August 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Searching Abroad

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“Good practices in the U.S. are good practices in the U.K. or anywhere else,” says McCoy. “We focus on delivering fresh, good content.”

To ensure that its web pages load quickly, which Google also takes into account in ranking pages for natural search results, uses Akamai Technologies Inc.’s Dynamic Site Accelerator which speeds up delivery of its content by using Akamai’s servers around the world. The farther a user’s browser is from the physical location of a web server, the farther the content being served must travel, which can cause delays as data is switched through multiple servers. Since implementing the service in December, has cut its load time in Australia, for instance, from nine seconds to less than two seconds.

“We want to give international shoppers a positive shopping experience and you can’t do that if your site takes too long to load,” says McCoy. FedEx handles overseas deliveries for as well as brokering customs duties and taxes.

What does not do is translate prices or sizes to suit local markets, or translate the text on its pages into other languages. “We found that international customers would rather see prices in U.S. dollars so they feel they’re paying the true price,” says McCoy. While that may cost the site some sales, it also limits costs, he adds. Inc. has taken a different approach, translating content and prices on its more than a dozen international sites with the aim of providing a better buying experience.

The online retailer of personalized products has international sites targeting these countries: Canada (in both English and French), Germany, Switzerland (German and French), Austria, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Belgium (French and Dutch) and Brazil. The e-retailer planned to launch a site aimed at consumers in the Netherlands this month. Each site charges applicable duties and taxes, and those are paid for Zazzle by Pitney Bowes. Local postal services handle delivery.

Despite operating entirely from within the United States, Zazzle adjusts its search marketing strategy on a domain by domain basis. “We look at cultural trends in each market independently and adjust our keyword bids accordingly,” says Michael Karns, director of consumer marketing and international development.

Each of Zazzle’s international sites has a localization specialist, many of whom have lived in their assigned country. “They know their markets and work in tandem with our marketing team to develop their campaigns based on a number of questions. For example, what holidays are upcoming? What’s in the news? What trends are hot? What are people interested in?” Karns says.

During the lead-up to the World Cup and while the international soccer tournament was going on this summer, each of the retailer’s foreign web sites promoted and merchandised that particular country’s team. And, in turn, it bid more heavily on keywords relevant to that particular country, such as “viva España” and “française de football.”

“You can certainly reach buyers around the world with any web site, but localizing our sites allows us to reach buyers in a way that makes sense to them,” Karns says. That’s especially important, he adds, when selling customized merchandise that’s not as familiar as commodity items.

Cabela’s hasn’t yet launched a .uk site tailored to British consumers, although it may do so in the future. But Fortna agrees that making international customers comfortable with its site is essential.

Before Cabela’s launched its paid search program it had already been shipping internationally for nearly 20 years. But until two years ago, those sales came from consumers requesting a catalog then placing an order by telephone or, later, online. In recent years, some sales came from overseas shoppers clicking on Cabela’s U.S. paid search ads that Google syndicated to its international sites.

The next step

Two years ago Cabela’s came to the conclusion it could do more. “We decided to understand where our international sales were coming from and what challenges those shoppers were facing,” says Fortna. “Working through that process we could see where our opportunities for growth were.”

The retailer worked with FiftyOne Global Ecommerce to resolve its two biggest challenges—allowing consumers to pay in their own currency and to pay duties and taxes before an item ships.

It was only after it was confident that it had conquered those challenges that it launched its paid search strategy. “While that may be a slower approach, we want to resolve any obstacles before we approach paid search,” he says. “Because once we’re seeking to attract customers, we want to be sure that their experience is positive.”

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