The glory of the Internet is that it is truly a globally accessible network. Anyone, whether they’re from the southern tip of Africa, the northern tundra of Russia or the deep mountains of China, can access your website. Okay, well, China might block your site and there’s probably spotty Internet access in Siberia, but that’s beside the point. What matters is that an online business that neither has nor wants a local focus can take advantage of global availability to market and sell around the world.
The problems with taking advantage of a global audience are perhaps larger than many online businesses realize. There are the obvious issues, such as the language barrier that makes sales and customer support more difficult. There are the logistical issues with accepting sales in various currencies and, if a physical product is involved, shipping globally. Then there are the tricky digital issues, relating to proper markup and SEO, which are often overlooked until it’s too late.
One major choice you need to make is how automatic – and how rigid – you want to make your user language and geolocation detection. You essentially have two options.
The second option is to allow the user to select their location. Create a regional dialogue box separated either by country or language, and allow the user to choose their location from the list. This allows users traveling abroad to select their home country easily. It also allows you to limit load times. Typically these dialogues either list countries in their native language or list flag icons to help users pick their location when reading a language they don’t understand.
When you’re targeting countries other than your own, you have a potential issue with the quality of your content. You cannot just post the same content you do on your normal site, run through a Fiverr translator or a Google translate box. You’re going to run the risk of looking very poorly developed.
At the very minimum, you should hire a native speaker to localize your content for you. This should extend to dialects of English, particularly with UK/AUS spellings of common English words. It’s even more important with non-English languages, because if you’re not fluent in both, you have no way to control your quality internally.
If you want to truly excel in the field, you should hire a stable of local writers for each region and give them limited creative control. Your content will work best when it has a familiarity with local issues that you can’t get with an out-of-region content producer. You don’t know the tensions and conflicts in the lives of users in rural France, so don’t try to write as if you do; hire someone who does.
As you reach a wider audience with more regions, you’re going to run into issues with expense and content volume. At some point you need to decide what regions you’re going to focus on and what regions you’re going to go with the bare minimum blog.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but the important part is that those words are universal. A picture of children smiling is the same in its essence, regardless of whether you’re a reader in America or a reader in Japan. Posting image content, graphical content, allows you to have a coherent brand image throughout different regions.
There are two major considerations with images for a global audience. The first is text. Text on images is a great way to entice a certain audience, but it alienates other audiences when they can’t read the images. Automatic translation software can’t translate images, after all. Save the image text for captions, or make multiple versions of the images for different regional sites.
The second consideration is the connotations of the images you use. Different colors, primarily, have different meanings in different regions. It’s fairly unlikely that you’re going to ruin your brand because you chose the wrong color font, but what looks appealing to your eye might not be as appealing to a reader in another country. It just emphasizes the care you need to put into the content you create.
Would you trust buying a product from a website if you added an item to your cart, hit the check out button and found yourself on a page completely written in Chinese? Chances are you’d abandon that cart right away and find another location to buy the product you wanted. Don’t fall victim to the reverse side of that coin; localize your checkout page.
One primary consideration you need to make is whether or not your products will ship to the region specified. Newegg is good about this. Just find one of their products on sale and change your region; you’ll see the availability change. You want users to know whether or not you ship to their location before they add anything to the cart.
You also need to have a currency conversion plugin installed. USD is something of a global currency, along with the Euro, but few users know offhand how much either is in their own currency. Rather than force them to look up conversion rates, set the price in their local currency. It’s also easier to set prices globally than it is to set one price and try to dynamically convert it in the checkout process.
SEO on a global scale is somewhat different from the typical American SEO that we see so much about online. You have a lot to worry about. Do you go with a country code TLD or a regular .com? Do you segregate country sites through subdomains or subdirectories? Do you host multiple sites on regional servers for faster loading? Do you work to build foreign backlinks to your regional versions of your site? All of this and more needs to be decided before you can even begin building multiregional sites.
In general, you need to make sure your site works as well as possible for every region you target. Functionality in additional regions is a bonus. Make sure to avoid duplicate content issues and notify Google of the intended region for each sub-site.