By now, most businesses have somehow landed on the Internet and established their website, online shop or some form of online presence. It however is a fact that most businesses still use the global network to target only their local customers. These are often the same customers they target using traditional means and located within a very small geographic area.
With increased awareness of the international potential of digital marketing and a drive for internationalization by many organisations, there is renewed interest in multi-regional and multi-language sites. These are sites that somehow target wider geographic regions, spanning counties and languages.
Firstly, we must clarify the meaning and difference between multi-region and multi-language.
A multi-lingual website is one that offers content in more that one language. This is normally achieved through the addition of alternate languages for content apart from a base language. For example a British business website may offer product information pages in English and French.
A multi-region website is one that targets users in different countries or regions. This is done to tune content, services and marketing activities to target each region separately. Some multi-region website will also be multi-lingual, however multi-region differences may extend to many other factors as we shall see below.
Offering content in multiple languages is a great way to attract interest and customers from countries with different languages from that of your home country. Although this may sound obvious, customers are much more likely to interact and be interested in your message if they can actually read it. English speaking countries have a small advantage here, since English is one of the most widely accepted languages on the net. However the advantages offered by native language content are still significant, especially when targeting countries where English is not widespread, even around the EU.
When translating content to different languages you must keep in mind other related factors such as character encoding (the ability for your website to store and display special characters within each language). Langauge specific issues can also extend beyond individual characters such as right to left languages (such as Arabic) and figures of speech.
Last (but not least) the quality of your language translations will play a key and critical factor in the success of your multi-language sites. You heard me, Google translate will not get you far in obtaining quality translations. On the contrary, any translator will add value to your multi-language content by adding cultural and other factors that will make your content readable, enjoyable and effective.
Another language consideration is content length. The space taken by content in one language may vary considerably when translated into another language. For example, as a general rule, text will expand by 30% to 40% when going from English to German. This may impact your overall layout and page design.
Other factors relate to culture such as the use of colour and icons which may have surprisingly different meaning in different cultures.
As we learnt, offering content in multiple languages is only one way to target multiple regions with your website. Here are some other techniques and tips to gain access to new territories with your website:
Country-Code Top Level Domains
Country-Code Top Level Domain (ccTDL) names are domain names that are associated with specific countries. For example .de is intended for websites targeting Germany and .Co.Uk for United Kingdom. These domains are a powereful means of targeting content or online services within a specific country. Firstly they are easy to understand by customers and almost self explanatory. This is mostly due to existing global websites that have already adopted country specific domains to target customers in specific territories, such as Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de etc. Furthermore, ccTLDs are also adopted by major search engines as a way to boost ranking of content specific to each region. Your localized website will therefore be correctly ranked on local searches.
It is also interesting to note that Google itself has adopted this strategy for the localization of its search engine, offering country specific domains for each country.
Search Engine Optimisation
Much revolves around optimizing websites for search engines nowadays with the objective of getting sites ranked and found within different regions. This is why SEO must be a pillar of any good localization plan to ensure that it results in a good search engine visibility in each of the targeted regions.
For example, Google normally penalizes pages that contain the same content under multiple URLs. However multi-region sites must do just that, by providing the same (or similar) content to multiple regions. Localised sites must therefore be well designed to handle such SEO issues such as through the use of canonical links.
Thinking of your multi-region content sites as mere language and other variants of your main website is probably a good first step; however this is nowhere near the end of your international journey.
Localisation should extend to the activities and services that your business offers that are different in every region. For example, an online shop may find that one product sells in one country but not in the next. You therefore should be thinking of running multiple parallel versions of your entire business to fit and optimize each of the markets you target.
Marketing is another aspect of your business that requires central as well as local strategies, which in turn filter down to the way you operate your multi-region sites. For example, should you be running the same promotions on all your regional sites or would you rather tailor your campaigns differently for each segment?
As we have seen, multi-regional websites can be complex and require careful planning and foresight. However, an effective localization strategy and implementation can produce great results for your business, making the extra investment well worth it.
Webcraft has been developing business websites, ecommerce and other online solutions for customers all across the EU. We have the experience and the tools you will need to plan, build and run your multi-region online business. Get in touch with us to discuss your specific requirements and to learn how your business too can leverage the Internet to grow.