As the Director of Marketing for a legacy U.K. online brand, breaking competitively into the U.S. market has long been on my personal and professional roadmap. We created our U.S. portal several years ago, but it wasn’t until late 2016 — at a memorable board meeting on a particularly cold afternoon — that we truly focused intently on making the jump “across the pond.”
The main challenges we had to face included well-established American competition who had invested heavily in paid search and social, and who dominated the SERPs as a result. Additionally, though we had been industry leaders in our niche in the U.K. for years, our brand was essentially unknown in the U.S.
So, it was with a healthy mixture of excitement and dread that I left that fateful meeting and embarked on what has become an incredible adventure so far.
As an underdog, we’ve often found that we’re better off making a lot of tiny improvements rather than trying to create huge wins. An incremental approach to growth is much easier to execute in our marketplace and yields better results.
Rather than meeting our competition head-on by sinking a tremendous amount of cash into paid search and social, we decided to implement a two-pronged digital marketing approach:
- Developing and optimizing onsite content
- Strategically managing offsite distribution
Looking back on a year-over-year basis, I can confidently say this was the right decision. But, let’s dive a little deeper into each of these initiatives so you can see how they accomplished the goal.
Onsite Content Development and Optimization
Putting the boring business details aside, the true goal of our family of websites is to change people’s lives. All of our country-specific businessesforsale.com sites — as well as our FranchiseSales.com and PropertySales.com properties — serve first and foremost as a way to make the potentially complex and overwhelming business buying and selling process faster, easier, and more accessible.
To accomplish that goal, we long ago saw the need to provide plenty of down-to-earth, helpful advice for new and experienced entrepreneurs alike, guiding them through the buying and selling process step-by-step, and giving them the knowledge and encouragement they need to chase their dreams.
So, there was no question as to whether or not high-quality, search optimized content would be a large part of our strategy. We already had a large library of articles on our flagship U.K. site, and we were adding to it daily. The big question, though, was how we could effectively accomplish this for an American audience.
Rather than copying and pasting, then hoping for the best, we decided local professional advice from native American content experts was needed. So, we decided to partner with the Denver-based content marketing agency SPROUT Content (recently acquired by Gorilla Group.)
The first step was to evaluate the differences between the U.K. and American dialects and actively localize our library of articles to appeal to American readers. Many highly effective case studies and interviews had to be heavily edited or even scrapped because they were simply too “British” to resonate with our target audience in the States.
Likewise, we realized that the sectors into which our business listings were separated, and a number of other important foundational factors needed to be adjusted for the American audience.
This huge undertaking of editing/content creation was also heavily impacted by a thoroughly researched SEO strategy specific to U.S. search trends, which were significantly different from what earned us traffic in the U.K. Relying heavily on the team at SPROUT Content, we’ve been able to quickly build a robust library of quality content that appeals to the American entrepreneur.
The project is still ongoing, and we’ve certainly needed to watch the needle rise and fall, then adjust accordingly, but the results have been more than worth it.
Strategic Offsite Distribution
The second aspect of our overall approach is, in many ways, even more, important than creating quality content. After all, if no one ever sees your content, what’s the use in creating it in the first place?
Successfully distributing a large volume of content consistently and cost-effectively requires a lot of time and effort. In the past, we’ve experimented with a more technical, keyword-density-based method of distribution and link building to distribute our content, but we were usually quite disappointed in the results.
This time, our goal was to approach distribution from a different angle, focusing solely on creating logical distribution opportunities that were helpful for the audience, first and foremost. Working with PR consultants and influence marketing experts allowed us to accomplish this in epic fashion.
We combined strategic social distribution (via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn primarily) with an aggressive influencer marketing campaign that revolved primarily around guest posting on sites that were known, liked, and trusted by American entrepreneurs.
By approaching content distribution and link building in this manner, rather than establishing links strictly for SEO purposes, we were able to simultaneously drive direct traffic and enhance brand recognition, visibility, and reputation.
And the proof is in the numbers.
Using a year-over year comparison (December 1, 2016 – November 30, 2017 compared to December 1, 2015 – November 30, 2016) the positive results of this aggressive two-pronged approach becomes very clear:
- Starting at the very top of the funnel, we saw a 60.4% increase in organic traffic coming to us via search and a 7% increase via internal linking, both of which were directly traceable to our content localization and optimization efforts.
- Additionally, these efforts helped preserve our geographic targeting, with 90.9% of all traffic to the U.S. site coming from within the U.S., ensuring we weren’t wasting our efforts reaching an audience we couldn’t serve.
- Moving on to conversions, we nearly doubled an already impressive 4.6% conversion rate to 8.8% on our top conversion goal for the U.S. site.
- Even more impressive, the total number of transactions coming from organic search increased 214.5% and 80.7% of those converted the same day they first visited the site (as compared to 73.8% the year before.) This indicated to us that we were getting more qualified, targeted traffic and those visitors were becoming better informed as well.
- Finally, speaking directly to ROI, an overall 51.7% increase in the number of purchases made, combined with an 8.7% increase in the average value of each purchase, resulted in an incredible 64.9% increase in revenue.
- Recalling how our U.S. competition managed to dominate the SERPs, it’s especially exciting to report that we accomplished all this while reducing our Adwords spend by 25.9%.
As noted, this is all still a work-in-progress. But, we’re thrilled with how far we’ve come in just a year of concerted effort, and we’re incredibly excited to see what 2018 has in store for our U.S. brand.
To summarize what worked for us:
- Localize and optimize: Make sure you’re speaking the same language as your target users, including their preferred search terms.
- Help, don’t sell: Providing helpful content that answers the visitors’ questions as honestly and impartially as possible has made all the difference.
- Incremental improvement: Lots of tiny adjustments in the right direction are both easier and more effective than giant steps that may fall short.
- Shortcuts sacrifice the long term: There are many ways to theoretically buy huge traffic numbers, but, in the end, that’s almost always a waste. To develop something of value that lasts, it really comes down to working hard and working smart.
- Stay adaptable: Even the best plans need to be reworked on occasion as circumstances change or reality becomes clearer. We’ve changed ours plenty since starting, and we’ll only stay ahead of the game if we keep that up.