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BACK TO BASICS: Back to Basics: Understanding International Search and Australia

by Jessica Lee, January 18, 2011

International search. It's an expansive issue that some people may not fully understand. However, it's important to grasp the topic on a basic level because the Internet is transforming the way the world does business.

From the United States to China, hundreds of countries not only participate in the Internet, but are also beginning to harness the power of online marketing. This presents more opportunities to market products and services worldwide.

In this Part 1 Back to Basics on international search, global trends will help clarify Internet usage and online marketing, and Bruce Clay Australia gives insight into search marketing from their perspective.

International Internet Usage

Bruce Clay Offices Worldwide

Depending on the country, you might find either Google dominating the market share or some other country-specific search engine. Some countries use a combination of a search engine and a directory. Yahoo! Directory and DMOZ (the Open Directory Project) are two examples.

Although directories aren't as popular as they once were, in some countries, it may be one of the only options. The difference between a directory and a search engine is that search engines apply algorithms to indexed pages of a website when someone types in a query. A directory is human-edited, and typically only includes a link to one page of a site (usually the home page) with a brief description.

Webmasters can apply for submission of their sites in directories like Yahoo! or DMOZ, but there's no guarantee it'll be accepted. DMOZ is especially difficult because editors of the directory are backlogged with sites and a person can only apply once. DMOZ typically doesn't tell a person if the site's been rejected. So it leaves fewer options for countries that rely on directories like DMOZ for Internet access.

The good news for many businesses is that Google operates in at least 100 countries across the globe, according to a Spring 2010 stat in the official Google blog. And, according to figures from NetMarketShare.com, Google owns more than 80 percent of the search engine market worldwide. Global Internet usage is not without roadblocks. Google stated in a blog post last year that out of the 100 countries it offers services in, 25 of those countries have blocked some Google product or service, with China being a prime example. Google pulled out of China in early 2010 due to issues with censorship restrictions by the Chinese government.

Search and Social Dominating Many Countries

Statistics show that people all over the world are using the Internet. Summer 2010 data from InternetWorldStats.com shows hundreds of millions of Internet users in continents like Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, Latin America and Australia.

It's true that some countries have more access to it, but even in places like Africa, the growth has risen 2,000 percent in the past decade. And it will likely continue to rise as companies like Google extend their services to some of the more remote locations in the world.

It may come as no surprise that Asia tops the charts in Internet usage due to its sheer population, at around 825 million users according to 2010 data from InternetWorldStats.com. This is more than Europe at approximately 475 million users and North America at about 266 million users.

And it's not just traditional search that's becoming the norm; social media is heating up in many countries. A Nielsen report from Summer 2010 showed that social networks and blogs account for one in every four minutes spent online globally.

And while many countries embrace the Internet, we see some major emerging markets that may already be shaping up as key players in online marketing. These markets include (in alphabetical order) Australia, Brazil, China, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Russia, to name a few.

Search in Australia

In Australia, Google.com.au has around 85 percent market share, according to Hitwise.com, while Bing, Yahoo! and Ask make up less than 8 percent. And online advertising in Australia is skyrocketing, worth more than $550 million in 2010 according to a report by Frost & Sullivan .

comScore Data Gem

Trends in Australian online advertising show social media and video emerging with mobile slowly trailing behind. Data from comScore (see graph at left) shows four out of five Internet users in Australia consume video, but that men watch twice the amount of online video as women.

One way Australians stay up on Internet marketing trends is conferences such as SMX, held in Sydney and Melbourne. These events bring experts from all over the world to talk about the latest in search marketing tactics. Hosting a search industry conference is one indication things are heating up in that region.

In addition, those in or around Australia can learn search engine optimization techniques from Bruce Clay Australia through its three-day SEO training course, held April 4 to April 6 of this year, along with various other training courses available through the organization.

Because Bruce Clay, Inc.'s offices are worldwide and located in some of the major emerging markets, it has first-hand access to information on international search. I spoke with Jeremy Bolt, a principle at Bruce Clay Australia, who gives some added insight into the growing search market there.

Lee: How is the business community embracing search engine marketing (SEM)?

Bolt: Search is starting to come into its own now as key part of the marketing strategy with larger businesses including SEO priorities alongside user experience, accessibility and design.

Those that embraced search early are seeing the benefits to their businesses in increased enquiry, signup and sales, but there are still many organizations that are only starting to discover search, across the board.

Retail is an area which really started to only get traction in SEO toward the end of last year with many of the retail organizations still thinking about how to implement. Financial services, in most cases, are in the process of implementation and then industries such as travel have long been doing SEO.

On average most categories are competitive from a search perspective and local will put a new spin on these going forward.

Lee: Any particular challenges or roadblocks with the business community or Australia in general adopting SEM?

Bolt: SEM in Australia relates to paid search and SEO. The major constraint we find is not that people don't want to do SEO, but internal constraints result from CMS limitations or considering SEO too late in the process.

In addition, prioritizing SEO with customer experience, accessibility, design and IT capability, where these have been around longer, can be a challenge -- even though in certain cases the requirements are similar or have a common goal.

There is also still spam locally, which hopefully the search engine spam filters will deal with this year, more specifically link-building and paid links.

Lee: What have been the major trends or shift in focus in the past year in SEM in Australia?

Bolt: An increased focus on White Hat link-building to compete with paid links, and an increased awareness of the impact of personalized search and Universal Search, as well as an overall awareness of SEO.

Video implementation and strategies to ensure it's optimal for SEO. Better appreciation of technologies, specifically AJAX, and its use and how they impact from an SEO perspective. Website speed has been ongoing.

Social media has been huge and will continue to be. Many, though, are still not considering the SEO aspects of their social media campaigns and strategies, but we expect this to change in 2011.

Also, the impact of social media on search engine rankings and online brand presence.

Increased requirement to build a business case and talk about ROI at the proposal stage of the engagement. The increased awareness of SEO at a C-suite level is driving the ROI discussion, which is also increasing the focus on analytics and reporting.

Conversion rate optimization discussions started last year, but are by no means mainstream yet; but a general shift to Internet marketing optimization as a whole.

In next month's Back to Basics on international search, we'll talk about another emerging market: India.


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