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How international is your website?

Written by Lisa Brewer on 23 November 2018

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It's your shop window to the world. There are many elements to get right to ensure your website can maximise your international growth

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Your website is your shop window to the world. It must be seen by, and communicate clearly with, potential customers in different countries, with different cultures and languages. It could well be their first touch point with your business - so it had better be good.


Choose the right domain


There are two main types of domain; a country specific and a non-country specific domain. Country specific domains, (e.g .co.uk for the UK or .fr for France) are naturally geo-targeted; search engines assume they are more relevant for that particular market.


So, for example, search engines will automatically give your co.uk domain more ranking authority in the UK, which is helpful if your focus is on the UK market. However, your visibility may be limited on an international search and you may only be found if a user is specifically searching for you.


There are advantages to having a local, country-specific domain. One ladies fashion business in the Midlands uses them to tailor content to audiences where fashion trends may differ from their home market; they also use local news and events (such as Paris Fashion Week) to generate traffic to the website and PR for the brand.


Country specific domains are a big commitment. You will need to purchase and maintain all the domains as well as host multiple sites which, depending on your website infrastructure, can be very hard to do.  


So, if you want to have a more global reach you could switch to a non-country-specific domain - which usually means a .com address. This is a non geo-targeted domain which means search engines give that domain equal ranking everywhere.


As a next step, it is then possible to have sub-domains or sub-directories which can be manually geo-targeted for specific countries. For example, you could have a .com/FR sub directory with a French version of your site and then optimise this section of your website for the French market.


Use technology


On platforms such as BigCommerce, Magento or WordPress, there are tools available to internationalise a website with relative ease. But if you are using a bespoke system, you will have to speak to the site’s developer.


Beware of platforms that have little support for multiple currencies or languages. There are ways to overcome this (for example, by showing different currencies) but once at the checkout the system will revert to the local currency - this can be a big barrier for your customer to continue to purchase.  The third option is to use plug-ins from third parties which can integrate with your website and localise the payment process.


Manage currency and pricing


Several factors can hit your bottom line when it comes to international transactions, so you need to consider them as you develop country or regional pricing strategies. These include currency and exchange rates, processing fees for currency conversion, local taxes in the UK and Europe, VAT rates (or sales tax rates in the US), and import duties.


Most companies opt for a dynamic exchange rate pricing strategy - set a price in sterling and then your website converts on the basis of the current exchange rate. This strategy works well as you know your margin will stay the same, barring duty or tax implications.


Another pricing strategy is to have fixed price lists that set out, say,  a sterling, dollar and a euro price. This can be risky as you could either be more or less profitable depending on the exchange rate. This method may also be time consuming to manage depending on the number of products you are selling.


Third party plugins (such as PayPal, World First or Global-e) can provide live exchange rate, duty rates and tax information and perform the calculations at the checkout. Some offer localisation calculations, while others focus on specifics like efficient currency and payment options. So it’s a case of doing your research and finding the right solution for your business.


Another of our clients, a small business selling Moroccan Argan Oil, was able to easily implement a PayPal button onto its website by copy and pasting a simple HTML code. This has enabled this company to accept global orders in multiple currencies, which are held as separate balances within a PayPal account, keeping it simple.  


Overcome language barriers


Potential customers are likely to want to browse and purchase on your website in their own language. There are also SEO implications; if someone is searching in French for a product like yours but your website is in English, you will not appear in their search results. But translation is only one element. You may also need to localise your product as there are different standards between regions.


Some countries will be more open to English language than others. Approximately 1.75bn people around the world have a working knowledge of English and it is one of the most used language on the web across the globe. It is clearly a good starting point!


So don’t rush to translate everything; consider what is necessary for your target audience.


Translation presents some tricky trade-offs. The more effort you put into translating your content and localising your website messaging, the higher your conversion rates will be. However, translating every blog, tweet and email can create a bottleneck in terms of turnaround time or resource availability.  


You will need to decide how to tackle a particular market and the size of the opportunity, so it is worth conducting a cost benefit analysis.  


Translation software programmes are available but be careful if your product is a highly technical one. You could also use a specialist freelance, or native-speaking student, to translate your content.


Drive that traffic


Your website may look great but it has to generate quality international traffic.


Look at your analytics and identify where your traffic is coming from both geographically - by source and purchaser. A localised website and domain structuring will go a long way, but also consider local keywords, paid advertising in the countries where your target audience is browsing, and use social media platforms that can connect you directly with potential customers around the world in an organic and engaging way.

Enterprise Europe Network can help you think through your international strategy and get your business on the journey to going global. Contact us here.