Understanding your Audience #1 - Geographical Distribution
This is the first post in a series that will help you understand and grow your Squarespace website audience.
I cover issues and opportunities that I have encountered as the Silvabokis website has broadened its global reach. I also discuss some of the ways that a wide geographical reach has forced me to think differently about who my clients are and how I can service them most efficiently.
Why start with Geographical Distribution?
At the end of 2014 I was poking around the Google Analytics stats for my website when I realised just how much the geographical distribution of the audience that visits my site has changed.
The following slideshow illustrates the point.
Back in 2012 I was working on various longterm UX projects and the Silvabokis website was little more than an online business card. My geographical footprint was restricted because the only people visiting my site were exisiting clients and other UX professionals who I'd met at conferences.
In early 2013 I decided to redesign my site using the Squarespace CMS system. I enjoyed the experience of site building in Squarespace so much that I migrated some existing client websites to Squarespace and ended up getting heavily involved in the Squarespace Answers forum. My geographical footprint became much bigger, with the USA in particular attracting a lot of visits.
During 2014 I started to get a lot of visitors to my site looking for a Squarespace expert developer to customise existing Squarespace websites and to build others from the ground up. Towards the end of the year I realised that, whereas enquiries had previously been from the EU and USA, they were now coming from all over the world and the frequency was increasing. In fact, the audience from my home country has fallen as a proportion of the total and more enquiries from overseas turn into business than from the UK.
Why does Geographical distribution matter?
It matters because site visitors you can't satisfy due to their location might as well not be there.
If you're a bricks and mortar retailer with a single branch in Little Rock, Arkansas you want the majority of your website audience to be from Little Rock and surrounding cities. People from anywhere else are unlikely to visit you.
If your shop is on Manhattan Island you'll still want the bulk of your audience to be from the local area. However, the fact that people all over the world travel to New York for business and leisure means that a visitor from Cape Town, South Africa could be researching your products in advance of a trip to the Big Apple.
Is it a problem or an opportunity?
When my business focus was purely on UX and project management the majority of my work was on-site at client's offices. My major clients were in the UK, France, Belgium, Turkey and Ireland. Visitors and job offers from Europe were useful, especially as I don't need a visa to work in the EU. A job offer from further afield - the USA or Australia perhaps - would have been far less attractive.
Now that being a Squarespace expert is a significant part of my work I welcome visitors from all over the world. I don't need to go to my clients offices to develop a Squarespace website - everything can be done without travelling. This means that nowadays every enquiry I get, from anywhere in the world, has a better chance of converting to business.
To illustrate the point, so far in January 2015 I have delivered work for Pinefinders, a client whose office is 20 miles from mine. At the other extreme, I'm just finishing Piqueshow, a project for a client in Costa Rica. This month I've also worked on Squarespace development for clients in Australia, Brazil, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the USA, the UK and Wales. I want more of this kind of work, so I'm looking at ways of building a worldwide audience.
Thinking strategically about geographical distribution
Here are a few things I'm having to think about right now, that are related to dealing with a global audience:
- Time zones - Customers from the USA are between 5 and 8 hours behind UK time. Those in Australia and New Zealand are up to 11 hours ahead of the UK. This means the sweet spot, when both parties are at work, is quite small and efficient asynchronous communication is vital.
- Currency differences - I use the Stripe payment system quite extensively. One problem of this, within the Squarespace framework, is that I'm restricted to billing in pounds sterling. This can be off-putting to clients, who worry about hidden transaction charges, so I'm looking into ways of supporting more currencies and bearing some of the transaction costs myself.
- Language differences - When dealing with people for whom English is not their first language it's important to be clear and concise in written communication. It requires extra levels of confirmation that requirements and proposals. Misunderstandings cost time, money and stress.
Can I control my Geographical distribution?
Yes. It's possible to shape your audience's Geographical distribution.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools allows you to specify International Targeting by language or country. This can be very useful if the audience you want to reach is in a well defined area. Setting a specific country in Webmaster Tools will reduce your global exposure but increase local influence. Your audience may get smaller but at least they're the people you want to talk to.
Site content can shape your audience
Writing content that mentions specific regions, cities or towns is far more likely attract search traffic from those areas.
On the other hand, if you want to attract a worldwide audience you should think about what it is that people are looking for, regardless of location, and create content to satisfy their needs.