How Search Can Help Deliver Cross-Border Ecommerce Success

By Lillian Haase, Chief Marketing Officer, Searchmetrics

Not only has the pandemic accelerated domestic eCommerce, but it has also opened shoppers’ eyes to the possibility of ordering products from other countries; nearly a third of consumers are now making cross-border purchases, according to a 40-country survey from International Post Corporation. 14% of consumers order products from the US, revealing the scale of the opportunity for American etailers.

And this growth isn’t going to stop – according to McKinsey the global market for cross-border eCommerce will more than treble in size between now and 2030, reaching at least $1 billion orders.

So how can you ensure your eCommerce brand is benefiting from this opportunity? Obviously, the right foundations must be put in place. You need to have the necessary logistics and customer support operations to deliver your goods to consumers in other countries which is a major undertaking. You also need to ensure you can take payments in different currencies.

On top of this, marketing is clearly key. Your products first need to be found by shoppers in other countries if you’re going to get them to buy. And because the vast majority of online shopping journeys still begin with search, a major priority is making sure that enough potential customers in your target regions can find out about your brand and its offerings in search results.

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A well-thought out and appropriately supported SEO strategy is critical. And to be successful, your strategy needs to focus on four key considerations:

1. Using search to identify market potential and demand trends

As with any marketing strategy, it’s important at the outset to get a good handle on the nature of the consumer demand and associated trends for your products and services within your target countries. So, your initial step should be to get your SEO team to gather key search data to help determine which of your product offerings are appropriate for which markets. By aggregating and analyzing the searches that consumers are making, and the search results themselves, it’s possible to estimate the potential market demand, understand seasonality and get insights on consumers’ attitudes and triggers around the products you are selling, as well as pinpointing your main competitors and how they are positioning themselves.

2. Going beyond literal translation

Bear in mind that there are cultural differences surrounding how people shop and make purchasing decisions in different countries. So simply translating the content on your eCommerce store without taking account of the specific cultural nuances in different countries can mean your strategy could misfire. For example, in Germany, consumers often respond more positively to messaging that emphasizes security and trustworthiness rather than other benefits. That means that content focused on stressing cost savings or product quality may not work as well as content based on trustworthiness and security.

There can even be differences between English-speaking markets. You might imagine, for example, that consumers in the UK or Ireland would be searching using the same terms as those in the U.S., but that’s far from the truth – there are a lot of nuances you need to look out for. ‘Sneakers’, for example, are one thing in the US, another in the UK (trainers) and yet another in Ireland (runners).

All of this means you need to have an astute appreciation of the shopping culture and norms in your target regions, as well as knowing the important search terms and topics then use this to optimize your online content accordingly so that it hits the mark.

3. Reaching your customers on the right channels

To attract consumers in your target countries, you also need to be visible on the main online platforms, such as the key social media sites on which they spend their time interacting with others and performing searches. That means building a presence on them and optimizing your content to be visible. Obviously bear in mind that different social networks are popular in different places. China, for example, has key networks such as QQ, WeChat or Weibo, and most websites that rank highly on Baidu (China’s leading search engine) have links to at least one of these.

The marketing mix also changes between countries, based on consumer preferences. For example, despite being neighboring countries, Denmark’s consumers are much more likely, on average, to respond to paid search results than people in Germany. So, you need to split your budget tactically between paid and organic search to deliver best results in local markets.

4. Optimizing for the appropriate search engines

We’re all used to Google dominating the search market. And while this is true in the U.S. and lots of other western countries, many other markets have their own champions. If you want to be found in China, you need to rank on its top search engine, Baidu, for example. And consumers in the Czech Republic use Seznam. Each of these different search engines have their own rules and technical requirements for ranking highly for the right terms. It’s best to work with specialists who know what they are looking for and can help you structure your site and content accordingly.

A related point is picking the appropriate top-level domain. And country specific-domain endings aren’t necessarily always the best choice. As a consumer, if you see an unfamiliar domain that’s not .com or .org you might be suspicious about the site behind it. That’s equally true around the world, where having the right domain ending is very important. The .com domain is now well-known and trusted internationally, while a less familiar country-specific domain is unlikely to be accepted as legitimate by consumers in some countries.

This even applies in markets such as China. On Baidu, our research suggests that, on average 75% of the top ten search results are .com rather than .cn or So essentially stick with your .com domain if you can if you want to be found internationally.

In summary, even with the growing interest in cross-border eCommerce, gearing up to promoting and selling your products internationally requires significant planning and investment in many aspects of your business: from marketing and search to logistics and customer service.  But given the scale of the potential opportunity, the investment is most definitely worthwhile.

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