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Russia – A Country of Opportunity and Growth

Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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My first visit to Russia was in December 2010 (yes, Russia in DECEMBER!) when it was minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time, I wouldn’t have described the ground as snow covered – it was more like blocks of ice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go back four more times, visiting both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Amazing and interesting, Russia is filled with many surprises.

Russia is the world’s largest nation. Bordered by both Europe and Asia, it has everything from a beach, to forests, to mountains, to major cities. This diverse country has over 144 million people, which is two times the size of the U.K.’s population and about 50% less than the U.S.

To drive across Russia (about 10,500 km) from the most western city of Kaliningrad to the most eastern city of Vladivostok, it takes around 6.5 days. By train, it takes seven days with over 80 stops. And to fly, it takes 11 hours. To put into context the immensity of the country, you could fly or drive from New York to San Francisco and back again more quickly.

Visiting Russia is not easy, but it’s not impossible. A visa is needed by most nationals, but there are some exceptions. For example, a U.K. national can easily get a Russian tourist visa from the processing center in London; it involves completing a long form and answering a few questions, but it’s attainable.

There is an incredible amount to see and explore when in Russia. Moscow is, of course, the largest city – just standing in the middle of Red Square leaves you amazed. This iconic, historical site is one that every student learns about at school.

Chris Robinson_Russia Trip

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

In St. Petersburg, you cannot fail just to walk the canals, explore the architecture and watch the trams run up and down the streets. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which took the years between 1883 and 1907 to build, is simply a stunning building.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

Russia has seven major airports open to passenger travel, with three located in Moscow and others in St. Petersburg, Simferopol, Koltsovo and Sochi (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the annual Russian Formula One race). There is also a major train service to several European countries, such as Austria, Germany and Hungary.

Next year, Russia will host the 2018 soccer FIFA World Cup across 11 cities which presents a massive opportunity for Russia to “sell” itself to the world, plus there is a major opportunity for residents to experience the country.

Outbound travel from Russia in 2016 was tough, as the FX rate between the ruble and the U.S. dollar (USD) dramatically changed. In January 2014, 3 rubles bought just over $1 USD, now it takes around 5.5 rubles to get $1 USD, but in early 2016, it was as high as 10 rubles to the dollar. This made overseas Russian travel expensive and unaffordable. The good news is, the foreign-exchange rate has improved and continues to ensure that Russian nationals can travel the world.

In a recent study by Russian Tourism, it identified, like any national market, there are, of course, different types of consumers in Russia. There are those who visit places like Thailand and Southern Europe to see the sun and relax. Then there are those in the travel market who visit such destinations as UAE, France and Germany – all popular with the Russian consumer.

The internet in Russia is a little different than most countries, with Yandex being the largest search engine. For more information on that, check out this blog from Petra Baer on the differences between Google and Yandex at http://www.mdsdecoded.com/blog/can-you-yandex-it-please/.

According to Live Internet Stats, since 2015, the number of Russian internet users has grown by over 30% to 102 million, which is just around 71% of the population. The U.S. is currently at 88% internet usage, so room to grow for sure!

While Yandex is Russia’s largest search engine, it has many other services, including:

  • Yandex.direct, an auction-based, text-based ad-placement platform
  • Yandex Maps
  • Yandex.money, which is like PayPal
  • Yandex.taxi, a similar service to Uber

The key with this is, the internet in Russia is growing and the digital community/consumer base is growing. Though the market is complicated, especially because of the language difference, nothing is impossible. If you understand and get it right, the opportunity to attract a new market is clear.

Marriott International recently launched a new Russian website, www.marriott.com.ru. Now Russian-speaking travelers can book hotels around the world in their native language.

Why Going Global is Essential to Your Business – My SMX London Session

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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In the last days of May 2017 at the SMX London conference, I had the pleasure of presenting a session about the importance of going global, and the key considerations to ensuring success.

Here is what I had to say:

The world is a very big place with about 7.5 billion humans. And half of those humans are connected to the internet in one way or another.

The distribution of internet users is surprising to many, as only 8% of total users are in the U.S. and 9% in Western Europe; both lower than Africa at 10%, South Asia at 16% and East Asia at 24%. These statistics were compiled in a We Are Social and Hootsuite 2017 study.

Even more impressive is that only 29% of the African population is online (internet penetration ratio), which means that when a larger part of the African population eventually goes online, it will represent an even greater share of the world’s internet population. The U.S. and Western Europe have an internet penetration ratio of about 90%, leaving a smaller growth opportunity.

Looking at eMarketer’s data on projected digital buyers’ growth by continent, it is clear where the growth will continue at a double-digit rate (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) and where it will plateau (Europe and North America):

eMarketer’s data on projected digital buyers’ growth by continent

(Image Source: eMarketer)

All of this leads to one clear conclusion: Every company, regardless of size, needs to globalize in markets that make sense.

So how does a company globalize? It all revolves around three core considerations:

  1. Linguistics
  2. Cultural
  3. Technical

LINGUISTICS:

A company needs to make sure its brand name doesn’t mean something strange or inappropriate in the target language, and that the correct version of the language is identified and used. Many languages spoken in multiple countries have variations. Even within a single country (e.g., China), languages can have varying dialects. Identifying the right one is key to ensuring success.

Once the language is identified, the tone (formal or informal) must be chosen. French, German and Spanish, for example, have formal ways of addressing people (a politer way, if you will), which can be preferable depending on the company’s industry. Also, the tone may vary by country depending the company’s products. This all must be researched before developing website language.

After the language, tone and format are decided upon, cultural considerations, such as references, preferences, perception, awareness and local competitors, need to be researched.

CULTURAL

Cultural references vary from country to country. In the West, babies are brought by the stork, whereas in Japan, babies come from big peaches. In China, red is synonymous with warmth and success, but disliked in South Korea. Movies stars, singers, authors and the like are different throughout the world. Target-audience research ensures cultural references are relevant.

Along the same lines, it is essential to cater to preferences (e.g., payment methods, formats, aspect), local norms and public holidays to avoid any faux pas.

It is also important to confirm if the brand is known and, if so, how it is perceived. If the brand is unknown, it might require a full explanation. If the band is known but misunderstood, it may require a change to affect perception. Doing the research is crucial. It can also help to identify and understand successful local competitors.

TECHNICAL

Finally, I touched upon the technical elements that should be used to ensure that well-written in-language content makes its way to the right platform and is understood.

Google provides multiple tools, such as geo-targeting, adding “hreflang” tags to signal the availability multiple languages and identifying potential markets.

While Google, Facebook and Twitter are the norm in many countries, different platforms may be more widely used in others. For example, Baidu is the lead search engine in China, Line is the lead social media platform in Japan and Yandex is the lead search engine in Russia.

Ensuring optimization of in-language, culturally relevant content on the right platforms and sites ultimately leads to successful business globalization.

For even more details and visuals, view my deck here.

Two Days at SMX London

Posted by on Jun 6, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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The world-renowned SMX Conference had its annual edition in London on May 23 and 24.

As usual, the program was jam packed and featured great speakers who covered the latest on many subjects from social, to paid, to SEO, to attribution models.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was fortunate enough to be both an attendee and a speaker this year. More to come in another post on MDS Decoded about my talk. But, as always, it was about global.

If I had to sum up the whole conference in three words, they would be:

  • AMP
  • HTTPS
  • Attribution

Most of the presentations revolved around these themes, as they are top of mind for digital marketers at the moment.

While HTTPS seems to be widely adopted (as high as 50% of domains according to Olga Andrienko, Head of Global Marketing at SEMrush), AMP is still in its ramping-up phase, with relatively low adoption as highlighted by many presenters.

Many reasons were invoked for the low adoption of AMP, which is hosted by Google. It’s not clear what they will do with the data collected this way – it’s too complicated to implement on large sites. But the general agreement is that it leaves a wide opportunity for marketers to be early adopters and get a head start on the competition.

Attribution modeling was debated at length across various sessions and panels. While no one seemed to have the perfect solution, all agreed that current attribution models are incorrect. First and last click provide only one side of the explanation, leaving much crucial information out of it.

During the two-day event, consensus was reached: Agencies, in-house marketers and technology partners need to have serious discussions, put personal bias aside and find a solution together.

Google coincidentally announced the release of a new attribution tool. It was welcomed, but with a lot of skepticism from the search community.

As always, the world of search marketing is a busy, exciting and continually evolving one to watch.

Here are the key things I overheard at SMX London this year:

SMX Key Learnings

(Image Source: Fred Schaub)

Showcasing Each Experience

Posted by on May 30, 2017 in Social Media

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The rise of technology and service innovation has, without a doubt, created more options, greater experiences and convenience, and more trip personalization. But as more of our next gen travelers find and develop their brand loyalty, companies are looking for ways to enhance experiences through their brands. As brands continue to focus on pristine amenities, there has become more focus on the “off-site” memorable travel experiences that can be found after check-in.

How has Marriott created experiences?

It’s no secret that Marriott has forged the path as a long-time leader in providing guests with customized travel opportunities, through our array of brands across the globe. Thanks to a recent investment in PlacePass, Marriott guests are able to leverage an online meta-search platform for in-destination experiences.

Regardless of your interests – from walking and bus tours of your favorite scenes of witchcraft and wizardry, to hang gliding in Switzerland, whether you are traveling alone, as a couple, or family, or if you have a few hours to spare, or a few days – guests who travel with Marriott will get the most out of their travels.

How have platforms created social planning experiences?

As more and more modern tourists are exposed to media platform trip planning, the competition to be the top provider of local attractions has become far more fierce. TripAdvisor’s ability to rank top attractions by location was certainly ground breaking. However, the next gen traveler has made a shift to top ranked attractions and wants to experience hidden gems within their destinations.

Facebook’s app feature of “City Guides” has certainly helped next gen travelers create a more tailored experience then previous apps have leveraged. Through City Guides, Facebook creates suggestions based on “places locals go” (based on resident Facebook users) and top visited attractions your friends have been to, as well as displaying any Facebook friends who have visited the city.

Image of cell screen

(Image Source: TechCrunch)

Since City Guides are a recent addition to Facebook, there seems to be a large focus on major international cities, and not the small, out-of-the-way locales that are also popular destinations, like beachy island paradises, secluded resort towns, and more. We can only hope that City Guides will be expanded in the future so that you could pull up any city in the world, no matter its size, and see what your friends partook in.

How can you showcase different experiences on social?

As social media platforms continue to expand their features, hotels should capitalize every time a follower sees content. Leveraging your social profiles with surrounding area content has always been encouraged. However, a great way in which you can showcase experiences is through Instagram’s ability to share multiple images using album like posting.

When there are multiple options both on and off property, try sharing those experiences in an Instagram carousel post. If you are a resort with a spa, golf course, or great dining options, try creating a post showing visually stunning images in one post.

Instagram Photo Carousels

(Image Source: Recode)

Because today’s customers are more informed and more volatile, it’s important to turn next-gen travelers into loyal, consistent customers by enhancing every experience. It’s this loyalty – created through legendary experiences – that will have a huge impact on encouraging guests to explore your surrounding areas while retreating to your hotel.

Links MDS Loves

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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It’s been a busy month in digital. As per usual, lots of changes and updates have kept our jobs interesting. Check out the below to see what the MDS team has been reading!

What have you been reading lately? Share your favorite articles below!

Computer_Notepad_Coffee

(Image source: Pexels)

Amazon Enters the Calling and Texting Battlefield

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Digital Industry News

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On May 10th 2017, Amazon announced that they were rolling out a new feature for their digital personal assistant, Alexa – free calls and texts between users of Amazon Echo devices.

While it is not the first time that Amazon is trying to penetrate a new market, or create one, this is a complicated one to enter. They have tried to join the travel industry, but did not succeed. They have also been pioneers in drone delivery, and I would not be surprised to see it become the norm in a few years. Amazon was also part of the firsts to join the digital personal assistant race with their Alexa product, which they keep improving at a very fast pace.

What is Alexa?

Alexa is the name Amazon gave to its voice-commanded digital personal assistant, which people interact with through the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Tap or Echo view devices.

You may have read my post about Chatbots; Alexa is a very powerful and sophisticated Chatbot. While commands are still a little strict (not yet a fluid conversation), you can have fun: if you tell her “Alexa, see you later, alligator” she WILL reply, “in a while crocodile!”

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot (Image Source: Amazon)

Alexa can do a wide variety of tasks, from setting up a timer, to playing your favorite song, reading the news, telling you a joke, turning on the lights, playing games or even ordering from your Amazon account the latest item you need. All of this by simply talking to the device.

Amazon allows developers to build Alexa capabilities in a similar way to how they would develop apps for iPhone or Android; allowing the world to create capabilities for their devices, providing scale instantly.

And now, they even allow you to call and text through Alexa!

So why does it matter that they offer calling + texting functionalities?

With approximately 65 million Amazon Prime users (paid subscription to get free deliveries, access to music and films plus more) and an overall estimated 300 million users in total, Amazon is a gigantic ecosystem of its own. When rolling out new features, Amazon instantly touchs hundreds of millions of people; similar to Facebook or Google rolling out a new feature.

The battlefield for calling and texting is crowded however, with very large players already heavily in it such as Facebook with both WhatsApp and Messenger, Apple with iMessage, Microsoft with Skype, the Japanese platform Line and many others.

With approximately 4.9 billion mobile users across the world (WeAreSocial + Hootsuite 2017 report) the opportunity to attract and retain users – and then monetize the relationship one way or another – is gigantic.

By offering this new service, Amazon is trying to take a piece of this pot, getting deeper in day-to-day lives, gathering more data and knowledge about their user’s habits which they can then aggregate into insights for the advertisers on their platform allowing for more personalized experiences and recommendations.

The more actions you can do in one ecosystem, the fewer things you have to get into another ecosystem to get done. When Amazon allows you to seamlessly make lists, order items online and listen to the news, that’s a wide array of other third party apps and systems they have now rendered useless.

By allowing users to call and text, they are – to some extent – replacing your need for a smartphone.

How is this applicable to the hotel industry?

Marriott International is a pioneer in the technology actually, always looking into creative ways to integrate technology in their hotel rooms. Currently Marriott is testing multiple variations in a few hotels, enabling guests to request services, manage their room (lights, tv, etc.), and learn about the local area through voice commands, talking with Alexa.

Wynn Hotels also jumped into it, and already offer it across all their rooms in Las Vegas.

Thinking about the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if brands and marketers start leveraging voice-command digital personal assistants more heavily to answer customer needs and enabling faster/more efficient service for all of a guest’s little requests. True luxury will always require a human touch in my mind, but where applicable, technology will take a larger part in the coming years.

As voice-commanded digital assistants become the norm in households, a guest’s expectation will be to experience this in his/her hotel room. Now whether it’s an Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Siri-enabled iPad or another player yet to come, only time will tell.