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10 Best Practices for Purchasing a Company Domain name

One of the first action items many new business owners take is  to register a domain name. This seemingly inexpensive five-minute task can end up with disastrous consequences if you don’t make the effort to do it right. Attempts to save small money while purchasing the first domain names can end up being one of your most expensive legal fights down the road.

Horror stories

The Japanese automaker, Nissan, still does not own Nissan.com. They spent years in court trying to seize the domain from its rightful owner. (I recommend reading up on the history of this dispute!)  During the 2008 election, US politician Sarah Palin did not own Sarapalin.com, and currently, a variation of her name with the .IN extension, sarahpal.in, is redirecting to Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, likely not an outcome she would support.

Best practices

Here are the steps you can take to avoid making domain name mistakes that will come back to haunt you later on.

  1. When deciding on a name for a company, the first thing you should do is check the domain possibilities with a good registrar that can show you all the TLD variations of your desired name. For a business local to one country, try to get the most common TLD, but if you are global it might be a good idea to purchase the .com.
  2. Ideally, you should register the other common domain extensions like .org and .net and redirect them to your core domain. While, you might want to save money, now is not the time to be frugal. If a competitor or squatter picks these up later it will cost you thousands of dollars and millions of tears to recover them even if you rightly own all the trademarks.
  3. When registering the domain, make certain that the email address on file is one that you will see any important notifications from your registrar. The US presidential candidate Jeb Bush allowed his domain JebBush.com to expire, and Donald Trump was able to purchase it.
  4. You should absolutely use keywords in your domain but don’t stuff in as many words as possible. For example, if your new business sells cookies, it would be a good idea to have cookies as a central part of your domain, but having other menu items also might be a bit much. When it comes to keywords and domains, focus on what users will think.
  5. If your desired domain name is only available with the addition of hyphens (e.g. free-cookies.com), give it a pass. Hyphens will cheapen the name and users will never remember to use them.
  6. Keep the total length of the domain short with a target of under 15 characters. Even though modern browsers can handle long URL’s, they will not look great when they get truncated in the address bar on mobile browsers and in search results.
  7. Don’t register a name that will be really difficult to spell; especially, if you will use offline marketing that will drive type-in traffic. You can actually crowdsource test this with a survey by playing an audio clip of your domain/brand name and then ask people to type as a response what they think the spelling might be. If too many people can’t figure this out, avoid it.
  8. Optional: Depending on what kind of business you are launching you should also see if the social media handles are available. Knowem.com is a great tool to see what names are still free on the most common networks.
  9. Optional: If there are any misspellings of your brand or domain, you want to purchase these too. This can likely wait until you have some traction that requires protecting your brand, but it is worth some quick research to see if there are some domains that should be picked up sooner. com has a search engine to find these misspellings.
  10. Optional: Buy names that might have negative words appended to your brand like “sucks” or “complaint”. Most large companies with deep pockets purchase these, so if you are concerned about people squatting on “yourbrandsucks”.com and you can afford it, you should preemptively purchase it.

As a final note, you are never really stuck with domain until you have built a brand. Whenever you come up with a better name, you can always change your name if the situation warrants. Even if you are in a rush now to get your business started, its far better to follow the best practices above so you don’t end up making costly or irrevocable mistakes.




Most Asian Retailers Don’t Accept Returns and That’s a Mistake

Many Westerners and especially people from the US are surprised to learn that most retailers in Asia do not accept returns and there are very limited exchange policies. Essentially, when you make a decision to purchase a product, it’s a final sale and barring outright fraud (in countries that have consumer protection), there is no way to get your money back if you change your mind.

I found this particularly jarring only a few days after arriving in Singapore when I purchased a new mobile phone. The retail salesperson was very clear that there was no warranty, and once I inspected the phone after payment the deal was done. This was very unlike the long return policies even on electronics that I was used to at American retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and Costco.

I have discussed the need to always make final purchases, even on high ticket items, with many different people around Asia and most people believe that if retailers accepted returns, consumers would take advantage of them. I have no doubt that this is true, as people in America most certainly return things after using them, but I think the lack of returns actually hurts businesses more than it protects them. The same people that were convinced that flexible return policies would be the end of retailers in Asia also agreed that a lack of a return policy made them less likely to make impulsive purchases.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas analyzed the effects of return policies on purchase decisions and discovered that the value vs cost decision was quicker when the consumer felt like there did not need to be a strong commitment. Furthermore, once the purchase is made, the return becomes less likely as a result of the “endowment effect.” This theory from psychology simply states that people assign a higher value to something once it is already in their possession.

The research published in the Journal of Retailing stated

“Our supposition is that a longer period, i.e. a more lenient policy along the time dimension, reduces the urgency a consumer feels to make a return and thus the act of making a return can be delayed. ‘However, the longer a consumer remains in possession of the product the more salient their possession of the item becomes relative to their dissatisfaction with some aspect of the product, i.e. the reason they want to return the product in the first place. ‘It is surmised that this is due to an individual’s aversion to loss; that is, people dislike the prospect of losing something they possess so much so that they overvalue an item simply because it is currently in their possession.”

If this research is to be believed, retailers in Asia that refuse to accept returns are actually hurting themselves. Accepting returns will lead to higher revenue and less returns than they fear. As an added benefit, a flexible return policy might even be boon to customer loyalty.




Competition is Good for Google and the World

I recently wrote on SearchEngineLand that after many years of stability, Google’s share of the search market dipped a few percentage points, according to the October Comscore’s report on desktop search market rankings (Note, the Google search market share number has remained at the current level since the October decline).  Like many digital marketers, I don’t completely trust the Comscore rankings since I have always seen a different breakdown of search engine traffic in my own logs. To understand if Google’s market share truly decreased or if this was just a Comscore blip, I ran a survey on SurveyMonkey Audience.


In my survey, I asked people to share their primary desktop search engine, and here are the results:

Search Engine Market Share

I ran this same survey one year ago, and according to my survey, Google had 80% of the market. Based on my survey results, it would seem to be that Google is actually losing market share— and it’s not just Comscore’s reporting methodology. While a decline in market share for the first time in many years might not seem like it bodes well for Google and its shareholders, I actually think this is the best thing ever for Google and the whole Internet.


Keeping Google honest

Generally, Google runs a search engine that for the most part does what users need as evidenced by their market share. However, they make constant search improvements to bring Google closer to their ultimate goal of achieving Larry Page’s vision of a “perfect search engine,” which he described as “something that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”



Background of Google enhancements


While Google claims to make thousands of tweaks to their core website ranking algorithm every year, they only make a small amount of updates that fundamentally transform the Google search results. Some of the really big updates merit blog posts on the Google webmaster blog and receive official names (Kind of like hurricanes.)




In 2011, the Panda algorithm targeted low quality content that plagued the Google search result pages. This update was massive, and according to Google, it impacted more than 10% of all queries. Like every piece of Google’s search algorithm, they never detailed exactly what it looked for, but many people did notice that it did a pretty good job of removing the kinds of results that seemed artificial.




In 2012, Google released the Penguin algorithm, which was aimed at neutralizing websites that took advantage of artificial links to increase their websites’ rankings. Links pointing to a website have always been an important part of how Google determines a website’s ranking; and it was one of the key features that Google differentiated themselves from competitors and directories during the late 1990’s. Rather than earn links naturally, webmasters skirted the process by using a variety of means including exchanges of cash to acquire links. Again, Google never detailed exactly how this algorithm works, but it is meant to determine whether links have been earned “naturally” or “unnaturally” (as defined by Google of course).



Mobile friendliness, Hummingbird and Rank Brain


In addition, there have been a series of recent updates aimed at improving search results on mobile. One update specifically demoted websites on mobile search that were deemed not “mobile friendly”. Others like “Hummingbird” improved search, so people can get results faster, sometimes without even clicking a website result.


Most recently, Google launched an algorithm update they dubbed “Rank Brain”. Rank Brain uses artificial intelligence to interpret never before seen queries and serve up the best results for the searcher based on what Google thinks they are seeking.



Competition as a motivation

Constant improvements of their search engine, with the occasional rewrite of their core algorithms, is expensive, and the exercise isn’t just one of altruism. Without the pressure of competitors biting at their heels, they might be less motivated to create the perfect search engine.


International markets are a perfect test of a more competitor-free environment, and notably even some of their big algorithm updates take a bit of time to migrate out of the US. In Singapore, where I am currently living and working, Google has almost complete dominance. As an English-speaking country with near total penetration of the Internet, Google’s search results should be as “perfect” as they are in the US, but they are not.


Singapore as an example

I was recently searching on for a baby bassinet for my newborn. The first result is for the US based Toysrus.com website which does not even allow for shipping to Singapore. Imagine if this were to happen in the US, where the results for a Canadian or Mexican website that does not offer shipping to the US showeed up in US results. Users would scamper off to Bing or Yahoo or DuckDuckGo faster than a blink of an eye.



Which Country TLD’s Should You Register

If you run a business that is specifically targeted towards a single country or market, it might make sense to use a country code TLD (ccTLD) instead of a generic domain extension like .com, .org, or even .asia. Most countries have more than one domain extension option, so while you of course should buy all variations of your name, which one should be your primary domain name?

You could use Alexa’s top domains by country report or you could just visit the websites of the local telecoms, media and other locally well-known brands. If you are short on time, you can just copy what the major global brands have chosen. Surprisingly, there are very few major brands on Alexa’s top 500 domains list that have chosen to use a ccTLD strategy.


Copy the Big Guys

Nonetheless, there are still a few major global brands to copy and you can use these as guides to determine which TLD’s to use as the primary domain and which to redirect.  Rather than visit each domain manually, I took a list of every ccTLD in the world and concatenated it with the words “Google” and “Amazon.” I then appended https://www or http://www as appropriate to make complete URL’s. Finally, I uploaded these URL’s as list into ScreamingFrog.


The resulting crawl is very telling and has many insights:

  • Some TLD’s Google did not bother to put up either a page or a redirect (example: http://www.google.co.bi/ in Bolivia)
  • Some TLD’s have been created by ICANN but are not in use
  • Google missed what might seem like great names like Google.ly
  • Some domains have 301 redirect to a non-primary domain, others have a 302 and still others will redirect based on your location. Check outhttp://www.google.tv to see where it sends you.
  • Amazon does not own Amazon.net
  • Amazon uses only 302 redirects to other domains

Copying other companies should never be a primary business strategy; however, when it comes to appearing local to users and search engines, you probably can’t go wrong by copying Google.

Even if Google made the wrong choice when they set up their global domains, you can bet that have Google on a particular TLD is a strong vote of confidence for that extension. To give you a head start I put the list of all global TLD’s as well as the crawl results for Google and Amazon in a publicGoogle Sheet. Feel free to make a copy and good luck!

A variation of this post originally appeared on SearchEngineJournal


Is Black Friday a Relic of the Past?

For retailers all over the United States (and now even the world) the combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a sales event that companies begin planning for months in advance. The planning doesn’t just sit with the marketing teams since every team from security to HR to even the cleaning staff needs to pitch in to prepare for a time when stores are filled to capacity with customers grabbing products off the shelf. However, this year marked a huge shift in how customers took advantage of the holiday of discounts, since according to the National Retail Foundation more customers bought online than in the store. It will probably be a long time before we no longer see hours long lines of customers waiting to get into stores, but the transition to online shopping means that Black Friday’s days are numbered.

To try to understand this shift and how customers have adopted online shopping, I conducted a survey using SurveyMonkey Audience and received 380 responses. The respondents were chosen completely and random from a pool of millions of users and the sample size is representative for the population of the US at a 90% confidence level and a 4% margin of error.

Here are 3 key insights I learned from the survey:

  • 34% of users said they will be doing more than half of their holiday shopping online this year and this jumps to 48% for people that are current subscribers to Amazon Prime. Shockingly, despite the seeming big shift in shopping behavior from Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year there were still 29% of respondents that will be doing less than 10% of their shopping online. This is still quite a significant number, so it is certainly not yet time for retailers to shutter their physical locations and move their operations online.
  • 55% of respondents admitted to showrooming which is the practice of going to a retail store to physically examine a product and then purchasing it online. This indicates that for the majority of shoppers they may be completely comfortable buying and shopping online but they aren’t entirely confident in the product they will receive until they physically get to hold it.
  • When presented with a choice of the most important requirements in making online shopping decisions, price (47%) was the number one determinant and it was closely followed by free shipping (40%). Surprisingly, only 4% prioritized free return shipping; however, this does make sense when considering that users seem pretty confident on what the products is that they are buying.

There were also some interesting data points when I broke down the results by gender and income. Females (7%) prioritized the ability to return an online purchase to a physical store higher than males (5%). Showrooming was the highest in the 30-44 age bracket (62%), but even the lowest bucket of those 60+, 46% still admitted to showrooming.

The most important conclusion from the survey and this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday numbers is that consumer buying trends have shifted dramatically in a short amount of time. Whereas a few years ago, product marketing teams might have battled with retail purchasers to get an extra two feet of shelf space at a retail establishment, they now need to talk to a CRM campaign manager to have their products featured in a weekly sales email. The rise of mobile and the connected home has made online shopping so convenient, purchasers can even buy with just a quick click of the Amazon’s Dash button. Based on the success of Amazon’s efforts at making it so easy to shop it is likely that other online retailers will try to do the same. Nonetheless, there is not a complete transformation as there are still shoppers who are shopping in physical stores so Black Friday isn’t dead yet, but it will be soon.

Part of Black Friday’s appeal is that it comes on a day that many people are off from from work and spending time with the family. If customers can make all of their holiday purchases while sitting in their living room or at their office computer, they can go shopping at anytime that is convenient for them. In a world where people walk into a store to check out a product and then buy it online to save a few dollars, competition is everywhere. Customers aren’t just looking for deals on one day, they are looking for deals every time they go shopping. Even more they aren’t just trying to save money and time when they buy holiday gifts, they want the same benefits when they buy their regular household goods too.  What should scare retailers even more than Black Friday dying is that in this new paradigm, every day becomes Black Friday.


ISO country codes

Language family Language name Native name 639-1
Northwest Caucasian Abkhaz аҧсуа бызшәа, аҧсшәа ab
Afro-Asiatic Afar Afaraf aa
Indo-European Afrikaans Afrikaans af
Niger–Congo Akan Akan ak
Indo-European Albanian Shqip sq
Afro-Asiatic Amharic አማርኛ am
Afro-Asiatic Arabic
Indo-European Aragonese aragonés an
Indo-European Armenian Հայերեն hy
Indo-European Assamese অসমীয়া as
Northeast Caucasian Avaric авар мацӀ, магӀарул мацӀ av
Indo-European Avestan avesta ae
Aymaran Aymara aymar aru ay
Turkic Azerbaijani azərbaycan dili az
Niger–Congo Bambara bamanankan bm
Turkic Bashkir башҡорт теле ba
Language isolate Basque euskara, euskera eu
Indo-European Belarusian беларуская мова be
Indo-European Bengali, Bangla বাংলা bn
Indo-European Bihari भोजपुरी bh
Creole Bislama Bislama bi
Indo-European Bosnian bosanski jezik bs
Indo-European Breton brezhoneg br
Indo-European Bulgarian български език bg
Sino-Tibetan Burmese ဗမာစာ my
Indo-European Catalan català ca
Austronesian Chamorro Chamoru ch
Northeast Caucasian Chechen нохчийн мотт ce
Niger–Congo Chichewa, Chewa, Nyanja chiCheŵa, chinyanja ny
Sino-Tibetan Chinese 中文 (Zhōngwén), 汉语, 漢語 zh
Turkic Chuvash чӑваш чӗлхи cv
Indo-European Cornish Kernewek kw
Indo-European Corsican corsu, lingua corsa co
Algonquian Cree ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ cr
Indo-European Croatian hrvatski jezik hr
Indo-European Czech čeština, český jazyk cs
Indo-European Danish dansk da
Indo-European Divehi, Dhivehi, Maldivian
Indo-European Dutch Nederlands, Vlaams nl
Sino-Tibetan Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ dz
Indo-European English English en
Constructed Esperanto Esperanto eo
Uralic Estonian eesti, eesti keel et
Niger–Congo Ewe Eʋegbe ee
Indo-European Faroese føroyskt fo
Austronesian Fijian vosa Vakaviti fj
Uralic Finnish suomi, suomen kieli fi
Indo-European French français, langue française fr
Niger–Congo Fula, Fulah, Pulaar, Pular Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular ff
Indo-European Galician galego gl
South Caucasian Georgian ქართული ka
Indo-European German Deutsch de
Indo-European Greek (modern) ελληνικά el
Tupian Guaraní Avañe’ẽ gn
Indo-European Gujarati ગુજરાતી gu
Creole Haitian, Haitian Creole Kreyòl ayisyen ht
Afro-Asiatic Hausa
(Hausa) هَوُسَ
Afro-Asiatic Hebrew (modern)
Niger–Congo Herero Otjiherero hz
Indo-European Hindi हिन्दी, हिंदी hi
Austronesian Hiri Motu Hiri Motu ho
Uralic Hungarian magyar hu
Constructed Interlingua Interlingua ia
Austronesian Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia id
Constructed Interlingue Originally called Occidental; then Interlingue after WWII ie
Indo-European Irish Gaeilge ga
Niger–Congo Igbo Asụsụ Igbo ig
Eskimo–Aleut Inupiaq Iñupiaq, Iñupiatun ik
Constructed Ido Ido io
Indo-European Icelandic Íslenska is
Indo-European Italian italiano it
Eskimo–Aleut Inuktitut ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ iu
Japonic Japanese 日本語 (にほんご) ja
Austronesian Javanese basa Jawa jv
Eskimo–Aleut Kalaallisut, Greenlandic kalaallisut, kalaallit oqaasii kl
Dravidian Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ kn
Nilo-Saharan Kanuri Kanuri kr
Indo-European Kashmiri कश्मीरी, كشميري‎ ks
Turkic Kazakh қазақ тілі kk
Austroasiatic Khmer ខ្មែរ, ខេមរភាសា, ភាសាខ្មែរ km
Niger–Congo Kikuyu, Gikuyu Gĩkũyũ ki
Niger–Congo Kinyarwanda Ikinyarwanda rw
Turkic Kyrgyz Кыргызча, Кыргыз тили ky
Uralic Komi коми кыв kv
Niger–Congo Kongo Kikongo kg
Koreanic Korean 한국어, 조선어 ko
Indo-European Kurdish Kurdî, كوردی‎ ku
Niger–Congo Kwanyama, Kuanyama Kuanyama kj
Indo-European Latin latine, lingua latina la
Indo-European Luxembourgish, Letzeburgesch Lëtzebuergesch lb
Niger–Congo Ganda Luganda lg
Indo-European Limburgish, Limburgan, Limburger Limburgs li
Niger–Congo Lingala Lingála ln
Tai–Kadai Lao ພາສາລາວ lo
Indo-European Lithuanian lietuvių kalba lt
Niger–Congo Luba-Katanga Tshiluba lu
Indo-European Latvian latviešu valoda lv
Indo-European Manx Gaelg, Gailck gv
Indo-European Macedonian македонски јазик mk
Austronesian Malagasy fiteny malagasy mg
Austronesian Malay bahasa Melayu, بهاس ملايو‎ ms
Dravidian Malayalam മലയാളം ml
Afro-Asiatic Maltese Malti mt
Austronesian Māori te reo Māori mi
Indo-European Marathi (Marāṭhī) मराठी mr
Austronesian Marshallese Kajin M̧ajeļ mh
Mongolic Mongolian Монгол хэл mn
Austronesian Nauru Ekakairũ Naoero na
Dené–Yeniseian Navajo, Navaho Diné bizaad nv
Niger–Congo Northern Ndebele isiNdebele nd
Indo-European Nepali नेपाली ne
Niger–Congo Ndonga Owambo ng
Indo-European Norwegian Bokmål Norsk bokmål nb
Indo-European Norwegian Nynorsk Norsk nynorsk nn
Indo-European Norwegian Norsk no
Sino-Tibetan Nuosu ꆈꌠ꒿ Nuosuhxop ii
Niger–Congo Southern Ndebele isiNdebele nr
Indo-European Occitan occitan, lenga d’òc oc
Algonquian Ojibwe, Ojibwa ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᒧᐎᓐ oj
Indo-European Old Church SlavonicChurch SlavonicOld Bulgarian ѩзыкъ словѣньскъ cu
Afro-Asiatic Oromo Afaan Oromoo om
Indo-European Oriya ଓଡ଼ିଆ or
Indo-European Ossetian, Ossetic ирон æвзаг os
Indo-European Panjabi, Punjabi ਪੰਜਾਬੀ, پنجابی‎ pa
Indo-European Pāli पाऴि pi
Indo-European Persian (Farsi)
Indo-European Polish język polski, polszczyzna pl
Indo-European Pashto, Pushto
Indo-European Portuguese português pt
Quechuan Quechua Runa Simi, Kichwa qu
Indo-European Romansh rumantsch grischun rm
Niger–Congo Kirundi Ikirundi rn
Indo-European Romanian limba română ro
Sino-Tibetan Rothongua 荣同话 rh
Indo-European Russian Русский ru
Indo-European Sanskrit (Saṁskṛta) संस्कृतम् sa
Indo-European Sardinian sardu sc
Indo-European Sindhi सिन्धी, سنڌي، سندھی‎ sd
Uralic Northern Sami Davvisámegiella se
Austronesian Samoan gagana fa’a Samoa sm
Creole Sango yângâ tî sängö sg
Indo-European Serbian српски језик sr
Indo-European Scottish Gaelic, Gaelic Gàidhlig gd
Niger–Congo Shona chiShona sn
Indo-European Sinhala, Sinhalese සිංහල si
Indo-European Slovak slovenčina, slovenský jazyk sk
Indo-European Slovene slovenski jezik, slovenščina sl
Afro-Asiatic Somali Soomaaliga, af Soomaali so
Niger–Congo Southern Sotho Sesotho st
Indo-European Spanish español es
Austronesian Sundanese Basa Sunda su
Niger–Congo Swahili Kiswahili sw
Niger–Congo Swati SiSwati ss
Indo-European Swedish svenska sv
Dravidian Tamil தமிழ் ta
Dravidian Telugu తెలుగు te
Indo-European Tajik тоҷикӣ, toçikī, تاجیکی‎ tg
Tai–Kadai Thai ไทย th
Afro-Asiatic Tigrinya ትግርኛ ti
Sino-Tibetan Tibetan Standard, Tibetan, Central བོད་ཡིག bo
Turkic Turkmen Türkmen, Түркмен tk
Austronesian Tagalog Wikang Tagalog, ᜏᜒᜃᜅ᜔ ᜆᜄᜎᜓᜄ᜔ tl
Niger–Congo Tswana Setswana tn
Austronesian Tonga (Tonga Islands) faka Tonga to
Turkic Turkish Türkçe tr
Niger–Congo Tsonga Xitsonga ts
Turkic Tatar татар теле, tatar tele tt
Niger–Congo Twi Twi tw
Austronesian Tahitian Reo Tahiti ty
Turkic Uyghur ئۇيغۇرچە‎, Uyghurche ug
Indo-European Ukrainian українська мова uk
Indo-European Urdu
Turkic Uzbek Oʻzbek, Ўзбек, أۇزبېك‎ uz
Niger–Congo Venda Tshivenḓa ve
Austroasiatic Vietnamese Tiếng Việt vi
Constructed Volapük Volapük vo
Indo-European Walloon walon wa
Indo-European Welsh Cymraeg cy
Niger–Congo Wolof Wollof wo
Indo-European Western Frisian Frysk fy
Niger–Congo Xhosa isiXhosa xh
Indo-European Yiddish
Niger–Congo Yoruba Yorùbá yo
Tai–Kadai Zhuang, Chuang Saɯ cueŋƅ, Saw cuengh za
Niger–Congo Zulu isiZulu zu

Don’t Sell Soccer Balls When Customers Play Football

There are enough marketing slogans and clichés to fill the hundreds of business books produced every year. Most of them you can disregard and just focus on what works for your particular business and industry. However, if you conduct any commerce across borders here’s a strategy you can’t afford to ignore: “Don’t sell soccer balls when your customers play football.”

What this simply means is, name and describe your products exactly the way your customers would refer to them. If you make soccer balls, no international customer would ever find you, even if you make the world’s best soccer ball, unless you refer to your soccer products with the word “football”, as most international countries call the sport.

It makes no difference whether you are marketing online or offline; with organic search or paid media. If you don’t use the language of your customers you can’t possibly access them or sell to them.

For example, Urinal is a product that promotes urinary tract health sold in the Czech Republic. While this product might sell well in its home market, it will be very challenging to market it in most English-speaking markets without renaming the product something a bit more benign.


Handy, the German slang for mobile phones is another example where proper international naming is crucial. In English-speaking countries handy just means useful. Without some naming research, an English-speaking product manager or content marketer might not realize that handy is a word that they should include in any German targeted mobile phone product descriptions.


So how can you make sure you that you are using the right words when targeting an international audience? Here’s five ways, which are easy and very inexpensive:

1. Mechanical Turk

Post an image of your product as a “HIT” on Mechanical Turk targeted to your focus country/language and ask people to describe the image in a few words. Experiment with per HIT pricing, but you can get quality results for less than $10.

2. Freelancers

Hire two native speaking contractors on a freelance site like Odesk/Freelancer/Craigslist and ask them each to describe your product. The descriptions should be fairly similar, so a merge of both descriptions will give you the best words to describe your items.

3. Adwords Test Campaign

Run an Adwords campaign in your target country for your product using all possible keywords as exact match types. For ad copy, create different product names as headlines, but leave the rest of the ad the same across all variations. Allow Adwords to evenly rotate the ads. Once you have achieved some sort of significance on impressions, the ad copy with the most clicks will likely be your best product name.

4. Adwords Display Planner

Plug your first keyword into the Adwords Display Planner and choose only your target country and then click, get placement ideas. On the next screen, click “placements” under the individual targeting tabs. Check out the website ideas and see if they are related to your products. Repeat this search for all of your word possibilities until you find the competitive set of sites that are most related to your products.

5. Alibaba
Search your keyword possibilities on Alibaba.com, China’s, and possibly the world’s, leading eCommerce site. You can see all products listed on Alibaba from the same search box; for example an English search will also bring up German language listings. You can audit the listings to get a sense of the most common ways of describing your products. You can also try this on Ebay, but you will need to use the specific Ebay domain for your targeted country. (E.g. ebay.de for Germany).


If you have any more ideas or tools on how to find the best ways to target a global audience with the most optimum product names and descriptions, please do share.




Four Ways To Check International Rankings for Free

There are countless posts published on SEO blogs declaring search engine rank checking is dead, and ranking reports should no longer be shared as a KPI. While I wholeheartedly agree that rank tracking should not be the primary metric one uses to determine SEO success or failure, rankings reports still play an important part in the role of an SEO.

In my own role, I no longer see the benefit of frequent rank checking on a mass scale, but I do conduct many manual queries to better understand who is ranking on some of my favorite keywords. In this post, I will share four ways I get accurate international rankings for free.

Benefits of Rank Checking

Obviously, the goal in creating any piece of web content–provided of course that it is exposed to search engines–is to generate organic search traffic. Without checking rankings, there is no way to be certain that any piece has been correctly targeted for the desired terms. Certainly, you can look at organic traffic in your analytics software, but with Google not sharing keyword data you wouldn’t know whether the traffic is coming from the intended terms. Webmaster Tools will tell you some of the story, but the keyword report often lags and is subject to account personalization.

Automated and manual rank checking in the US is very simple as you can type your queries into a search box or use a variety of software solutions. The real rank checking challenge is to understand how you are doing on non-US Google searches.  Discovering how you rank in the UK is not nearly as simple as going to google.co.uk from an incognito window. Even though your personalized data is not included in Google’s query processing to understand the query intent, you are still physically located in the US (or whatever country) and this is going to bias the results away from what an actual in-country searcher would see.

Rank Checking for International SEO

Additionally, international SEO presents some very complex challenges for someone who does not know the language they might be targeting in an SEO campaign, so knowing precise search engine rankings becomes even more important.  You won’t be as familiar with your list of target keywords as you are with the keywords in your own language, and you won’t have as strong of a grasp of the keyword modifiers and synonyms that you should also be targeting.

Much like domestic SEO, looking into your analytics software to see how much traffic you are receiving is not going to be that helpful.  You can, for example, see traffic is increasing in a target country, but you won’t have very much insight into whether branded or non-brand queries are driving the traffic. Also, if you are in the beginning stages of an international campaign and just need to prove the value of a new piece of non-English content, you will not have the data you need to prove a desired ROI.

Four ways to check international rankings for nearly free

Luckily, there are a few ways to check Google rankings for free or almost free that will show you search results just like any in-country user.

  •  Adwords preview tool.  Although this tool is designed to show if your ad is currently appearing for a specific query term, as with most of Google’s paid search tools, there is an SEO use. The tool allows you to choose the specific Google TLD, country, and city you are targeting. You can see how rankings differ on Google.CA for a specific query in Toronto, ON or Montreal, QB.  For added fun, you can see what might be ranking on Google.co.uk for the same Canadian locations and notice how the rankings might change slightly. You can also choose between desktop and mobile search. These results are completely generic with no personalization and would be very similar to what a user in your target country would see. 

    Adwords Preview Tool

    Adwords Preview Tool screenshot 4/29/2014


  • Append parameters to your search query string. Search using your targeted Google TLD (e.g. Google.at for Austria) and then append parameters onto your Google query URL. The query URL tells Google what language interface you are you are using and the physical location of the user.  Here’s an example query string: https://www.google.pt|/search?q=wufoo|&gl=GB|&hl=es&
    Google Search

    Google Parameters in Search Screenshot 4/29/2014

    The first part https://www.google.pt shows that you are conducting a search on Google.pt – Google’s Portuguese TLD. The next section “search?q=” is your actual query. After that is where you would append “gl” which is your Google location. Google uses the two-letter ISO country code for this parameter. (Find the full list here). In my query, I am searching in the UK, which uses the ISO code of “GB.”

    Lastly, “hl=” is where you can append the interface language of your search. This parameter uses the two letter ISO language codes. (Find the full list here.) In my query just to mix things up, I am using Spanish that has the language code of “es.” The interface parameter should match a language of the country you are targeting as the results do change by interface. If you do not add an interface code, the default will be the interface of the Google TLD where you are conducting the query. To ensure that you are seeing the results as the actual user that you are targeting, it is helpful to change the interface language in countries where there are multiple languages as there are in Canada, Switzerland, and many other countries.

  • Browser Based Proxy search. Use a proxy plugin like FoxyProxy on either Firefox or Chrome and use public in-country proxies in the plugin. There are many free public proxies you can use, but many of them will be slow and unreliable. For a few dollars per month, you can subscribe to a proxy service in your target countries and gain access to proxies that are less likely to be on Google’s blacklist. Once you have set up your proxy, use an incognito window to check your IP address location to ensure you are indeed accessing the Internet via your proxy. Once you have confirmed that you are behind a proxy, conduct manual Google searches via the correct Google TLD for your target country. (Ideally, Google should redirect you to the local Google TLD for your proxy country, but it doesn’t hurt to just go there directly.)
  • Access the web via a proxy. Subscribe to an enterprise proxy service that gives you multiple IP addresses for your target country, and run the proxy via your network settings on your computer. This will put all Internet traffic on your computer behind the proxy IP, and you can then run automated ranking tools like Rank Tracker, Authority Labs, and Advanced Web Rankings.

If any of the above methods are too time consuming for you, you can always subscribe to the many paid web-based ranking tools and receive monthly, weekly, or daily reports. The cost will increase based on how many countries, search engines, and report frequency you need. Even with the web-based ranking tools, you may still have to go the manual route just to confirm or screenshot any of the rankings you are seeing in your rankings reports.

I hope that these rank checking methods help with your international SEO efforts, and I look forward to hearing additional ideas in the comments.



Multilingual SEO: It’s Actually a Pretty Big Challenge for Google to Determine the Language of a Query

Originally published at SearchEngineJournal

There are many words which are spelled the same but have different meanings based on language and location.  A very simple example is the word “football”. In the US and Canada refers to a game played with a ball that is thrown in the air and carried towards a goal; while, in the UK and Australia it refers to a game that is played by kicking a ball into a goal (also known as ‘soccer’ to Americans). So, how does Google determine which meaning of a specific word a user is after?

Query Challenge

Every time someone conducts one of these ambiguous searches on Google, Google’s algorithm immediately needs to figure out the preferred language of the user to just understand the category of results that should be returned before even determining the rankings of those results.

While the word football is spelled the same by all English speakers, a human audience would not know which type of game is being referenced in a conversation unless they knew where the person talking about the game came from. In both games, there are similar features like a great deal of running, passing, and even goal kicking.


Screenshot of Google.com vs Google.com.mx. 5-30-14

Screenshot of Google.com vs Google.com.mx. 5-30-14

Spoken Advantages

Within a very short spoken conversation or statement there would probably not even be any semantic clues that could help the listener figure out which kind of football was being referenced.  If someone just asked, “What time is the football game?” or “Do you play football?”, the answer would be dependent on the specific kind of football. (When listening to ambiguous phrases, there may be the prevalence of an accent, but this advantage will not exist for typed phrases in a search box.) However, if the conversation is expanded the listener will eventually be able to figure out whether the primary topic is American football or soccer.

Similar to spoken conversation, in longer queries, Google will also use adjoining words to the ambiguous term to help refine the query. A query like “football pitch” would mean that a user is looking for soccer, and “football field goal” would mean that it is an American (or Canadian) football query. Furthermore, Google uses additional query words combined with timing to understand the query. “What time is the football game?” searched on an NFL game day Sunday would be a great indicator of the query intent of the user.

One Word Query

When the query is just one word, this becomes far more challenging. Figuring out which kind of sport a user is seeking is certainly a challenge, but at least both variations are referring to a game.  Google could just return results for both definitions of football, but that would not be a very good user experience. An American seeking the NFL would not understand why there are results for soccer in the search page.

Google is able to get away with returning different categories of results in ambiguous queries like “breadcrumbs” because a user understands that Breadcrumbs could have multiple meanings. In the screenshot below, Google is returning results for recipes, the breadcrumb design element, a product, and a book. All of these make sense, and there is no sense that Google failed to interpret the query.  Adding a result from another culture or language is a lot more jarring.

Breadcrumb Query on Google

Google search for Breadcrumbs Screenshot 5-30

This is an even greater challenge for the dozens of examples where a word means one thing in a language, but has a different meaning entirely in another language.  In English, a “gift” is something nice you give to people, while in German, a gift is poison. In France, “pain” is bread, while in English, it is something we try very hard to avoid. (For some off-color examples, have a look at this Reddit thread.)

Language Prioritization for User Experience

If Google were to return results across multiple languages, the user would probably think there was something wrong with Google and use another search engine. It is even more important in these cases that Google correctly determines the user’s preferred language and returns only relevant results.

If there are other words that accompany the multi-use word, Google can use these to match the user’s language and return the best result. As before, the real challenge is when there is only a one-word query.

To try to parse the user’s language, Google is going to heavily rely on all of the user’s past history with search and most of the time this will be all they need. A user that usually searches in English will most likely want an English result.  A query for “football” that comes fairly close to a query for “Steelers” would be a strong indication that the user is not interested in soccer results.  Going even deeper into the full user history a user that clicked on World Cup results in the past would probably be interested in Soccer results. For those that are fans of conspiracy theories, Google could potentially use data like previous history of watching sports videos on YouTube or time spent on sports site with Doubleclick retargeting pixels to give them a more complete picture of the user.  (See Google’s ad preferences [Canadian link]  for what they know about your individual activities)

Five Levers to Determine Language Preferences

Nonetheless, even with all the data they have gathered on users there will be many instances where past history will not help. For these instances, Google looks at five different areas to help them determine how they interpret the query.  (An Adwords support page claims to only use user settings at least for Adwords, but other language ads will more than likely accompany whatever language they determine to be the query.)

User Account Preferences

If the user has an account with Google, at the time they setup the account they were either forced to choose a language and location in the sign-up process or they were defaulted into one.  If a user’s settings declare their preferences to be English, and US, Google will first assume that the likely language of any query will be American English. These preferences also populate the default search preferences, which can be found under search settings on a Google search page.

If a Google account user decided they wanted to start seeing results in another language or locale they would need to manually change their language preferences. These can be changed just for search under the search settings options or for all Google products under the account settings. Changing language and location preferences will impact anywhere a user conducts logged in searches including other computers and mobile devices.

Browser Settings

Since not all Internet users have Google accounts or always logged-in, if they are Google account holders, Google’s first backup for account level language settings is a similar setting at the browser level. In all modern browsers, there is a default setting which declares a user’s language preferences. Google will use a browser’s location and location preference as the primary clue for a user’s language intent.

In most cases, the language setting is defaulted to how the user installed the browser. If the browser was downloaded in English from a US mirror, it will probably be set to English and US.

For Chrome and Firefox, these settings can be adjusted at the browser level, however, to change settings for IE and Safari, this actually needs to be done at the system level – a pretty big change to just do some Google testing.

Chrome language preferences

Chrome language preferences Screenshot on 5-30-14


Often times, just relying on either Google account or browser settings doesn’t give Google’s algorithm complete confidence in the desired language of a query. To add a higher degree of certainty, they will see where the user is physically located.

Generally, Google relies on physical locations of a user a great deal in order to better target search results.  A user in the US that searches for “Giants” on the East Coast of the United States will see more New York Giants results on the first Google results  – even during the NFL off-season, while a West Coast user will see more San Francisco Giants results – even during the MLB off-season.

For many queries, there won’t be a great degree of difference in the search results conducted on Google.com from various locations, but there will be some queries that see some major shifts. For example, a query for the word “football” will be nearly identical in the US, Canada, and the UK; while, a query for the word “holiday” will be very different in the UK than it is from the US.

TLD of Google Domain

While physical location is an important clue for a user’s language intent, it will very rarely override any of the account or browser level language settings.  However, the Google TLD (e.g. Google.com vs Google.co.uk) where the query was conducted can override these settings.



Google.com.br screenshot 5-30

Typically, a logged-in user will default to Google.com even if they are traveling outside the US. A non-logged-in user will get redirected to whatever the local Google TLD is even if their browser settings indicate that they prefer English and US.

TLD is a very important factor in determining in what language to return results, and if there was a hierarchy in Google’s language determination processing, it could either be first or simply go hand-in-hand with location targeting.  The TLD can one of the best clues Google has for language intent if the user intentionally chose to the specific TLD.

For example, a user in the US who conducted a search on Google.com.br very likely would like to see Portuguese results. On the other hand, it can be a poor clue if the user was simply directed to that TLD by their location as a traveler might have been. In the traveler example, an US resident traveling in Germany that conducted a Google search while logged-out from their account would see Google.de by default simply because of their location. Google relying on the TLD as a determinant of their language intent might end up giving the user poor results.

If this user searched the word “handy” they would see results related to mobile phones because this is what Germans use to refer to a cell phone. The user might very well have been interested in the types of results that Google would have shown in the US, but did not get to see them because of an incorrect language choice.

When Google uses TLD for language assumptions, they always default to the primary language of a country. In Canada where both English and French are official languages, a query for the word “baguette” would return English results even though it is technically a French word. The same defaults would be occur in Switzerland where even though German, French, and Italian are widely spoken, Google always assumes that a query is in German whenever there is any doubt.

Query Parsing and Matching

Lastly, Google tries to break down the word itself looking for any clues as to the language. The algorithm matches the word itself against word matches in the most common languages. Once a language is matched via a keyword, all results will most likely be in that specific language. This is fairly simple when the word is spelled correctly and only matches a single popular language. It is a bit more complicated when it is not a perfect match.

In these cases, Google will look for things like statistical matches towards a misspelling in a specific language versus another. The word “football” can be spelled “futbal” “futbol” and “futball”, so Google will try to guess using all the rest of the rest clues to determine if the user made a spelling mistake or whether results in another language were actually sought. For any technically minded readers, more details about this process can be gleaned from Google’spatent on the topic.


SEO’s typically focus on the aspects of Google’s algorithm that decide in what position a webpage should be ranked. In reality, Google’s algorithm is far more complex than an ordering of content based on scores. They actually need to conduct a real-time analysis on every query to determine the user’s language before they can even start retrieving sites from the index and determining the ranking for each of these pages.

I hope this brief look into how Google determines a queries language gave you some interesting food for thought on how hard Google works to satisfy a user and provide a high level of quality in their results. I have not found any Google source which shares how they determine ranking, and the findings above came from my own research. If you have discovered or just know something different, I would love to hear more about it.


Featured image via Flickr


Neglecting Global SEO is Like Only Optimizing for Bing

Originally published at SearchEngineJournal

Introduction: This post is primarily targeted to marketers in the US and other English-speaking countries. Those of you that hail from other locales may be more accustomed to thinking globally.

Prioritize Google vs Bing

In just about every country in the world Google is by far the dominant search engine by market share. Bing is still a great search engine with features like Facebook integration that even Google doesn’t have. However, after five years, Microsoft still has yet to gain significant market share against Google. Microsoft’s challenge might be less a product problem than it is a marketing problem. In blind ‘taste tests’ run by the SurveyMonkey Audience last year, there were a significant amount of users who chose Bing results over Google; nonetheless, Microsoft can’t seem to get the mass of users to start Binging instead of Googling.

Given this reality, most marketers allocate the majority of their organic marketing efforts to optimizing for Google, and when there is a conflict between optimizing for Google or Bing, it would make the most sense to prioritize for Google. Google has the largest market share, so it is just smart economics to go where the most revenue or users can be found.

The same logic of prioritizing optimization efforts should apply to all optimization efforts on your sites. Even the countries and languages you choose to target should consider where you will find the most users and revenue. Restricting your audience to just the United States or only English speakers could be as foolish as only optimizing for Yahoo or Bing.

Internet Population

While the Internet may have been invented in the United States, the US no longer has the greatest share of Internet users. In 1996, 66% of all Internet users in the world were based in the US. In 2014, US Internet users comprised less than 10% of the world’s 2.4 billion Internet users.  The US is a distant #2 behind China’s 640 million Internet users — twice the number of actual people in the US! Additionally, China has very low Internet penetration at just 40%, which means there is still significant room for growth.  India, also in the top five countries with the largest Internet populations, has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world at just 19%. Given the sheer size of the Indian population and their current growth rates, it won’t be long before India surpasses the United States as well.

Internet Penetration

Not only is the world’s greatest concentration of Internet users not in the United States, the US isn’t even the most connected country with just about 86% of the population currently connected to the Internet. The US lags other English-speaking countries like the UK and Canada, where penetrations is close to 90 percent.  There are even multiple countries around the world such as the Qatar, Iceland, the Netherlands and Finland with close to 100 percent penetration.

This means your website could transcend borders, but if it is only targeted to US customers, you are potentially neglecting 90 percent of the world.

You can immediately address the targeting by offering global shipping if you sell a physical product (when allowed by law) or creating more generic content if your website product is content. Focusing on the US user only is just like optimizing for Yahoo (for the sake of this analogy let’s pretend it has its own search algorithm!) and its 10 percent user base. Expand your marketing horizons beyond a small subset of users and open up your site’s audience to non-US users.

Global SEO

Now let’s say, your website is in English but isn’t entirely US focused. You might offer global shipping, but only have shipping instructions in English. Your spelling and references are generic enough that they make sense to anyone that reads and understands English. While English is the lingua franca of the entire world, you may be surprised to discover that as a first (primary) language, English is only the third most popular language behind Mandarin and Spanish. Just 6 percent of people in the entire world speak and read English natively.

Multilingual SEO

Luckily, some of the larger Internet population countries speak English, so having English only on your site still allows you to effectively target the 12 percent of the world’s Internet users that live in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and some smaller countries that count English as their official language. Since there are also people in the world that might understand English as a second language (English is the most popular language on the web), your reach might go up to about 20-25 percent. (This is a guess, but please share in the comments if you have a better way of calculating actual reach.) Continuing with the search engine analogy, targeting one quarter of the world’s Internet users is not even as effective as only optimizing for Bing’s algorithm.

According to Comscore’s latest search market penetration report, Bing and Yahoo combined have 29 percent of the search engine market share. It doesn’t make sense to prioritize search engine optimization efforts for Bing’s algorithm while potentially ignoring Google’s 62 percent market share and, with the same logic, it doesn’t make sense only to target English users and potentially ignore 75 percent of the world’s Internet users.

comscore market sahre

screenshot 7-29-14

Expanding the targeting of your site outside of the US and to other languages doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as allowing global shipping and making phone support available during the daytime for other countries. For non-English traffic, just a few translated pages can go a long way to increasing your global traffic.

In a future post, I will dive deeper into how to best internationalize a site, but in the meantime just apply the same logic to country/language targeting as you would for all other optimization efforts. Follow the money.


Featured Image: Moyan Brenn via Flickr Creative Commons

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