The internet offers a variety of ways to hear, monitor, interact with, and target your audience. However, while the behaviour of your local audience may be well-known to you, it may not accurately represent the behavior of your audiences in international markets.

More and more businesses are working to better target the different personas within their audiences and gain a better understanding of each corresponding customer journey. But when we’re talking about multiple types of audiences in different countries, things can get complicated. You certainly don’t want to build a business or an export strategy without the information you need. 

4 web and social media trends for your international audience

Internet users are growing most rapidly in Asia

While people around the world use the internet, user trends vary markedly. First, let’s look at user differences by geographic region.

According to the Internet World Stats, almost half of internet users reside in Asia (2017). 

Moreover, with Asia’s internet user penetration rate at less than 50 per cent, compared to North America’s 95 per cent penetration rate, the global proportion of internet users in Asia is likely to grow even larger in the near future. Therefore, many businesses are investing heavily in targeting across the Asian region. 

There are other search engines beside Google

A website is one of the best ways to put your business out in the world. Even if you don’t intend to target international audiences, they may find you in their search results.

For many years, Google has been the most popular search engine around the world. However, in some countries, Google is taking a back seat or an almost non-existent presence. For example, Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia and other Eastern European countries. According to Yandex, they had 20 million unique daily views and maintain about 60 per cent of Russian search market share (as of 2016.) Their reach has been larger than the local TV stations since 2013.

In South Korea, everyone is using Naver, a home-grown search engine. Naver’s search engine market share is as high as 75 per cent, compared to Google’s 10 per cent. In mainland China, Baidu is the most popular search engine with about 76 per cent market share, followed by other Chinese search engines. Both Naver and Baidu are portal sites like Yahoo, providing a variety of self-branded information and services including shopping and travel booking. The regular web search functionality, familiar to Google users, is not the same with these search engines. 

You may have seen traffic coming to your website from other countries in your website analytics data. You’ve likely heard of “Search Engine Optimization (SEO),” the practice of optimizing websites and web pages so that they rank higher in the search results for relevant keywords. Each search engine has unique algorithms to create the search results. Doing well with Google doesn’t always guarantee the performance with other search engines, including Bing.

Online B2B and B2C shopping is booming, with choices beyond Amazon

According to eMarketer’s latest Worldwide Retail and Ecommerce Sales report, in 2017, retail eCommerce sales worldwide reached $2.30 trillion, a 24.8 per cent increase over the previous year. eCommerce is growing rapidly worldwide in both B2B and B2C.

Amazon has websites targeting 14 different countries in their local languages. It seems Amazon is taking over the world, but just like the search engines, people are shopping elsewhere online in many countries.

In Japan, they have locally grown shopping sites called Rakuten. You may have heard about them as they have a site in English too, connecting Japanese shoppers with foreign sellers. Instead of eBay, many Japanese go to Mercari to buy and sell products. If you’d like to target Chinese consumers, but not quite sure about doing it with your own website, sites like Alibaba and Global Sources may help easie your way into the market.

Internet is not just for B2C transactions. It offers business opportunities to B2B companies, too. It is said that most people go to the internet to research B2B services and products, and almost 60 per cent of the purchase decision is made as a result of that search. Since B2Bs’ lead time tends to be longer than B2C sales transactions, the sale may not happen immediately, but it is becoming more and more important to be found in the search results and be visible online for B2B businesses.

Besides the local commerce policies and regulations, online payment transactions – even with credit cards – can get problematic when you’re outside the country. These popular shopping sites are a good way to test the water before you make the deep dive.

Social media preferences are different

While Facebook and WhatsApp are very popular in most countries, Chinese prefer services like QZone and WeChat, and Japanese prefer LINE and Twitter. Just like in North America, many people around the world go to social media to exchange information about the products and the services they’ve tried. Due to the language challenges, it may not be your primary channel to target foreign audiences, but it is a good way to understand what your audiences are looking for, and what they value.

Of course, these social apps are mainly accessed via mobile devices, and it is changing the way people interact with the businesses

These market research tools can help you choose markets

The “unknown” factor of going global can be intimidating. The good news is there are some tools to help you identify markets and prioritize the countries with the greatest potential.

Google Trends

This tool gives the search trends for specific interests when you enter a topic or a keyword in the search box. The examples below are the trend data for “women’s shoes.” Since the keyword used is in English, it naturally chose English-speaking countries in the regional interest map. It also provides a list of similar topics and queries to help you pinpoint the interests in the area. 

Google Market Finder

This is another useful tool to understand who might be interested in your products or services around the world. By entering your website address in the box, it gives you a list of countries where people are searching for the information related to your business. You can even try some of your competitors’ website addresses to see how the results are different from yours.

Competitor analysis tools

Third-party advertising tools such as SEMrush and SimilarWeb are useful in understanding if or how your competitors are targeting specific countries or regions.