How to Optimize Localized Websites for New International Markets

More and more companies are increasing their growth, and revenue, by expanding into global markets. And the savviest businesses understand that the Internet is the fastest and most cost-effective way to reach these new customers.

Creating online experiences for these markets—in their languages of choice—is good business. Translation alone will not guarantee a global site’s success, however. My company, which localizes websites for international markets, discovered this years ago. After careful years-long analysis, we determined that only about one-third of a localized site’s value comes from translation. It’s a powerful foundation, but not enough to deliver sustained year-over-year growth.

The remaining two-thirds hails from other localizations and optimizations that can be easy for some organizations to overlook. Here are a few:

Optimize Order Fulfillment

Does your company’s shipping solution offer global options? Alternately, if you’re operating a smaller business and perform fulfillment in-house, are you prepared for the unique challenges of international shipping?

For instance: It’s critical to provide localized shipping forms online, customized for a country’s unique address format. Even fields for names may require customization.

Accurately calculating landed costs is also important. Landed costs represent the total cost of the transaction, including the cost of product, international shipping, duties, tariffs and taxes and insurance. It’s risky when a company can’t provide accurate landed costs. Packages might safely arrive to your global customers, but additional money might be owed upon delivery.

This mismanages customer expectations, and often results in a flat-out refusal of the package. Now your company is stuck with an unhappy customer, and the tedious task of retrieving its undelivered package.

Also, while domestic shipping is a predictable and cheap endeavor, overseas shipping can be trickier. Unlike domestic shipping, shipment boxes shouldn’t have much (if any) empty space inside. That wasted space leads to significantly—and needlessly—higher shipping costs. Customers won’t pay them. Diligent packing methods will dramatically reduce expenses and attract customers.

Optimize Localization

Serving international online customers in their native languages is imperative. But informing these customers that a localized site exists poses its own challenges. The popular quote from that baseball movie—If you build it, they will come—doesn’t apply to the Internet anymore. Your company must ensure customers that will discover the localized site.

Some best practices include:

  • Configuring the site to tell regional search engines that a localized site exists, and is in the market’s native language
  • Using accurately-translated keywords to make the site’s content SEO-rich, which should boost its regional search rankings
  • Translating URLs to improve page rank, and to help customers understand where they are while navigating the site

Equally important: Intuitive and elegant ways that direct users to the localized sites that best serve them, in their country, in their preferred language. This dramatically improves a site’s traffic, conversion and revenue. (By as much as 157%, 17% and 300+% respectively, using our methods.)

Also, acknowledge that some markets have unique—and non-obvious—UX needs. For instance: When we recently helped a company expand into the Chinese online market, we recommended an increase in the localized site’s Chinese-character font size. We reasoned this would create a more welcoming and reader-friendly experience.

We were right. Visitors’ pages-per-visit grew by nearly 25%. Bounce rates plummeted. Conversion rates grew by nearly 300%.

Localize Promotions

Offering market-specific promotions and specials can contribute to a global site’s success. But to do this effectively, you must know the cultural nuances of your target market. Many important Western holidays are “just another day” in other regions. (American Memorial Day sales won’t make much sense in Russia, for instance.)

Research the market’s travel holidays and gift-giving holidays, which may be completely unique to other markets. Make no assumptions. Further, be sure to pinpoint days or holidays where people may do less shopping. Time your promotions accordingly.

Also consider leveraging the power of mobile advertising. Smartphone adoption is surging in emerging markets, and companies are responding. For instance: mobile Internet ad spends in Mexico will rise 76% to reach $391.4 million this year. Next year, mobile ad spends will surpass $100 billion globally (representing, for the first time ever, more than half of all digital ad spends). The Chinese market will see mobile ad spends totaling more than $22 billion.

These campaigns can deliver powerful conversions. In one survey, two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics said they pay attention to mobile ads—and more than 20% chose to follow the advertiser on social media after seeing the ad.

Localize Social

And speaking of social media: When appropriate, companies should investigate opportunities for social media marketing in international markets.

Based on our experience and data, the effort won’t be wasted. One of our clients recently entered the Chinese online market, and wisely integrated functionality with popular social networks such as WeChat, Weibo and QQ. In just three months:

  • 30% of all referral traffic to the Chinese site now hails from social media sites
  • Social media drives more than 10% of all traffic (not just referral traffic) to the Chinese site
  • This traffic contributes more than 10% to all Chinese site revenue

These stats are growing by the week. These are powerful results, particularly considering this Western company is still in its very early days of courting Chinese consumers.

Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation.