I have always fielded questions concerning international strategies, primarily that of US-based companies branching into Spanish-language websites or content.
However, the frequency of these questions have increased the past few years, along with the variety of international markets that companies are looking to target.
There are a few levels of international strategies that I have observed and had the pleasure of
consulting and analyzing for the campaigns. They range from the planned to the unplanned, and I have some lessons learned from each.
1. The “Hey! We have international traffic!” level.
This is primarily from the website owners that did not set out to target foreign markets, but have had their sites do well in search engines in various regions. This has been particularly interesting when a company ranks well for a term that is well-focused in a specific language, yet does not rank at near the same level in the English language.
International Website Marketing Principle #1
Typically, some of the smaller business websites that are gaining traffic from international users need to be sure that they do the following:
- Create an internationally usable address form. International addresses are much different from US-based contact forms. The US is the only country that uses a 5-digit numerical zip code. Everywhere else uses postal codes.
- If you have an ecommerce site, be sure to show shipping options prior to the sale. Shipping costs can be a deterrent to the sale if Air Cargo is the only option available.
2. The English/Spanish website level. (Or French/English for my friends up North)
I was on a panel discussion in Toronto when the question came up about duplicate content and foreign-language versions of a website. Adam Lasnik from Google confirmed that there is no duplication “penalty” for a having a page in English and a translated page in Spanish/French/etc. This was not surprising though, as translation is not character for character or word-for word. But it did help assuage many fears in the room.
International Website Marketing Principle #2
There is NO reason that a translated version of the website should be a word-for-word translation. Languages cannot be translated word for word – they should be translated concept for concept, as a word for word translation is misleading.
My best advice for companies in this market is to retain a native bi-lingual speaker to translate the content for their native market. Most businesses should have regional sales representatives or consultants who can assist them in marketing to another country, so this resource should be used for more than just corporate communications and sales, but also for the website.
Government Language Regulations
Many regions, such as Quebec, are forced to offer both English and French versions of their websites, which adds unique circumstances to any business. The website cannot default to either language in order to refrain from showing any preference. This situation creates an interesting conflict as the choice must be available to the user, without the “influence” of a default (or preferred) language.
The web is one area that exposes these government language regulations as outdated. The search engines are language and country focused, but the job of the search engine is to return the most relevant result. There are search options for returning results only in the language of that country, or only websites from that country, but a user will search for a website that answers their question. Add to this the fact that most users will not enter at the homepage for a website. The search engines will show the most relevant pages, which may not include the website, so the choice to change languages will not be as noticeable as on the homepage, where many websites are required to present the choice.
Similar situations are happening in Spain, where I had the amazing opportunity to present to an international group of senior-level direct marketing executives. Within the country of Spain itself, there are regions that speak different dialects, and even languages, making direct marketing a divided undertaking. Concerning Latin America and South America, simply having a Spanish language website may not be enough, as there are multiple differences in each country: by region, dialect, slang, and even words. (I was not comfortable speaking what little 3-year-public-school Latin American Spanish in Spain, as there were many works and phrases that were not the same, however “¿Dónde esta el baño?” still got me where I needed to go.)
3. International Direct Marketing level.
Marketing in Europe requires sensitivity and awareness of different cultures and groups. For example, German users may be more wary of a product offering or a company based in another country than a user from the UK market. A uniform approach in marketing a website will simply not work. As a result, many multi-national companies have extensive country and regionally-based websites. They understand that there has to be a different sales proposition in Spain than in France, as people respond differently to marketing messages.
This is also true in website design. Not only should the content be focused to a particular culture or region, but the design will tend to change as testing reveals different preferences and needs of that specific region. Primary examples are the designs of a U.S. based websites not performing well in the Chinese market. (See Gord Hotchkiss’ fantastic Chinese eye tracking study and the principle of ‘hot and noisy‘.)
International Website Marketing Principle #3
Simply translating your website is not enough. Since when is persuading your audience the same for everyone? Just as your web analytics need to be segmented based on user groups, your marketing needs to be segmented based on countries, culture, and customs. Is the content compelling to the new market? Does it connect properly? The content should be well-written specifically within the context of that culture and country.
Marketing to a different culture and country will create additional requirements for your website marketing. The images, the flow and the content should all be specifically focused and coordinated approach, constantly adjusted by user feedback and analytics. The content and design may be completely different for each new market.
Re-branding to a different language and expecting the same results is an insult. It clearly shows when a company has not taken even the simplest steps to understand the culture that it is attempting to reach.
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