How you can deal with decentralization in international SEO

How you can deal with decentralization in international SEO

How you can deal with decentralization in international SEO

Running SEO campaigns involves many moving parts. You need comprehensive planning, masterful execution and ongoing monitoring to drive results. 

Search marketing on a global scale is all that – and then some. International SEO comes with a unique set of challenges.

The biggest obstacle is working for global clients with a “decentralized” approach to marketing.

Often, they have siloed organizational structures, making them unable to appropriately communicate SEO and paid media initiatives across global markets.  

This article breaks down the problem international search marketers face when working with such clients and what we can do about it. 

The problem with decentralized marketing

Decentralized marketing occurs when different departments or business units (or “silos”) in the organization have autonomy over marketing activities. 

Each business unit and locality is responsible for developing its marketing strategy and executing marketing campaigns in this approach. 

While it allows for greater flexibility in adapting to local market conditions, it can also result in:

  • Inconsistent brand messaging.
  • Lack of coordination across the organization.
  • Misaligned reporting.
  • Duplication of efforts.
Decentralized marketing

As Outspoken Media’s Rhea Drysdale points out: 

“Using a decentralized approach for global SEO strategy and implementation makes coordination and prioritization a reactive firefighting process. The argument is often made by marketing leaders that regions / business units know better what they need.

While this may be the case with merchandising and integrated campaigns, if you have a single website with multiple regions sitting on subfolders then you need a unified approach to SEO or, at the very least, someone coordinating and overseeing all activities around major launches.”

She also shares the pitfalls of such an approach:

“[T]here’s often a breakdown in shared learnings and innovation and worse financial risks when one unit operates in a way that could negatively impact another.

We recently experienced this with one of our global clients… In our particular case, our point of contact at one unit said, ‘the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing’ with regard to another English-speaking region displacing their content in SERPs during a global campaign launch.

The root of this is really how Google handles international SEO and structural issues there around signaling, which is a massive work in progress with this organization.

But, there are major contributing factors that stem from the organization’s region-led approach to SEO requests rather than [a] top-down SEO strategy.”

She makes a great point. So what’s the alternative?

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Is a centralized approach better for search marketing?

Centralized marketing refers to an approach where all the marketing decisions and activities are controlled and managed by a central team or department within an organization or as part of an agency. 

Here, the central team determines the marketing strategy, creates the marketing campaigns, and manages the implementation of those campaigns across all channels, platforms and locations, local or global. 

It allows for greater brand consistency, content alignment and control over marketing activities.

Still, this system causes a lag in adapting to local and global market conditions. 

Restructuring global search marketing 

If your international SEO client deals with similar issues, it may be time to talk to leadership. Inform them about the benefits of rethinking their global marketing structure.

I have seen such organizational changes happen to firms over the last few decades. Common reasons include:

CEO change

Usually, CEOs are under pressure from their boards to have their companies perform.

These same boards may also bring in or suggest someone they know at an X public agency to reposition their agenda and build their stake within the boardroom.

CMO change

CMOs are one of the leading causes for re-organizations in marketing.

Whether centralized or decentralized, new CMOs usually want to come in and make massive changes to make marketing more effective and less costly.  

Fortunately, out of all the CxOs, these CMOs know our marketing world and often, listen to the benefits and challenges of making changes that help define their strategies.


The CFO's job is to cut budgets down and, at the same time, increase revenue as much as possible. Marketing is the most immediate target on the CFO's arsenal of cuts. 

The only way to win the love of a CFO is to prove to these number crunchers with quantitative data the value your digital marketing programs bring to the company. 

Also, keep in mind the task of "decentralizing marketing" may also be interpreted as, "I want to throw global marketing budgets off my P&L, so they may advocate for wreaking havoc on your search agenda when they send their sledgehammer crashing down onto your plans as well as your global colleagues."

Global leadership

Global leadership, especially those in sales roles or who have to do all the marketing with few resources in their respective countries, also have a hand in restructuring. 

The last thing they want is to be told how and what to do by someone in another country who has no idea of their culture or language, let alone their competition. Often they'll advocate for decentralization.

What can search marketers do? Pushing for a hybrid model

As a marketer, you may be unable to push a centralized marketing system to leadership, which is okay.

You have another option, what I like to call the "centralized hybrid model."

I can attest that implementing this is easier said than done. However, it provides all the benefits of centralization and decentralization combined. 

Centralized hybrid marketing

The central, regional and local stakeholders have equal say and participation in the global marketing strategy. Each regional stakeholder also has complete alignment with each country manager. 

Having a system where knowledge is shared and considerations are made from those on the ground up to the central team equally disrupts the silos formed in other models and benefits the group as a whole.  

An example of this would be Switzerland, considered one of the world's most stable and competitive countries despite its size, according to the World Economic Forum. 

The 26 Swiss cantons are similar to the external marketing stakeholders, who work closely together with the central internal stakeholders to help guide strategy and provide local feedback, reporting and knowledge. 

At the same time, the internal stakeholders utilize the control of the budget, declaring as a team what's working, what's not working and areas to explore.

Breaking down silos in marketing

A global SEO must work technically. Execute content appropriately to align the brand and its company goals. 

A proper system for paid media will ensure branding and messaging reach their potential and budgets are fairly distributed. 

Regardless of your system, the best practice is to keep everyone together. Removing silos, sharing ideas and having joint objectives will help you win with a multinational marketing group. 

The post How you can deal with decentralization in international SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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