Michael Waters is an International Trade Specialist for the U.S. Commercial Service office in Atlanta
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In this digital age, a website is a necessity for any business of any size across all industries. A company’s website speaks about the organization and should be viewed by management as a virtual introduction of products and services offered to prospective customers.
However, working with international customers presents its own unique set of circumstances, especially when it comes to websites. For example, is there a link for international sales inquiries on your company’s website? And if so, what details are you requesting? What does your site look like on a mobile device or when translated into a foreign language? These are a few questions that every organization needs to consider when designing a website that offers a product or service for international customers.
Globalizing your company’s website does not have to be overly technical. This article will provide a few easily implementable suggestions that anyone can apply, with the ultimate goal of increasing international sales.
One of the simplest steps a company can take to attract international clients is to ensure that foreign visitors know your company is interested and open for business. But you need to have more than just an “international sales” email address listed on the “Contact Us” page. While a direct email address is an important feature, having a specific page dedicated to International Inquiries is a best practice. Be sure that the information collected there is relevant, like removing ZIP codes and correct formatting of telephone numbers or addresses. An open field text box is generally a good way to go.
We also live in a world with a growing mobile workforce. Your company’s web presence should be mobile compatible. Not only is it an important aspect for international business, it also makes sense for your domestic customers as well. Google reports that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they if had trouble accessing it (McKinsey 2014). Work with your website service provider to ensure mobile compatibility is enabled, works properly, and that the content is limited to the most important information.
Turning now to search engines: Most of us domestically use Google or Bing, and there may even be a few still using Yahoo!. But does your company consider international search engines? Ever heard of Baidu, Yandex or Naver? If your sales team is trying to attract customers from China, Russia, or South Korea, then these need to be on your radar. According to ReturnOnNow.com, in 2015 Baidu had an impressive 55% share of all internet searches in China, with Yandex capturing 58% of the Russian market, and Naver with more than 77% of South Korean online searches . While Google maintains the majority share in Japan, Yahoo! Japan maintains 40% of internet searches. When targeting a specific market or region of the world, ensure that your company will be found when customers come looking by registering your company’s site map with the search engines in your target markets.
Speaking of site maps: Does your company’s webpage have one? A site map is an XML file that search engines use to “read” what is on your webpage and impacts where your company is listed on a search results page. If looking to grow your visibility internationally, it is important for your company to register the site map with popular search engines used in local markets. Site maps also exist as HTML files and can allow for quick navigation – important for customers in a developing market accessing the internet on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Finally, companies may be tempted to translate webpages to attract international customers. While this is logical, it is important to do so properly, generally by professional translation firms. Your website should be free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. However, translation services can also be an expensive investment, especially if you translate your entire website; therefore, including a Google Translate link can be a more affordable option. If mistakes are made, an international visitor will know that it is most likely due to the translation software, and not the company. If your company has a few target markets, we recommend translating an introduction page (often a combination of the home page and “about us” page) so that foreigners from those markets can find your website when searching in their native language.
While these might seem like small details, they can make a lasting impression on a potential international customer, and result in a sale. With 95% of the world’s population outside of the United States, it is important that your website reflects your interest in international business. Your local U.S. Commercial Service Export Assistance Center and Trade Specialist can help ensure that your international web presence works to assist your international expansion. Visit www.export.gov to find your local office and for additional information.