How many websites are you familiar with that are truly global?
You can probably think of a few, and some of the largest online companies will likely come to mind including Facebook, Amazon, eBay, a couple of travel sites and maybe a few others.
There’s a lot of potential in specific local markets throughout the world, but expanding it to a global scale can help you reach a much wider audience and grow significantly faster.
Why don’t we see many more companies succeed at going global?
While many businesses simply prefer to focus on a limited audience — and are perhaps even afraid to try their luck beyond their own limited borders — the vast majority of companies that try going global simply fail. This isn’t due to the company’s size or budget restraints either, it’s down to a failure in executing, and even acknowledging, some vital steps needed to do so.
They look at basic cultural differences, but you need more than just the basics. Converting the currency or tweaking the colors isn’t enough to make locals feel they can trust your online brand.
They translate, and while it’s a crucial step, it’s only a step. Translating the texts will make your website readable, but not necessarily offer the kind of value the local market will appreciate.
They think they have SEO and marketing covered, but international SEO requires more than just picking the right URL structure and adding hreflang tags. If your site doesn’t rank in a specific country right now, then simply launching a brand new website for it and adding the right tags from your original site won’t cut it.
Here’s what websites should take into account to succeed at going global
To scale globally, you need to be ready to make adjustments, and take every country into account individually. At my company, we have 30 localized editions in 23 different languages. Our international websites are responsible for over 70 percent of our total traffic, and going global is what allowed the website to grow to over 90 million monthly sessions.
1. Local research
For every single country or region you wish to enter, start with local research. The purpose is to decide whether to enter that local market or not.
A few questions to answer:
- How many potential users are there?
- What do these users currently rely on?
- Will your current business model work?
- How will you handle support for local customers?
- Are you legally authorized to bring your product, use your brand name, hire the needed people, and monetize it?
Pro tip: You can use your own Facebook page to get insights, by narrowing down your audience to a specific country. This is a great way to get insights from locals who already know your product. At my company, after launching an English local edition for India, it was our Facebook audience that helped us decide we didn’t require a Hindi edition too.
You need to really understand the local market, their habits, how they use the web (and mobile), if and how they buy online, and how they engage with products like yours.
2. Local competition
Understand who the other players are.
- Who is getting your potential users’ attention right now?
- What exactly do they offer?
- What are they best at and what are their deficiencies?
- Which pages and products drive most of their business?
- What is their marketing strategy? With a full traffic sources breakdown
- What do people say about them both online and offline?
If you decide to expand, then:
3. Hire local
You have to hire local employees and make sure they speak your language too. Be sure they have in-depth understanding of the local culture, the local online habits, and hopefully, at least some familiarity with your industry.
When it comes to your new employees’ language skills, make sure you can trust that it’s appropriate and with the correct dialect. Your local employee should be the one to approve the translations, make sure that all aspects of your site are well tailored, and be your liaison for everything involving that market.
4. Local adjustments
Some adjustments will be required, and they could mean different metric systems, but also cultural and attitudinal differences that should be taken into account too.
Convert weight measurements if you’re selling items. In most countries people don’t know what lbs are since they use kg instead. Celsius vs. Fahrenheit is very confusing as well. Take currencies into account and don’t forget that dates are formatted differently too.
Colors as signals: In finance, for most locations green indicates an upward trend whereas red means the opposite. In South Korea and China, however, we learned the hard way that it’s actually red that signifies an upward trend.
When it comes to attitudinal differences, every market is different. Germans for example are very concerned about their privacy and often don’t provide their real names. This might impact your registration forms.
From the product point of view, make sure you’re able to offer what locals want. If you’re in ecommerce, then it’s the products the locals want.
Menus: Adjust them to the local focus. First by common sense, gleaned from your original research, but then again once you gather some data.
Design: For some countries you’ll need to consider a different design. In China, where very dense design is common, users actually prefer to open all links as new tabs, primarily because the internet is so slow in many areas, and that allows users keep the original page open. For more design differences examples, browse through a few Japanese sites.
Hosting: Whether it’s shared or dedicated, you’ll want to make sure you have a local hosting. Especially if you’re expanding into a new continent.
5. Local marketing strategies
SEO: Google isn’t the most popular search engine in all parts of the world so confirm which one it is for your next country and learn about the differences. Especially Yandex or Baidu.
Hreflang tags are very important and can help search engines understand which local version to serve in every location. However, hreflang tags can’t be a substitute for local marketing, brand awareness, and even just brand mentions and links for every separate local website.
Make sure to identify the correct keywords and topics. If a popular English search term isn’t common in French, it doesn’t mean French people don’t look for the topic, it might just mean they have a different way of saying it.
Choosing the right URL structure is also important, particularly since it will be harder to change later on. The two most popular options are ccTLDs and subdomains. If you opt for ccTLDs, keep in mind that:
- Your websites will be tracked separately by others and not as a single website
- In the future you may not be able to get all of your desired domains. Which means you might end up having both ccTLDs and Subdomains in your network
Social media: Remember to identify the most popular platforms for every country. VK should be prioritized in Russia, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active on Facebook too. Cultural differences can affect your posts too; the type of questions asked, tone, and images.
PR: Since public relations is based on interactions between people, you need to pay additional attention to cultural differences. Definitely consult your local employees on this. How to approach, through which medium, and how often to follow up should all be checked. Remember those Germans who are very concerned about their privacy!
Burden of translation: Many publishers and blogs find it difficult going global because they require massive translations. Translating a significant number of articles, especially those that have a short shelf life, such as news, is both complicated and expensive. As a test for yourself, try translating the top 20 percent of your articles first.
Who can benefit by going global?
Basically everybody. This includes smaller sites as well as websites with a large amount of pages that are updated automatically or by the community. Ecommerce, booking, recipes, reviews, and many more types of websites can benefit from global exposure.
Going global isn’t easy. You must begin with thorough research and continue with extra attention to all the small details relevant to each country or market. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding if done properly. Remember, the only way to become truly global is to make sure you’re truly local everywhere you go.