I found myself asking just such a question when talking with a client of a multinational company. The problem they described to me sounded hard to solve. They worked in the UK office of this Web site, and were constantly bothered by the fact that the UK pages for their product offerings landed on page three (or even deeper) of the search results, while the US pages for their company were at the top of the list, even for UK searchers. They needed my help to get the UK pages to the top for UK searchers, but were flummoxed as to how to do it. The US site was much larger, with exponentially more links and clicks and fully deserved its #1 position. I scratched my head, at first, but soon started asking more questions.
I asked whether they had been in touch with the folks running the US site to see what could be worked out, but that path was fruitless. Both the US and UK sites were being measured by traffic to the pages, so the US team was in no mood to give up any of their traffic.
I asked whether this problem affected others of the company's country sites where many searches were in English (Canada, Australia, India, and others), so that they were being led to the US site, also. They said that it was a common problem, but only Australia had its own country site because the other markets were happy to use the US site to save the expenses of creating and maintaining their own sites. The practical implications of this situation is that any pressure they would bring to bear on the US team would be theirs alone, or at best, theirs and Australia's, which didn't seem like a powerful political position.
I persisted, because I couldn't imagine that UK customers were converting on the US pages, but this was not the case. In fact, the company had done a good job of passing the Web conversions to the correct country offline channels. In fact, fully half of the UK leads for their products came from the US site.
Image via Wikipedia
At this point, my questions changed. I started asking what they knew about the conversion rates for the US and the UK sites, and they didn't know that much. They did know that studies proved that some UK customers were turned off by US English, potentially lowering the conversion rate of the US site for UK customers.
But I countered that given how many UK customers were converting from the US site, that there might be some benefit of the US site over the UK site, too. They quickly agreed that the US site had far more content than its UK counterpart, which they thought led to more conversions.
So I asked them the big question: How did they know that they needed a UK site at all? It's possible that the US site's broader content could more than make up for the lack of proper British English. I proposed a test: Change the links on the UK site so that some of the customers (maybe 10%) that clicked on deeper pages were directed to the equivalent pages on the US site. Then compare the conversion rates of UK customers that used the US site vs. those that stayed on the UK site and see how they are different.
My suspicion is that the UK site conversion rates probably wouldn't be any better, or at least they wouldn't be better enough to justify all the effort going into maintaining a full UK site. Spending that money on more demand generation would seem to have a stronger return on investment.
But, if I was wrong, because the test showed substantial conversion rate improvement for the UK site, then it would be a powerful reason not only to maintain the UK site, but to convert the search landing pages of the US site to be more global pages where customers are asked to select their country to get the deeper information. And it might be worth adding content to the UK and Australia sites to improve conversion rates even more (if having more content is tested to improve conversion rates).
Running that test will tell you what to do and will give you a powerful data point that will convince others within the organization. Without this test serving as the voice of the customer, you're just left arguing what you think is better and the other unit will argue about what they think is better, and not much will happen.
Thinking about these issues in a broader context than search, where higher sales for the company can show which Web experience really satisfies customers, helps both to break the organizational gridlock and to use marketing resources more wisely.
So, what are you going to test today? You might find that your presumed search problems have non-search answers.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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