The web provides businesses and entrepreneurs with the perfect channel to expand into new markets. The internet is essentially a global marketplace, but it’s also a cultural melting pot where users speak different languages and have very different cultural outlooks. If you want your website to be a success in foreign markets, you need to make sure it’s properly localised for the regions you are targeting. Here are a few pointers to help get your global marketing efforts on track.
The language barrier
As an English-speaking internet marketer the biggest barrier you face in taking your website global is language. 78% of web users are not native English speakers, so it stands to reason that at some point you are going to have to get your content translated. Depending on your budget, there are several ways you can go about this. The best approach is to employ the services of a professional translator. This will ensure that your translated content is as accurate as possible. If your budget is tight, there are several automatic online translation tools that you might consider using – probably the best known is Google Translate. Using one of these services is better than having no translation at all, but the accuracy will be nowhere near that of a professional translator.
Keyword translation – don’t trust a dictionary
If you decide to use an automatic translation tool for your website content, don’t rely on it for the translation of your keywords. Even using a dictionary for individual keywords may not give you the most popular keyword for your product in any market – it may be a word in the local language, a colloquialism, or an appropriation from English or another language.
You know how important your keywords are for the successful promotion of your website and you have doubtless spent a lot of time and effort honing your list of English keywords, so don’t take any shortcuts with your multilingual keywords. To be sure you have the best foreign-language keywords, you need to use a professional in-country translator, and research their list of suggestions using a keyword research tool.
If you’re serious about localising your website, you may consider hosting country-specific domains on servers within the target countries. This makes maintaining your web infrastructure more complex, but there are considerable SEO benefits. For example, having a www.yourcompany.fr domain hosted on a French server will help you to achieve better rankings in the French version of Google. Having country-specific domains is particularly important if you are targeting a country whose language uses a non-Latin script. The recent introduction of internationalised domain names (IDNs) means that domain names will now work in a wider variety of language scripts.
If you go to the trouble of registering a country-specific domain and host it on a server in the target country, you should also work on gaining back-links from other websites within that country. This will help you to gain much better rankings in the local search engines, as your website will appear to be an authoritative local source of information to the search engine spiders.
The principles of obtaining back-links within a foreign country are the same as in your English language markets, but you may need to use a translation service if your link building strategies include things like article marketing and guest-posting on blogs.
Culturally sensitive content
The actual content of your website may be viewed very differently in different cultures. It’s important to research the cultures you are targeting so that your content is understood and does not cause offense.
How well your website is received in different cultures can be down to things as mundane as the formatting of numerical data. For example, dates and times, weights and measures and currencies are often displayed differently in different parts of the world. In the USA dates usually take the format MM/DD/YYYY, whereas in Europe it’s more common to use DD/MM/YYYY.
You should also be aware that some images may be fine in western cultures but could cause offence elsewhere in the world. Representations of the human body may not be acceptable in some cultures. Also, images of certain hand gestures can have very different meanings. For example, a ‘thumbs up’ is a positive symbol in the UK and USA, but in some parts of Asia it is considered rude.
Be aware of the colour scheme you use for your websites, as colours can represent different things in different cultures. Red is often used to symbolise power and passion in Western cultures, but in India it can signify purity and in China it is often used to convey good luck or celebration.
As you can see, successfully localising your website for overseas markets involves a number of considerations. As well as the technical side of things, like local domains and hosting, you also need to tailor your content by having it well translated and ensuring it is appropriate for different cultures. If you can do this successfully, though, you have to opportunity to reach as many as the 1.8bn people currently online around the world.
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translation agency and localisation specialists Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 120 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over thirty million words for businesses in every industry sector and their projected turnover for 2010 is £6.3m.