The United Kingdom offers expansion opportunities for United States-based ecommerce merchants. But to do it correctly requires much thought and planning. There are domain name issues, search-engine-optimization strategies, localization considerations, and more.
Consumers in the U.K. will spend almost £70 billion online in 2011 — according to Forrester Research. This makes the U.K. one of the largest online markets in Europe.
We asked a U.K.-based ecommerce consultant for his views on expanding into the U.K. market. The consultant is James Agate, founder of Skyrocket SEO, an SEO firm based in Chester, England — near Manchester. Agate is a graduate of University of Chester with a degree in marketing and business management. He’s worked in Internet marketing since 2004.
Agate’s suggestions follow, below.
Domain Name, Web Structure
“Larger merchants typically opt for a separate U.K. business, with its own website, domain and infrastructure. But smaller merchants cannot usually afford this.
“The correct method to structure an international website is to opt for geographical subdirectories — such as http://youronlineshop.com/uk — rather than subdomains or even separated domains. This is because you can then invest time and resources into search engine optimization on one domain; all your geo-targeted pages will benefit from the overall domain authority. The subdirectory is then free to become its own highly targeted, localized ‘website within a website.’ The subdirectory approach is also often the cheapest method to structure your content.
“Manual redirect is common, with a global landing page where users select their locations. But, even though a lot of big companies do this, they really shouldn’t. I always suggest an automatic redirect of the user, which is less hassle for the user and has better SEO benefits.
“However, an IP address location isn’t always correct and users might not want the U.K. version of a website even if they are visiting from the U.K. Therefore, counter any potential issues with clear ways to switch between different geographical versions of the website if necessary.
“From an SEO perspective, make sure your IP delivery rules are overridden for search engine spiders. This is because your U.S. home page is still likely to be the true home page of your business. And even though search engine spiders — which crawl your website — often come from a U.S.-based IP, you don’t want to cause any confusion when it comes to Google trying to index your website by redirecting to the wrong content.
“A content delivery network will dramatically increase the speed of your website for U.K.-based customers. A faster website means more sales and quicker page-loading-times, which impacts SEO as Google sees it as one factor when assessing where to rank your website.”
Localizing to the U.K. Market
“Smaller ecommerce merchants should tweak their existing content to match the market they are targeting. If you are bringing your online store to the U.K., note:
- Different spellings;
- Different expressions and colloquialisms;
- Different keywords.
“Ensure any website targeted towards a specific location like the U.K. is correctly localized in the sense that content is well-written, free from spelling mistakes — yes, American spelling would be incorrect to someone from the U.K. — and generally suited and useful to someone considering a purchase from the U.K.
“Consider acquiring a physical address here in the U.K. — even if it is just a virtual address — as well as a localized phone number, which can redirect to your U.S. office. A U.K. address and customer-service telephone number will give you credibility with U.K. consumers”
U.K. SEO, Keyword Research
“The U.K. is often a very different marketplace to the U.S. This means that consumers in the U.K. may be searching in different ways for your products. So, remember to select ‘United Kingdom’ as an option when using any keyword research tools.
“Localize your link-building efforts by encouraging links from relevant U.K.-based websites. This geographical targeting will help strengthen your position in the U.K. search results, as other U.K. websites are linking to you.
“For U.K.-based link-building ideas, consider U.K.-based shopping directories, press releases to U.K. media, and blogger-outreach campaigns.”
“Google Analytics makes it easy to see your site’s performance in any given country. By selecting a country, you can learn about the site’s performance there, including average revenue figures — provided you have ecommerce tracking enabled — as well as how long visitors from the U.K. spend on the site.
“However, also create a separate profile — which you can filter within Google Analytics — to better monitor your performance in the U.K. To do this, create another profile for the same domain within your Analytics account and then use this tutorial from Google to create filters.
“My recommended filters are (a) ‘include traffic only to the subdirectory’ (that you created to target the U.K.) and (b) ‘include traffic only from the U.K.’ created using the custom filter option.”