How to Create Websites for Foreign Markets
The time is right for entrepreneurs planning to expand their business abroad – the Internet has reached the most remote parts of the world and it’s safe to say that you can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime with nothing more than a well-designed, user-friendly website.
However, keep in mind that 78% of the world’s Internet users aren’t native English speakers, which means you’ll have to address those in their own language.
Launching foreign language websites is the obvious step when trying to win over international clients. Here are a few things you could do to ensure the success of your international online campaign and keep costs to a minimum:
Once you identify the countries where there is demand for your products or services, you need to buy individual top level domains (TLDs) for each country you target (.CN for China, .IN for India etc). Make sure those domains are hosted on servers in the target country – this will help your rankings in local search engines.
If the separate top level domains you need are costly to set up and time-consuming to maintain, you could buy a single TLD (www. example.com) and set up distinct subdomains or subdirectories for each language on your site (cn.example.com or www.example.com/cn/).
Content and Keywords
Content is the backbone of your website. That is why, when you plan to translate it into a foreign language, you should not consider Google translate or other machine translation tools. Use a professional translator because nothing makes a business look more unreliable than incomprehensible content, ridden with inaccuracies.
Keywords are important also, as they can make your website stand out from the crowd. You need to choose relevant keywords for which the competition is not quite as tough in Search Engines.
Don’t translate your keywords using dictionaries or online translation tools. Once more, you’ll need a professional translator, to help you choose the best keywords for a specific country. But that in itself might not be enough – ideally, you want a local linguist with SEO experience, so they can research the actual terms used by consumers to search locally. People often use jargon, synonyms or colloquialisms when searching for a product online; they might never use the direct (and correct!) translation of your keywords.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Unicode UTF-8
Use CSS when designing your website. It allows you to keep content and design separate, which makes it far easier to interchange multilingual content across your websites, without having to redesign from scratch.
Planning to tackle the Arabic market? Then you’ll need your content to run from right to left. With CSS you can easily switch the direction of your text, or to flip your template.
When switching your text between multiple languages you’ll need a flexible character encoder, and Unicode UTF-8 can be your best friend when it comes to this. Unicode has unique character codes in 90 languages, so changing a script from Latin, to Cyrillic, to Arabic and Simplified Chinese becomes easier. Supported by all major browsers, Unicode UTF-8 is the best choice when creating a new website.
High or Low Context and Color
When designing your website you need to consider the culture of your new target market. For example, ‘high context’ cultures such as Chinese, Indian and Japanese prefer their websites’ background bursting with images and colors. On the other hand, ‘low context’ cultures such as American, German and English would rather have their websites simple and to the point.
Color is another important element you should consider. Colors have different meanings in different cultures. For example, red stands for purity in India and good fortune in China, but it means danger in most western cultures. Make sure you do not offend your audience by using inappropriate color schemes.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you followed the previous steps, your website should be appealing, well localized and targeting your desired market. However, this doesn’t mean customers will rush in to buy your product – you still need to be visible to them.
Having good rankings in local search engines is the secret to online business success. Build valuable links to your website from other websites relevant to your industry. Google and other search engines prefer natural links that come from good content (guest posts, comments, reviews, social media) or you can simply ask webmasters to link to your website if they like it. Don’t be offended if they say no, however…
Don’t forget about social media: create company profiles on local social networks sites such as Digg, Delicious or StumbleUpon. They are extremely popular and chances are you’ll find many potential customers with their help.
Remember, creating a website for foreign markets does not mean simply translating your content and changing your website’s design. You must understand the culture of your target country and fully localize it from the bottom up. Good luck!