Creative Travel Industry SEO – Link-building Ideas and Strategies

In the world of SEO, inbound-links are still the primary ranking factor responsible for the visibility of websites and their content in organic search results. Without great links – your site won’t rank significantly well for anything – and you will have to rely on other channels (e.g. paid-search, social media and ad-networks) to acquire targeted traffic and conversions. To learn how to boost conversions through using content upgrades check out this post from Sleeknote.

In this post, Niall Ó Gribin from travel SEO specialists Digital Destiny Marketing looks at a number of scalable and creative strategies to build great links to your travel website in order to improve your organic search-engine rankings, in addition to increasing your brand exposure and bringing in leads and conversions.

In terms of backlinks, all links are not equal. Search-engines are able to discern where on a page or post a link resides, often rendering links were effective in the past ineffective or less-effective today (e.g. those blogroll links, footer links and widget links which ‘used to work’). Search engines know if a link is relevant (coming from a semantically related website) or not.

So what makes a ‘good link’ for a travel website?

Truly good links for travel sites generally have a number of characteristics:

They come from a travel related website (relevance), or from a travel section.

  • Links are in content (not hanging off a sidebar or nestled in a footer – which looks ‘artificial’ or inorganic)
  • The link makes sense in the context in which it is placed.
  • The link comes from and authority site (i.e. a site with good domain-level metrics, such as a high number of referring domains, high toolbar PageRank and other metrics)
  • The link should be ‘do-follow’ as opposed to nofollow

1. Boost your site authority with links from powerful niche travel-directories & business-directories

Using Directories for Travel SEO
There are thousands of great business directories online, many with amazing domain-level metrics. Getting links from some of these directories can help to boost your site authority and PageRank (usually we don’t care about PageRank, however your crawl allowance is directly related to your domain’s PageRank, so the more you have, the better – especially if you have a site with a LOT of pages).

Ideally, you should aim to get links from the directories with the best domain-level metrics, and especially those with subsections dedicated to your own industry (e.g. if your site sells ski-holidays, you want to get a link from the ‘winter sports’ section for relevance).

A scrape of Google search-results for “business directory” “travel agents”, for example shows that there’s no shortage of candidate domains with really high PageRank (a good trust indicator) which you can get listed on – many of which will result in a do-follow link.  Similarly, searching on Google for something like ‘“travel directory” submit a site’ yields a large list of great candidate domains to get listed on too.

Harvesting Travel Business Directories via Scrapebox

Once you have a candidate list of domains you can use domain intelligence tools to help you to identify the great, the good and bad (based on metrics such as #of backlinks, # of referring root domains) or you just rely on PageRank. Once you have filtered your list of candidate directories submit to the best of the bunch.

Note – Getting links from spammy or FFA (free-for-all) directories is not advisable – in fact Google penalised a lot of these types of sites not so long ago. Quality and relevance is important.

The great part is that these listings and the resulting link are usually 100% free.

Directory Submission Tips:

  • Make sure that your business description is unique with each submission.
  • Use a tool such as PageRank plugin for chrome to check PageRank of domains before submission
  • Tools like Majestic SEO  display relevant metrics for any domain – look at the Majestic metric named ‘ACRank’ which is based on linking root-domains. Another great (and free) tool for this purpose is this SEOGadget tool.
  • Only submit to sites with a lot of indexed pages (use the “site operator” on Google to check # of indexed pages per domain e.g. site:domain.com)
  • Use a form-filler application (e.g. Roboform) to literally fill in the blanks (your address, phone number, location, URL etc) to save on time

2. Free links from Authority Showcase sites & CSS Galleries

Get your Travel Site Listed in CSS Galleries

Site-showcase sites and CSS galleries are a great way to get free links to your site. Although they don’t provide relevance, they do offer a quick and easy way to get free links from high-authority domains. There’s no shortage of free-to-submit-to CSS galleries out there with PageRank of 6 and 7 for example.

Also, it’s not uncommon for these sites to feature the best submissions each month on their homepage with a direct link to the site too – so if you have a slick design and good code ‘under the hood’ why not cash in on these easy-to-get links. Chances are that your competitors will have missed this ‘trick’

Tips:

  • Identify sites via the search: “CSS Gallery” submit a site or “site showcase” submit a site
  • Submit to the sites with the best domain metrics

3. Become an Industry News Authority and Thought-Leader

Become a travel news authority

Publishing coverage of ski industry news and events breeds ‘linkability’. The pinnacle of which is getting and publishing an exclusive (‘the scoop’) which gives you carte blanche to post about breaking news/events in related forums and in other targeted places (e.g. relevant blogs and social media groups on LinkedIn & Facebook related to the subject) – which then often leads to more links to your site, as well as more awareness of your company and brand.

You can take things a bit further by interviewing key parties about the news, making your article the reference point for anyone following the subject you cover.

Examples of sites which leverage travel industry news and events and gain plenty of links to their site from niche forums, blogs and even newspaper sites include ski companies such as the Ski Club of Great Britain and Iglu Ski – both of which offer excellent coverage of every aspect of the winter sports/holidays industry.

  • Leads & Brand awareness – Writing about news and upcoming events in specific holiday destinations brings in valuable targeted traffic and leads
  • Get links from your competitors – Your coverage will sometimes get picked up and linked to from your competitors (priceless!)
  • Tactical Coverage fosters links, Shares & Relationships – People and organizations which get exposure via your news / specific vertical coverage will link to you, share your articles and even connect with you. When you feature a brand/company – make the effort to let them know. Connect with them on Twitter or LinkedIn, engage with them and make them a part of your own network, which can be extremely valuable.
  • Syndication benefits –  Getting your news-content accepted and syndicated on big aggregated news sites such as NewsNow (travel section), as well as via other distribution channels such as Google News can bring in huge volumes of traffic and eyeballs, which will inevitably turn into links and citations if the content is excellent, truly newsworthy and resonates with the target audience.
  • Opening the door to guest posting on third party sites – Once you have established yourself as a niche authority, you use your existing great content and coverage as a springboard towards becoming a contributor on relevant authority industry websites – giving you a great opportunity for linking back to your own site while sharing your domain knowledge and expertise.

4. Do something Newsworthy / innovative – get Coverage and links from industry watchers

Travel focused sites such as TNOOZ, and newspapers with travel sections are always happy to cover interesting and remarkable innovations, research and events in the travel vertical.

If you have done or are planning to do something remarkable – make sure to leverage this by ensuring that the gatekeepers and editors who need to know about it do indeed find out about it. You can issue press-releases, track down editors on LinkedIn, Twitter, or just pick up the phone to start the ball rolling in order to get some coverage (and links).

E.g. have you recently released a unique app for Android or iPhone users which does something that no other travel app does?  There are tens of thousands of technology sites out there which will gladly offer coverage of anything technology related which is new, different and noteworthy to write about (and link to!).

Get in touch with these websites and invite both tech and travel website owners and editors to review your app. You can also (legitimately) use press-releases to raise awareness of your project with relevant industry people too.

What types of links and exposure can you get?

The  Walkonomics site (which is about to also release an app) – was featured on high-profile travel and tech related sites such as TNOOZ, as well as The Independent and The Guardian. Innovation & creativity fosters great links – and the best links are often those cannot be purchased, and are not paid for!

4. Leverage Charity Tie-ins and Sponsorships for Links + PR

Charity Tie in for Travel Brand Visibility

Do something charitable and the links will follow. Everyone has a soft-spot for a good cause, and if your company decides to get involved in charity, there’s no problem getting coverage from the press, forums & blogs.

Creativity combined with good PR inevitably fosters links from related websites (which money simply cannot buy) in addition to boosting brand-awareness in appropriate consumer spaces online (links and citations which bring conversions are the best types of links/mentions!).

E.g. A plethora of winter travel companies have jumped to the support of Disability Snow Sport UK,- offering the companies positive brand-association benefits, a cool story to tell, and of course a ‘just cause’ to garner some quality links from well-linked-to charity sites..

Running themed events with charity tie-ins is a smart way to garner even more links from the media, local news websites and blogs as well as for attracting customer participation and social interaction (tweets, shares, likes) to generate buzz around your brand.

E.g. One UK ski-company recently got involved with charity when they ran a Ski Fête in London resulting in lots of great links as a by-product of the event. The event offered family-friendly fun and games; loads of charity-tie-ins and a mystery world-record attempt. The event generated plenty of media coverage and links galore from  relevant and mainstream media sites such as  ski forumsski blogsski organisations tactical partnerships and local websites.

Use your imagination, get networking and anything is possible if you have a good hook or story to tell!

5. Use Celebrities in Your Content Marketing and the relevant links will follow

Tapping into the fan-bases of celebrities can be great for attracting site visitors, improving brand-awareness and credibility, and of course garnering links from relevant sites.  Hiring a sports celebrity to blog on your travel website may be a good idea, and it’s something which Monarch Airlines have dabbled with.

Monarch hired top British woman skier Chemmy Alcott as a brand-ambassador and blogger on their own site.

Travel companies using sports celebrities in their content-marketing

This opened the door to easy and natural link acquisition from numerous sources, including winter sports blogs and sports forums (relevance)!

6. Know Your Customer & Write Great Content for Them

Know your customer - use personas

Nothing is more linkable than fabulous content. The expression “content is king” is there for a reason. However, if you don’t truly know your customer, you cannot satisfy their information needs and also acquire great links.

It’s therefore very important to have a good model of different customer types so that you can satisfy their needs by publishing compelling content which answers their questions and creating offers and deals which appeal specifically to each specific visitor type in order to convert them into customers/bookings.

Enter Personas – which are fictitious user representations created in order to embody behaviours and motivations that a group of real users might express, which can be used to represent and understand their needs. These user representations can created in many ways: through surveys, directly addressing the user, by collecting demographic and behaviour data during, and by interviews with real users or their representatives.

According to Cooper and Cooper and Reimann, personas are a gathering of realistic representative information which can include fictitious details destined to a more accurate characterization. The persona composition can be based on imaginary information, demographic and biographical characteristics of the personality under modelling. Personas have names like real people and can be represented through an image, or even a picture, to add realism.

Personas are valuable for marketers in any field, and developing a comprehensive array of customer personas before content creation is a valuable exercise.

Once you know exactly who you are writing for, writing the page-copy and articles to answer their specific questions, and to attract those specific customers to your website becomes quite a straightforward task.

Think about the popularity of Q&A Sites like QuoraYahoo Answers and eHow.com, and the propensity for people to literally ask questions when performing a query on Search-engines – for example:

What is closest airport to [destination]?
What is the best restaurant in [City]?

If you truly know what questions your customers will ask, and why, then you can craft suitable content on your site to attract targeted visitors who are asking questions, giving you an opportunity to supply information and answers, and to make them aware of your services and brand as well as giving you the chance to ‘reel them in’ and convert a visitor to a lead / customer.

Tip: You should ensure that your travel website logs all user search queries entered into the ‘search’ box on your site (you can even log site search data via Google Analytics).  The questions /searches they perform may surprise you, and these queries are golden in terms of assisting with development of your on-site content strategy, helping you fill in the blanks which your existing content may not be covering.

If you don’t have a search facility on your site, you are missing out on valuable data from real users who may slip through your fingers, and leave your website to find the answers they are looking for elsewhere.

7. Leverage Local Event Listings & Microformats for Easy Traffic

Ranking for events and event names in search is relatively easy, as there is generally low-competition for event names and related keywords. Additionally, people who intend on attending these events generally required transport and accommodation for when they arrive.

Listing events on your site which take places in regions which your travel company serves, as well as pertinent information on the event (hint: places to stay, cheapest accommodation in the area) is a great way to get visitors on your travel site who are likely to need your services and convert into customers.

Pro tip: Semantically marking up your data using appropriate microformats such as hEvent to makes it even more understandable by bots + web-spiders.

an event using hEvent Microformat
Fig 7.0 – HTML markup for an event – specified using the hEvent Microformat specification

An example in the wild:  a travel site (mydestination.com) using Microformats ranking on page 1 (position #4) of Google for a live poker event in Malta.

Event Optimisation

Chances are high that if a searcher lands on a travel site when searching for an event, they may subsequently search the site for suitable accommodation.

Reasons for using event listings to garner traffic are numerous:

  • Search-engines can now understand (and love) structured data
  • Often whoever is running the event doesn’t specify the event data via suitable Microformats on their own website – giving you an edge if you do it correctly.
  • Ranking for event names will be relatively easy due to low-competition if your own site has good domain metrics (with ehough PR and authority it’s easy to rank for low-competition search-terms and phrases).

8. Launch an Affiliate Program and Make Affiliate Links look ‘Natural’

affiliate programs

An affiliate program is a system whereby your services and products are promoted by third parties (e.g. other websites), and they are paid a commission based on sales, revenues or leads. As well as bringing in new business, affiliate programs can be a smart way to build links too.

Search engines can usually identify affiliate links and discard them for ranking purposes (because they are not ‘organic’ and have been placed for commercial reasons as Matt Cutts discusses here),

By masking your affiliate links by giving your affiliates and partners non-dynamic clean hyperlinks to link to, and even their own bespoke landing pages, it is possible to gain link equity from these types of inbound links, as well as gaining citations and mentions of your brand on relevant sites too.

So instead of having affiliate links that look like http://example.com?aid=12345 a ‘natural’ affiliate link could look like http://example.com/partner-landing-page

9. Use Infographics & Novel Data Visualization to Share Data

Novel Data Visualisations

Use your own internal data or research to create beautiful presentable shareable information. In an industry obsessed with data, statistics and case-studies, why not, why not analyse and publish some of your data on your site, making it look pretty by packaging it using data visualisation tools to transform it to an infographic or an interactive chart/infographic.

People love to link to and share interesting, insightful and well-presented data, and there’s no shortage of tools to jazz up your data:

iCharts – Give your charts interactive elements – you even extract the data from Google Docs to populate your charts

Google Charts – The most common way to use Google Charts is with simple JavaScript that you embed in your web page. You load some Google Chart libraries, list the data to be charted, select options to customize your chart, and finally create a chart object with an id that you choose. Then, later in the web page, you create a div with that id to display the Google Chart. See the Google Chart Gallery for some examples of how you can transform and style your data

cool charts

Exhibit –Fully open-source, and developed by the smart people at MIT, Exhibit lets you easily create web pages with advanced text search and filtering functionalities, with interactive maps, timelines and data-based visualisations.

Leaflet – Used by online powerhouses such as Flickr, Foursquare, Wikimedia and more, Leaflet is a modern JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps. It has all the features most developers ever need for online maps, and is 100% open source.

You can find a bunch more cool data-visualization tools for inspiration here and here.

10. Capitalise on Universal Search with Videos

Video is one of the most under-used mediums by travel companies to acquire clicks from search engines and links from websites/blogs/forums. A huge percentage of results pages contain at least one video – for example over 70% of UK search-engine results pages containing at least one video.

According to Google’s 2013 Travel research which shows that online travel video usage is increasing consistently year after year:

  • 51% of leisure travellers checking out videos before booking (up from 45% in 2012)
  • 69% of business travellers watch online travel videos (up from 64% in 2012)
  • 55% of affluent travellers watch online travel videos (compared to 50% in 2012)

Videos for SEO cannot and should not be ignored for many reasons:

  • Currently, video results are integrated into organic results, and can appear at any position in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
  • Video results are shown on over 70% of UK SERPs.
  • The chances of getting a page one listing on Google increase 53 times with video because there is still much less competition for video pages (source: Wordtracker, 2011).
  • Videos breed links: people like to embed videos, offering a great opportunity to get a backlink to your site if it is included in the embed code.
  • Search-engines look at many factors when ranking a page – one of them is ‘bounce rate’ (how long a visitor stays on a particular page). Videos which engage users, keeping them on a particular page for a reasonable duration of time may assist that page with ranking well.
  • You can avoid the third-party-hosting v self-hosting dilemma by using trailers or teasers on YouTube to drive traffic to your own site.

Other Video SEO considerations:

  • You should always provide a text-transcription of your video for accessibility and to ensure indexation (based on the assumption that search-engines cannot yet decipher human voices with 100% accuracy)
  • Self-hosting is a better idea than using third-party hosting as it will bring visitors directly to your own site vs Youtube, Vimeo or a third party site (also if embedding is available, you want the embed link to direct link equity towards your own video page / domain, although you can still get links to your own domain via YouTube videos).

With some creativity and a clear strategy you can bring in a lot of traffic to your travel websites via SEO.

A Superyacht Way Of Life

This job is a one-off. To be eligible, it is a requisite that you know how to sail across the oceans with the use modern naval apparatus, keep away from pirate attacks, know floral arrangement, offer an excellent service, meet the topnotch standards in cleaning rooms, organize events, and have a grasp of exceptional wine. Being a multilingual is a plus.

It surely looks demanding, this is due to the employers are accustomed to having the very best. Owning a yacht is an understatement for these employers, they own an extravagant superyachts that is valued up to £400 million – this is why they are demanding the staff to complement it, and expects a first-class handling of their ship.

Finding such people is very challenging. The method of finding a crew is grueling enough even for a smaller boat, given that most of the members are being endorsed from docks all over the world. This is where yacht crew agencies such as Silver Swann Yacht Crew come in.

The increasing industry of super-yacht requires a smoother process of getting a crew, this is why UK Sailing Academy (UKSA) was established. UKSA is a charity that can be found in the Isle of Wight at Cowes. UKSA is offering courses that will develop young adults into super-yacht deck hands with becoming a captain of one of these boats as their ultimate goal. It has been the sole place that offers this kind of courses for the past seven years. The programme for cadetship will usually accept applicants mid-year and starts in October. The whole cadetship lasts for four years with almost half the time spent learning the job in the ocean.

Last 2014, there were 12 endowments to cover a portion of the course costs, offered to chosen applicants aged 18 to 25. A shorter course is available that teaches student all the things they are expected to work below the deck and concentrates more on hospitality. Competition is up rising as the opportunity to travel around the world with very good pay is waiting for these cadets. The cadets in the programme can already earn £1,600 every month even though they are still on training, while captains can earn up to £250,000 anually.

Based on the 2012 record, 4,549 superyachts are in use, and by 2031, the industry will likely grow to about 7,500.

It is hard to withstand the charm of the superyacht way of life. Some of the graduates of the programme have been employed on Motor Yacht A, a £174 million boat built for the Russian billionaire Andrei Melnichenko created by Philippe Starck, a French designer. The boat has a helipad, a room to accommodate 37 crew, two pools, and six magnificent guest suites with each having its own Jacuzzi.

Eclipse, a German-built superyacht owned by Roman Abramovich is 162.3 metres long, has 2 helipads, 24 guest cabins, and has a 16 metre pool that can be converted as a dance floor. This was the largest superyacht in the whole world until Azzam was built in 2013. Azzam costed £390 million and said to be the most intricate and difficult yacht ever built.

Social enterprise – it’s all around you

According to a report by Melanie Mills, the chief executive of Social Enterprise West Midlands CIC, for the Guardian, there are at least 62,000 social enterprises based around the UK.
What you might not realise is that these firms are based in just about every industry you can think of. Change your way of life today by seeing what these not-for-profit organisations can offer you.

Begin a new chapter with an independent bookshop

Instead of hopping online and choosing your next book from the selection on offer at Amazon, consider dropping by an independent bookshop.
There is likely to be a store within a short drive of your address, with the Arnolfini a highlight if you are based in the south-west of England. As well as stocking an intriguing range of publications, the arts centre also plays host to intriguing eco festivals from time to time.

Wash away those old habits

Did you know that there are an estimated 14 million people in the UK who use the services of Thames Water? How about that this same company did not pay any corporation tax in the past financial year?
Customers do have an alternative – Welsh Water. A not-for-profit organisation, the company is also free from the demands of shareholders and the money they receive from bills are pumped into environmental projects.

Get on the right track

Public transport also has an excellent social enterprising company in the shape of the HCT Group. An organisation which runs services in London, Bristol, Humberside, Yorkshire and the Channel Islands, the firm passes all of its profits into training and providing even more services.
As if that was not enough, the HCT Group tries to focus these projects on the UK’s most deprived areas.

Say no to that bitter taste

The drinks industry is a great example when it comes to showing the best of the country’s social economy. Fair trade coffee company Cafedirect, for example, uses its profits to help coffee producers keep on top with their work.
Then there is Belu. Plastic bottles may not be environmental in their general design, but this bottled-water company claims that its products are 100 per cent carbon neutral. On top of this, the firm refuses to export and delivers every penny of its profits to WaterAid.

A comfier fit

Pants to Poverty has created a social enterprise that is more a cycle of heart-warming gestures. For starters, it only sells clothing that has been created using cotton that is grown and manufactured in India.
Once it has sold these clothes, the firm uses its profits to support farmers, seed banks and fund schools in the Asian country. Then the acquisition of more clothes from India takes place once more.

This article was provided on behalf of Viking UK, which stocks all the stationery you need to create an efficient workplace or a home office to be proud of.

The 3 P’s of social value?

People, Planet, Profit? Well those 3 P are very much at the heart of social value.  The balancing act where we aim to ensure a profit or purchasing initiative does not undermine people or planet. After all is a saving really a saving, if we then have to invest more in our communities or the environment as a result of our poor purchasing? At Aster we say “we make a difference by investing in people and communities.” Therefore part of that investment is about recognising the significant power of our supply chains to deliver social value to our customers and the communities which we work in.

Social value is as much about an organisations mind set at it is about its procurement practices. However changing a mind-set is never an easy task, I will share with you my diet analogy. Crash buying is much like crash dieting , In the short term many congratulate  you on your results, however as time passes what often seemed to be a big weight loss, converts into a smaller or worst still a gain and often a return to unhealthy lifestyle . Contrast this with following a healthy lifestyle and while it may take people a little longer to notice your changes you can be sure the impact will go beyond the new jean size. Since I am not qualified to offer healthy life style advice, I will share instead My 3 P’s of learning regarding social value.

Persuasion, since to some social value sound like one of those “fluffy concepts” you’re going to need to enlighten a few people. You can have the best procurement manager(s) in the world but there is a lot of buying that goes on below strategic procurement. Everyone needs to understand the impact of their purchasing not just those with it in their job title.

Persistence, Increasing the social value we deliver through our supply chains is not some thing that will happen over night. People have their own priorities and prejudices.  Just because something becomes part of the process does not mean your job of championing social value is done.

Patience, apparently good things come to those who wait (well I am not advocating you sit back and wait for social value to appear. However after base lining current social value in the supply chain, implementing processes to support social value, and working with staff on social value. A certain amount of patience is required to examine the differences you have made in your organisation over time.  So while we wait I will leave you with some of my Aster social value highlights of the last year.

Over the past year Aster has:

  • Ensured social value is firmly embedded in it value for money strategy
  • Provided briefings to staff on the social value act and offered advice and guidance to staff who may be tendering for work on how to demonstrate social value. As well as how to include social value in the procurement process
  • added questions re social value in large procurements
  • examined its supply chains to look at the number of social purpose organisations we are buying from
  • Required each department in Aster companies to report on social value through Asters service review statements.
  • Designed and deliver social value training to staff
  • Invested in the housing charity HACT to develop a national model and understanding of social value which looks at the whole organisation rather than just individual projects

This is a guest post by Charlotte Weedon, Social Enterprise Development Manager, www.aster.co.uk

Opportunities And Challenges When Expanding Into Europe

One of the greatest joys of running a business is watching it grow and adapt to the world around it, especially when it takes a brave leap across the ocean to try and set up shop in a foreign land.
While the potential rewards of a successful international business expansion can be huge, glittering and glorious, there are a whole host of legal, administrative, technological and cultural obstacles that need to be vaulted.
Just like when moving to another country to live or study, you cannot expect to just turn up and fit right in. Your business needs to have an appreciation of how things are done in its new home, while retaining a clear grasp of its own identity and purpose.
So what do you and your business need to consider and plan for when you have set the European market in your sites? Also, what extra challenges will social enterprises face?

Why expand into Europe?

The simple answer is that the EU taken as a whole is one of the largest markets in the world, one that accounted for 25.8% of the global GDP in 2010. The EU is also the largest exporter of goods and services in the world and since 2008 has also been one of the largest importers of these crucial trade fundamentals as well.

Taken altogether, it should be pretty clear that Europe is a hive of business activity where companies from all over the world clamour to buy and sell, and that any company with international ambitions would be foolish not to get involved.
As a company that originates from a country that is already an EU member, UK businesses already have a number of potential structural advantages when it comes to doing business in Europe. The Single Market is based upon the free movement of people and goods between member states, making your business’s life potentially much easier.
But these benefits are not immediate and guaranteed, and despite the Single Market there are still a number of possible pitfalls.

Cloud Computing and European expansion

In recent years the move towards cloud computing has emerged as a possible way of dramatically lowering the costs and logistical complexity of internal business expansion.  The key features of cloud computing that international businesses are beginning to really grab hold of are the pay for what you use model, the ability for rapid scalability and the short-term savings in hardware and software costs.
Cloud computing makes it a much less tricky proposition for you to support and collaborate with remote workers connected through remote servers and the internet, which is of particular value to social enterprises – dependent as they are upon co-operation and maintaining close ties and close collaboration.
If you’re operating across multiple countries, another potential advantage is availability, which, with cloud computing, can comfortably reach the magical “five nines” threshold. On tight deadlines, five nines of reliability can be vital.

Potential challenges of European expansion

Setting yourself up in Europe requires some serious planning. Where are you going to go and why? How is that choice likely to be affected by the following factors which are all definitely capable of bringing your whole European adventure grinding to an unprofitable and expensive halt.

Different legal and administrative environments

It is a long term goal of the EU to create a homogenised legal environment for business from member states, but at the moment each individual country has its own distinct legal and administrative environment for you to consider.
You are going to need to work out which aspects (if any) are governed or protected by international treaties (such as those of the WTO) and which are purely governed by the domestic legal system. An example of this would be Germany’s very strict personal privacy laws which have lead it to clash repeatedly with Google and Facebook.
The diverse tax regimes that you are going to be facing in different countries also need to be considered, especially when it comes to corporation tax. To give some idea of the potential discrepancy between different member states, Malta’s current rate of corporation tax is 35% while Irelands is 12.5%.

Different cultural environments

The 500 million inhabitants of the EU speak a huge range of different languages, with 23 official ones and a huge array of regional dialects. While this is obviously going to be an important factor if you are planning on setting up offices in particular European countries, but you are also going to need to think about this when considering your website, promotional and sales materials, instruction literature, legal documents etc.

Skill levels

Another important variable, and one that can be difficult to judge accurately, is the skills makeup of the EU. In exactly the same as each individual domestic economy will have a geographically uneven distribution of skills, the EU does not have a uniform level of ability or labour resources that you can just plug into. While the current financial malaise has created a certain degree of uncertainty, it is generally thought that the number of workers with medium to high level qualifications and that young people will tend towards having better qualifications then their retired parents.

Special challenges for Social Enterprise expansion

Social enterprises face two main challenges when expanding to any other country, technical and cultural.
The technical challenges arise due to the loose definition of a social enterprise in most parts of the world. This holds especially true for Europe, where the ‘main’ definition is descriptive rather than prescriptive. This results in huge variation in whether the term is even legally protected or recognised from country to country, even ignoring the specific rights and responsibilities a social enterprise must uphold.
Generally, you should expect to research the status of social enterprise in your target country thoroughly and carefully, liaising with helpful local authority figures wherever possible.
The cultural challenge is obvious. Different ethical standards, a different culture, and a community which may be hostile to outside help – you absolutely need at least a small team of people who are actively involved with the roots of your community.
Of course, any good social enterprise should be doing this in any case, but once any business is large enough to expand it can become rigid, centralised, and inflexible. If you allow this attitude to persist, it could prove to be poisonous.

Only innovation and good business can save Europe

This whole conversation has up until this point to a large extent avoided the elephant in the room that is the on-going ‘Eurozone crisis.’ While this unfolding drama may be putting off some businesses from taking the leap across the pond, the truth is that many are still investing and doing very well from having a place in the largest market place on the planet. Throughout all of the recent turbulence the EU has retained its status as the premier exporter of goods and services.
But what is good business?
It is a key tenet of the social enterprise ‘movement’ that good business is more than turning a profit. Good business is turning a profit while helping the community to grow and develop – and it is in taking such a long-term view that social enterprise avoids the short-term money-grabs which caused the current recession in the first place. Good business is good in both senses of the word; well-crafted, and ethical.
Ultimately it is impossible that any other factor other than businesses like yours providing products, services and innovation is going to be the thing that gives Europe the spring back in its step.
What do you think about the possible benefits versus possible pitfalls of trying to expanding your business into Europe?

Bio:
James Duval is the business, finance and technology editor for GKBC, an online magazine dedicated to celebrating and encouraging great online writing and design.

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