Every business should know one thing: expanding to foreign countries is a must for any successful company.
Luckily, the internet has made things much easier than, say, twenty years ago. Now you can reach clients across the world, from Beijing to Beirut.
To successfully expand into foreign markets, your website must be localized for the target market. This means more than just translating the text – you must understand the local culture and ensure your website respects local customs.
Designing a website for a foreign market may seem daunting, but is not as hard as it first seems. Here are six steps towards building a cross-cultural website.
Find your market
Before you start splashing the cash on a new website, take the time to see what market would better suit your business.
Not all countries have a need for your product or service. Check the Web for competition in that market and think how your business can enter and exploit any gaps in the local service offering.
After you found the ideal foreign market to target, you can move to the next step. Procure an individual Top Level Doman (TLD) for that specific country (such as www.mybusiness.es for Spain, www.mybusiness.cn for China).
If this proves too expensive for you and too time consuming to maintain, you can establish individual sub-domains or subdirectories on your main site. Each language on your site could have a specific sub-domain (es.mybusiness.com or www.mybusiness.com/es).
Content is king: localized content and keywords
The most important part of your website is the content. When you decide to expand to a new market, make sure your text is professionally translated. This can make or break your website.
Having poor grammar, spelling mistakes or inaccurate text can ruin your chances in that country. Using automatic translation such as Google Translate is never a good idea. Plus, there’s more to translation than simply changing words – cultural background is very important.
Localizing the keywords for your new website is another issue you must consider. These should never be translated direct, even if you’re using a professional translator.
In many cases, people in other countries use something other than a direct translation to search for things on the Web. The best thing to do is hire a native speaker to come up with a list of keywords, then use Google AdWords keyword tool and choose the best from that list (the most relevant for your business, with a good search volume vs. competition report).
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Unicode UTF-8
When designing your foreign-language website, use CSS to make things easier. CSS keeps content and design separate. This also means you don’t need to redesign every page from scratch if you change languages.
Having more languages on your website can be problematic if you don’t encode properly. Luckily, Unicode UTF-8 caters for over ninety different scripts, so changing the script from Latin-based languages to Cyrillic to Arabic or even Simplified Chinese can be easily done. You can also flip your left-to-right language text to right-to-left when switching between Latin and Arabic.
Choosing Colors and Imagery
Different colors can mean different things depending on the country’s culture. While red is considered ‘danger’ or ‘love’ in western societies, it stands for ‘purity’ in India and ‘good fortune’ in China. If you’re not sure what is best for your target market, play the safe card.
Your website’s background is another major part of the game. If you target ‘hi-context’ cultures (such as Chinese, Indian, Japanese), the background should ideally contain images and colors. This doesn’t apply to Western cultures (America, Germany, Britain) for these ‘low-context’ societies a simplest website is the best option.
Play the SEO Game
Your website should already be tailored for the market you target, but don’t neglect search engine optimization. In order to improve your local search engine rankings, you must build valuable links to your website. Remember to try and secure links from websites within that target market (i.e. if you target the Chinese market, links from .CN domains will help).
Don’t forget social media – the links received from sites such as Digg, Reddit, StumpleUpon, Twitter are becoming more important within Google’s search algorithm.
Designing your website for several countries may seem like a daunting task, but understanding your target country’s culture is vital for global success.
About the author:
Christian Arno is founder of Lingo24, a translations company with 150 full-time employees working across three continents. With clients in over sixty countries, Lingo24 secured revenue of $8m in 2010.