As the digital world continues to expand, business becomes a global game for more of us. Any website can connect you to a worldwide audience but firms looking to make the most of international markets have to work hard to turn that connection into profits.
This is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity as the world becomes more connected. So we want to dedicate a couple of articles on building a website for international audiences. Because, sooner or later, every online business will need to take this approach.
Choose your hosting providers carefully
Choosing a hosting provider is never nice but you get a much better service once you break out of the budget market. You’ll need to as well if you want a website that’s able to reach people all over the world. Here are some key points to consider:
- Choose a dedicated server – Don’t even consider shared hosting packages. They’re cheap for a reason.
- Make sure you can handle the traffic – Some packages come with visitor limits, download limits and other restrictions.
- Choose a provider with servers in the US, Europe and Asia – The further away someone is from your server, the longer it takes for your pages and resources to load.
- Make sure your countries are whitelisted – Some countries deemed as high-spam risks can be blocked by hosting providers. Make sure your countries are whitelisted when you sign up.
Another important note with server location is how search engines deliver results based on a user’s location. Google’s John Mueller tells us server location isn’t as important as it once was but we still see quite a lot of variation – so keep that in mind.
Choose your languages
If you’re running a global website then you’re crossing a whole bunch of language barriers. You can’t assume everyone is happy to engage with your brand in English (or even able to) and that raises a number of challenges. First of all, you have to pick your languages for translation – starting with your website – but also thinking about content, social media and every other interaction.
Then you have to think about delivery. You need a way for different users to navigate effectively between languages. Here are some basic pointers:
- Use UTF-8 encoding
- Store all text strings as variables so they can be translated easily
- Use location detection to choose a users default language
- Also supply clear language navigation so users can change the default (not everyone in Japan speaks Japanese!)
- Be aware that many languages take up more physical space than English
- Always allow for text resizing
As we say, that’s a very small list to get you started. A key choice for you will be deciding which languages to cater for first. You won’t be able to taken them all on and some are more demanding than others. So be strategic and expand at a manageable rate.
Choose your domain structure even more carefully
You may remember a recent article of ours looking on the impact of Google’s mobile-friendly update and how domain structure plays a pivotal role. This is especially important for websites with international audiences and multiple languages.
There are various approaches to this:
ccTDLs: Country-code top-level domain names like hotclickmarketing.co.uk, hotclickmarketing.com, hotclickmarketing.de (Germany) and hotclickmarketing.es (Spain).
Subdomains: You set up subdomains from your existing website, eg: de.hotclickmarketing.co.uk or es.hotclickmarketing.co.uk.
Subdirectories: You simply create separate folders for each location under your existing domain. These would look more like hotclickmarketing.co.uk/de/ or hotclickmarketing.co.uk/es/.
As always, there are pros and cons of each approach. Google recommends ccTDLs and they certainly offer the best experience but also cost more and can be difficult to manage. Subdomains allow you to host from different server locations but the domain structure is less intuitive. Subdirectories, on the other hand, are the cheapest and easiest to manage but come with the most limitations.
Take localisation seriously
Localisation is the practice of adapting content for different audiences. It moves beyond translation to look at the design of your website, the type of language you use and brand messaging to make you more culturally relevant to each target audience.
Colours can have different meanings as you cross cultures, for example, while any symbolism in your logo or other marketing material will be received differently around the world. Localisation first of all makes sure you don’t upset overseas markets with some offensive marketing material. But it also helps you bring your brand that extra step closer to new audiences by reaching them on a more personal level.
Key things to localise are:
- Slogans & taglines
- Colour choices
- UX design
Those last few points give you an idea of how detailed you need to be. Trying to sell products to someone in a foreign currency is pretty poor form. Getting the format wrong on times and dates isn’t much help to users either. While payment methods, UX preferences and every other element of your website needs to be reconsidered.
All of the points we’ve looked at today are things you should really have in place before your website goes international. Next time around we’ll start looking at the process you need in place for marketing your website to international audiences after you launch it on a global scale.