The World's local website close

Michael Wells
Michael Wells
In Codegent College
14th July 2010
The World's local website

Having a ‘global website’ provides businesses with a tool to take their products / services to a global market with the opportunity for business growth and increased sales. But is it just a case of translating some of the copy or buying as many country specific domain names as possible? We have worked on several global and multi language sites over the past couple of years with briefs ranging from increasing brand and product awareness, selling to an international audience and making a campaign accessible to an international market. Going ‘global’ can provide big opportunities but there are also lots of things to consider. So here are a few of the important things to think about when going worldwide.

1. One size doesn’t fit all
Firstly you need to consider whether you want one website with a global reach or one site with multiple country and language versions. It is important to remember that each market will be different, from the obvious things such as language and currency through to the less tangible differences of culture, lifestyle and ethics and as a result each markets requirements from you as a company and your products / services will be different. But without a doubt the biggest consideration is language. According to Feedgrids ‘people who don't speak English as their first language, or at all, are six times less likely to purchase from an English-only site.’

That said to create a website and roll it out across a number of countries and languages doesn’t automatically mean success. Localisation is the key word when it comes to globalisation and HSBC certainly got it right with their strapline ‘The worlds local bank’. They realised that for a global corporation to be successful they needed to understand and work at a local level. Relate this back to your product or service and how this translates online. Should all your products / services  be available in every country? Will certain products be more popular in certain regions and if so how will this affect the hierarchy of information on each site? What information should you provide on your site? Can product / service USPs and information, terms and conditions and delivery information be standardised or will each country or region have their own requirements? I assume it is the latter and therefore key research, a flexible site and hierarchy of information will help you to achieve this.

Design is also a key consideration and depending on the markets you are looking to enter and the product or services you offer, you may need to look at your brand and site design. Colours that mean one thing in one culture do not always mean the same thing worldwide. The tone of voice you use aswell as the products / service names will also need to be researched, the last thing you want is to enter a new market where the name of your product is an offensive word  - unless that is your USP?! The best example of this was the Jif to Cif rebrand in 2001 which was due to the fact that any non English speaking person struggled to say the word Jif and having a brand that no one can pronounce isn’t a great sales strategy.

2. Single or multiple domains
There are two main options: Country specific domains e.g. .fr are good for natural search and also valuable if you want to align yourself with that country or position yourself as being based in a certain place. This is a an approach that Amazon have taken. However it can be costly and difficult to obtain domain names in some countries. It may also be hard to obtain the same domain name for each country and may dilute the consistency of your brand. It can also be costly as well as time consuming to manage multiple domains.

The alternative is using a global .com domain name with country specific extensions e.g. com/fr. Many sites take this approach including Mini and Apple. This way you only have one domain to manage and ensures consistency across all of your countries / languages. This is the approach that we have taken in the past on sites such as Skechers and Ultra Motor.

3. Getting from A to B
Once you have agreed on your domain set up and if you have opted for a global .com address, the next thing to think about is how to get users to the relevant country or language site. This can be done through IP matching where country IP addresses are matched against a specific version of your site. This service is available through various providers such as GeoLite country. It isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate and there will also be issues if users have IP addresses registered to other countries. So to support this a language / country selector should be displayed prominently enabling users to  change their country / language options if required. Although Apple do not appear to have IP matching in place, the country selector on the footer of every page is very prominent aswell as a very clear country selection page. Dyson appear to be using IP matching and also have a clear, prominent country selector located in the footer of every page.

4. Should you show the flag?
Should you localise your site by country and or language? This really depends on budgets and which markets you are looking to cover. If you want to cover all ‘English’ speaking countries then having an English language version of your site would be more cost effective than have a site for each country that speaks English. However bear in mind those subtle differences in language, spelling, currency and whether an ‘English speaking’ country would class themselves as ‘English’ or speaking ‘English’. Localising your site by country is the other option but also bear in mind that some countries such as Canada have multiple languages. However this is easily overcome (although not the most cost effective solution) by having  two language sites under one country. There is no right answer to this one and really does depend on the markets you are or looking to operate in, budgets etc. Some, like British Airways, cover all options. We have used both routes in the past, but either way ensure that it is set up in a way that will allow you to make changes as your requirements change.

5. Translation - Traduction
Next on the list is how to localise the copy on you site. It’s not enough just to translate the copy, you need to make sure that:
A. The translated copy makes sense in that language
B. That it reflects the brand, positioning and tone of voice of your company
C. Sells the relevant features to that market.

Ideally you should look at using a translation company or contacts / colleagues that can provide a translation service for you and have a good understanding of your company and the culture of the language they are translating into. A cheaper alternative and for situations where brand values, tone of voice are less important such as user generated content, Google Translator and Babelfish are good, cost effective options. We are currently integrating Google Translator into two client sites which will enable all of their user generated content to be translated across all languages.  

6. Search Engine Marketing
A quick mention on SEO and PPC. Keywords in one country are not necessarily the keywords that customers will search with in another. Achieving good natural search is dependent on you understanding what customers are searching for and what the competition are doing in that country. If you do run PPC campaigns then you will need to consider your PPC strategy for each country. Search engine popularity varies from country to country as does the meaning of words.

7. One database and CMS
On top of all the benefits that come with the ability to manage the content on your site you should also look to have one CMS that controls the pages of all of your country / language sites, keeping everything in one place and making it more cost effective and easier to manage. The same goes for your database, it will be easier to manage if it is all in one place and you can set filters for country specific reports.

8. Get your customers to the finish line
If you are offering a product or service that customers can pay for through your website then make sure all payment options are covered. Arguably too many options may confuse people, but definitely make sure you use a 3rd party payment handler such as SagePay which offers payment in multiple currencies and an ecommerce platform such as PayPal. Or one day and depending on what you are selling you may even be able to use the Facebook micro payment service. Whatever you use it is essential that the payment options are convenient and accessible, safe and secure. The last thing you want is to put your customer off at the final hurdle.

So a few final thoughts:

  • One step at a time. Don’t try and recreate everything on your main site into multiple local versions all in one go.
  • Research each market and make decisions about what is relevant to and expected by that market.
  • Five sites instead of one is very different so keep it manageable. Functionality such as blogs that need to be updated on a regular basis and require moderation may be best left to a later date.