For many businesses, reaching an international market is a logical and sometimes vital step to growing your business. It goes without saying elements of your website will need to change, so here are a few useful considerations that explain what, how and why.
1) Contact Details
Contact details should always be offered in an internationally accepted format. For example local phone numbers should be changed from (e.g. 01727 739812 t o +44 (0) 1727 739812).
Also consider use of a local phone number. Skype (and many other VoIP companies) offer local phone numbers (e.g., Skype’s service is called “SkypeIn”), which can be dialled from any phone. You can choose to receive calls either via your computer, or forward them to a landline or mobile. See www.skype.com, www.voipvoip.com or www.mydivert.com for more details.
You may also consider buying domain names for your target country, in which case consider using email addresses for that country, these can forward to an existing email address, so for example if we used fl1group.fr to target a French audience we may advertise email@example.com which may then in turn forward to our current firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use local addresses if possible. These may be the addresses of local partners, distributors or agents, or could be virtual. For more information on sourcing local addresses try www.regus.com or www.globalvirtualaddress.com – or search on Google. If you’re using a UK address, ensure the country is included.
Finally, if you display your VAT number, VAT registration numbers should have the “GB” prefix.
2) Internationalised English
If you’re not keen to offer different translations of your website’s copy, consider using International English. It is easy for the British to be understood anywhere, so they think, because everyone now knows English. The trouble is it’s easy for us when it’s our first language but it’s not a level playing field if English is not our partners’ mother-tongue.
- Use shorter sentences and keep sentences active, not passive.
- Use headings, sub-headings, bullets and bold text to make your text easier to read and absorb.
- Avoid or explain any abbreviations or acronyms, e.g. WEEE.
- Avoid or explain any jargon, metaphors, cultural references and geographic references that may not be understood or may be misunderstood. Explain references to UK or international institutions, standards or legislation, e.g. TSB.
- Try to provide visual support whenever possible, this can include diagrams or just well selected Imagery.
3) Language Translations
A 2004 survey by Forrester found that internet users are four times more likely to buy from a website in their own language. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but generating translated copies of existing pages, using Google’s free imbedded translation tool, or by using a Content Management System with support for translations.
An important point to consider is that one design may not fit all. Arabic websites for example read right to left and down the page, so a typical UK website structure would make it very difficult for a local readers. Arabic is another example where text is read right to left, hence a left-to-right European layout would again be inadequate.
From a technical view, web pages need to use international character encoding to ensure that non Western European characters can be used. This is not always the case with many web pages by default.
It’s common for entire localised versions of a website to be built and adapted in terms of layout and content for a local market. For example, quite often imagery and in some cases product names will need to be adapted for different markets, and an special localised copy of the website can often fulfill this need.
Whenever planning and designing an international website, always consider carefully the languages you wish to use first and never assume that “one size fits all”, it rarely does.
Also consider designing the layout of the website with concepts being developed in two languages from the outset. German is a particularly good example, where quite often words are longer. This approach makes it easier to identify potential sizing and formatting issues early on, and can save expensive revisions later in the build process.
4) Local Domain Names and Hosting
It is a good idea to buy local domains (e.g., .de,.fr, co.in, .be ) for all your key target markets, even if you don’t use them yet. You wouldn’t want a competitor to get there first!
Over time you can migrate your foreign language content to these local domains.
In the UK, it’s easy to register .co.uk domain names, however it’s not always the case in other countries. It’s quite often a lengthy process that involves you proving that you are a legally trading business within that country. Having a local partner or agent can help with this, or sourcing a local domain registration agent. Using the latter approach can often be expensive by comparison to registering a domain name in the UK.
If you are investing in a local domain, then hosting it on a local server can make a big impact on Search Optimisation. Remember, Google lets you restrict your search to ‘pages from the [UK] only’ – and many people do this.
Here is a recent interview with Google spokesman, Matt Cutts, discussing the impact of server location on Google rankings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXt23AXlJJU
5) Local Search Engines
Just because your website appears in Google.co.uk it doesn’t mean that it will in the other regional Google searches. It’s also fair to say that outside of the UK and US Google isn’t the only game in town. There are a number of tools that can be used to submit your site in to directories both locally and internationally, and these should always be considered.
Google also has a geotargeting option in its Webmaster Tools (Google Webmaster Tools is a free service from Google, available at: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ – you need to create a Google account first).
This is available for all ‘top-level’ domains (.com, .net, .org) and allows you to tell Google where in the world you would like specific pages of your website to appear.
For example, if you had created a microsite for the USA, with five pages of specific content for the USA, you could use Google’s geotargeting tool to make these pages more visible to people searching on google.com in the USA.
just as it is with your website within the UK, always look to get quality in-bound links from local sources, that link and refer to your website.
Look to obtain links through getting a listing in:
(a) reputable online directory/directories including open source directories; For example Applegate, who are part of Alibaba, a popular international directory. Submit your international pages (or domains) to the relevant country-specific sections
(b) business networking, e.g. creating your own group on LinkedIn;