. We segment “Germans” in our database into two groups:
- People who have filled out a German-language form (not IP country specific)
- People in IP country = Germany/Austria/Switzerland who have filled out an English form
The logic is that this is a far more accurate way of discovering if contacts want to consume content in English or German, regardless of their IP location (refer to the map above showing the blurred lines of language in Europe). Over time, as we continue to internationalise, giving website visitors the option to self-select their language will remove the need for this. But we’re not there yet!
Comparing the English and German workflow results will show us if conversion rates are higher, lower, or the same, when content is offered in English or in the native language (in this case, German).
Note: The primary drawback of using workflows to test content is that you need to have enough traffic volume from the region going into the workflow to make your results significant.
MVW in the target language
Goal: Discover if events promotion in Germany gets better results in German or English.
This idea comes from lean methodology. You can read more about it in this blog post from Buffer.
We created a landing page in German for an event we are attending in September 2015. Our goal was to get as many appointments as possible with our sales team. Creating a landing page gave us somewhere to link to in social media messages, guest blog posts, and emails. We then created two test contact lists of “German form-fill Germans” and “English form-fill Germans,” and sent an email in English and an email in German, directing people back to this page.
The English email had better open and click rates; so, we created an English version of the landing page, and retested. Ultimately, the German landing page converted better.
This experiment showed us that if our goal is to achieve landing page submissions for an event, communication about events we are attending in Germany should be in German.
Create a content campaign in the target language
Goal: Discover if translating existing English content into niche languages is worth the ROI.
We are testing regional-tailored content for the Nordics (Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland), as well as language-tailored content. For example, this report was created in English, but contained contributions from influential marketers from all over the region:
The next stage is to test out a piece of content in a local language from that region. We decided to test “How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign” in Swedish.
- The existing traffic and lead flow was good
- We reached out to local marketers and evangelists in the region for their advice
To manage expectations, we put a note in Swedish at the end of the landing page submission form that translates to “future communication will be in English.”
This was not a simple campaign to set up. Getting content translated into a minor European language is not cheap. Also, in addition to the piece of content itself being translated well, you also have to consider what parts of the promotion need to be translated (e.g., tweets, emails, and meta descriptions of landing pages.)
The results aren’t in yet—but that’s another blog post.
Never assume, always test
All of these internationalisation hacks are underway, and once the results are in, we’ll have a clearer picture of where to focus our marketing efforts for European expansion. By testing our content in this way, we are gaining a better understanding of what is required to be effective across the various language and cultural regions of Europe.
These methods allow us to experiment before investing in a dedicated team for that language and region, which would be a costly move were it not to work out.
We’re sure many other brands have similar processes and projects underway. We’d love to hear what’s working for your brand and what you’ve learned along the way. Please share in the comments below.
Also, if your brand has been struggling with your internationalisation efforts, or you want to know if the content on your site is set up for international success, you may want to submit your site or save your seat for the Hubspot’s next Marketing Grader Live.