The internet has opened up the global economy in ways never imagined 25 years ago. Back then companies with goals of international expansion needed to invest a vast amount of resources and time in order to set up a base overseas. And after the initial set up there were the inherent difficulties of navigating the particularities of a foreign business culture. Now, I’m not proposing that the internet has broken down all these barriers to entry, but things are a little easier for small businesses wishing to target foreign markets, because setting up a website is far simpler than establishing a bricks and mortar premises abroad.
However, setting up a website to target a foreign market requires some planning and there are a few important questions you must ask yourself, from a digital marketing perspective.
What Will The Domain Strategy Be?
There are three options to choose from and the best option is probably out of reach for many small businesses:
- Choosing a country specific top level domain (best option) – If you want to target the French market, then it’s best to go for a .fr domain. However, this means a totally new website so will require resources to build links to it in order for it to rank well with local search engines. Many small businesses don’t have this level of resource.
- Choosing country specific subfolders – For a small business on a tight budget this is probably the best option. Instead of having to begin again, adding a subfolder eg: www.mycompany.com/fr to an existing site means that any link equity built up over the years will filter to the sub-folder. However, the ability to rank in the local market will not be as effective as having a country specific top level domain.
- Adding a subdomain – For example france.mycompany.com. This isn’t a great choice as more authority is passed down to sub-folders than sub-domains. However, sub-domains can be hosted on a different server to the main site, so a slight benefit could be had by hosting in the country you wish to rank in.
Although many people throughout the world speak very good English as a second language, studies have shown that people are more likely to buy from websites in their own language. Any required content needs to be written by a professional translator or native speaker. Never rely on translation services such as Google translate otherwise you will look unprofessional as these services are only useful for translating single words and short phrases at best.
In addition to creating a website in the official language of your target market, it is essential to localise for the culture also. Do not assume that search terms translate directly. For example, in the UK we might search for ‘low cost flights’ when looking for a bargain holiday. The direct translation of this term in Italian is ‘voli basso costo’ but people in Italy use ‘voli low cost’ when doing an online search. Failure to take into account these details could lose you potential business and waste time and money in ineffective marketing strategies.
What is the main search engine
Google may be the Gods Of Search in the UK, US and many other parts of the world, but in a few countries their market share is minimal. For example in China, where the main search engine is Baidu, Google only has a 3% share of the market. Different search engines will use different algorithms to rank websites, so it is important not to assume that what has worked well for your business website in one country, will work in another. Different countries will require different SEO strategies.
Although English is still the web’s most common language, its share is rapidly decreasing as countries such as China, Brazil and India embrace eCommerce in favour of traditional bricks and mortar businesses. The business potential for UK based online businesses is huge, but careful consideration must be made to language and cultural differences, and the SEO strategy has to suit the specific market.