January 03, 2005
How To

Three Basic Steps to Globalize Your Web Site for International Visitors

SUMMARY: Is your Web site too localized? Do you assume that because \"most people read some English\" that you don't need to worry about tweaking your site for different countries? Be careful -- your international visitors are highly sensitive to how your site treats them. Your sales may suffer as a result. Here's a quick guide to Web globalization basics. (BTW: Did you know Koreans are more likely to have broadband access than Americans are?)
The future of large companies depends on them capitalizing on a growing global market online says John Yunker, President of Byte Level Research. For example, more than half of Google's traffic is from outside the US and roughly a quarter of Google's revenue is generated outside the US -- and that number is rising.

Yunker, whose clients include John Deere, Wal-Mart, and Intel, points out, "If you don't learn how to successfully go into other markets, you risk them coming into your market." Yet often, even US companies with global sales lack a truly global Web presence.

We asked Yunker for three basic steps you can take to begin globalizing your site this year.

-> Step #1. Start small

“If you try to do six markets at once you can make a lot of mistakes,” says Yunker. Try following these steps:

A. List your strategic markets for next five years

Explore who your competitors will be, consider potential ROI, and choose a list of perhaps 30 strategic countries. Once you have a basic list, register domain names in those countries so you don’t lose out on them, even if you don’t plan to use them immediately.

Also, research your trademark name in those countries to be sure it has a positive impact, then register that as a URL, too.

B. Pick a single country to begin

Get your feet wet by branching out into one additional market so you can fully understand the details of globalization before launching a full effort.

C. Be prepared to support your new local site

“The minute you do launch a local Web site, you will be expected to support it, so you'll need some people who have language skills that can support questions that come in via email or by phone,” says Yunker.

Customers understand that you may not offer the same services that you offer in your local market, but you have to manage their expectations, he says. If you can’t offer phone support in the local language, make that clear, and offer alternatives.

D. Research the culture

Okay, this should be obvious, but don’t forget to be sensitive to local culture. Stick to factual copy-style and avoid humor, as it doesn't translate well. American-style ebullient sales pitches also may come off sounding overly hype-y in other cultures.

Images of people may also need to change depending on local custom. For example, while some countries prefer multi-ethnic models, in Japan, it helps to have a Japanese model. Ask yourself: Are you selling something because it's Americanized or something global? E. English language or not?

Many companies make the mistake of thinking the whole world (or all business executives) speaks English, but in truth it depends on your market segment.

For example, the official language of the aerospace industry is English, so translation is not necessary. The financial industry tends to be English-driven as well, while medical device manufacturers are required to translate their instructions into the language of the native country.

Business-to-consumer brands, especially, must translate their Web sites. “It's true that English is the language students tend to be taught, but even in Japan for example, kids get taught English but they forget it just like you forget your high school language.”

-> Step #2. Keep your site's bandwidth low

Be aware of the bandwidth requirements of the countries to which you’re reaching out. Limit graphics and avoid animation. This means little or no Flash or rich media.

If you're going into Mexico or Brazil, for example, you can't assume your users will have a broadband connection. Most of Eastern Europe is also still in dial-up mode.

The best areas for broadband content are Korea with 60% penetration and Sweden. “If you get into Sweden, they are definitely doing pretty good on broadband – maybe because of the long, cold winters, I don’t know,” Yunker jokes. -> Step #3. Rethink your "global gateway" start page

US companies all too often don't treat other countries as equal to the US, Yunker says. For example, the global gateways of certain Web sites (in other words, the devices a site uses to direct visitors to the correct local site) have a drop-down menu with all countries listed alphabetically -- except the US.

When the US is listed first, regardless of how the rest of the list is categorized, people from other countries notice, which is a small detail but an important one, he says. Of course, if the US is your core market, doesn't it make sense for that to be listed first? Or to have your main page be the page for the US market, simply linking to your other sites for various locations? Perhaps, says Yunker, but you still need to make your non-US market aware that you value them.

Instead, he suggests a "global splash page" which, when users visit for the first time, shows all countries available *in the native language of the user.* Cookies then direct users on subsequent visits to the country they selected.

There are also more seamless ways of bringing visitors to the correct site rather than having them self-select. These include: --having a localized URL (.ca for Canada, .de for Germany, etc.) --language negotiation, in which the company's Web server detects the language of preference of the user's browser --geolocation, in which the Web user's country is determined based on his computer's IP address

None of these are flawless, however, so Yunker suggests a combination of all three. At the very least, have an icon of a globe on which visitors can click to take them to your global gateway.

Note: The sweet spot for your global gateway icon is in the upper right-hand corner of each page a new visitor might enter your site on.

Byte Level Research http://www.bytelevel.com

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