It has never been easier for businesses to branch out into international markets — but cutting and pasting your domestic content onto an overseas website is not enough. Extending your brand into foreign markets requires coordination and an intimate understanding of your new buyers and your new market. Start by understanding the mechanics of how Google reacts to overseas websites. From there, consider how your new audience will view your content and how their purchasing journey will evolve once they decide to buy.
1) Create a Dedicated Site for Your Target Country
Google works to display the most relevant search results for users around the world. This means listing websites that are based in the same country as the searcher. People searching in France will receive mostly .fr results. People searching in Australia will receive a lot of .au results. Purchase country-specific domains and build country-specific (or language-specific) websites for each target audience.
2) Host Your Website Where Your Customers Live
Google also wants your website to be fast. The closer to home the website is hosted, the higher loading speeds your customers will experience. Host your international websites on servers in the target country. If someone in Paris searches “coffee shop in Paris,” a website hosted on a server in France will rank higher and load faster than a website hosted in Germany, even though both coffee shops are located in the same city.
3) Translate Content for Your Target Audience
Now that you’ve built a localized web page and hosted it locally, it is time to take the critical step of translating your content for a local audience. There are free software tools, such as Google Translate, which can provide basic translation. However, Google Translations are hardly accurate, and you’ll need a native to edit and improve the translation or you’ll be in danger of losing credibility with your audience. More comprehensive tools can dig deeper, accurately converting currency or measurement units. No software, however, is capable of accurately interpreting cultural, ethnic and linguistic nuances, which change from country to country and region to region.
Hire a local translator. Only a human being who lives or has lived in your target country can identify the subtleties that make each language unique. Roughly 55 percent of the Internet is written and consumed in English, but even if your entire international audience speaks English, the language varies wildly from country to country. Ethnic and cultural sensitivities, holidays, traditions, slang and appropriate formality are different in England, Ireland, Jamaica and Fiji — even though they all speak English.
4) Set Up a Local Phone Number
No matter how thorough your online presence, your customers are still going to want the reassurance of a physical phone number. This not only lets them contact you directly, but it reassures them that you are a legitimate business that they can reach if they have a problem. The phone number should be one that they recognize, and that doesn’t require them to dial unfamiliar country codes.
5) Establish a Virtual Number
Create a virtual number. A virtual number has the same area code and local exchange that your customers are used to dialing, but you don’t have to establish a physical phone line in a foreign country. When a customer calls the virtual number they saw in your ad, the call is automatically routed to your business, your office, your home or even your mobile phone — all without the caller ever knowing the call has left the country.
6) Create a Band-Friendly Bill of Lading
Finally, create a bill of lading, which is a document that details each shipment and gives title to the recipient. This accelerates the clearance process and makes shipping easier for you, your customer and customs officials. The bill of lading should be brand friendly and extend the brand continuity that exists across all your channels. Create color, images, logo and fonts that reflect those on your website, social pages, landing pages, video channels and even your business cards.
Selling overseas requires you to create an overseas presence — simple translation is not enough! You must establish a truly local website, which is hosted on a local server. Consider which social media sites are the most popular in your target market, hire local translators and give your new customers a local phone number, which assures them that your business is genuine a part of the community in which they live and shop.
Has your business expanded globally? What have you found works/doesn’t work when moving overseas? Share with us in the comments below.
Originally published Dec 14, 2015, updated Aug 11, 2020