Savvy exporters know that when it comes to marketing to new prospects around the world, it's important to have multi-lingual capabilities. That means providing content and information in the language of your target markets, and being prepared to respond to inquiries from non-native English speakers.
One of the first steps in developing a global web presence is localization: Aligning your website with the markets you are doing business in. Providing online content in the language of your customers is the cornerstone of localization efforts. For budget conscious companies, online translation tools can facilitate a do-it-yourself solution. But serious exporters should consider more robust solutions that include carefully translated and optimized content developed by native speakers.
In its recent State of Website Localization report, Lionsbridge, a global translation company, noted that nearly 83 percent of the more than 200 international global business professionals it surveyed viewed localization as a key component of customer service. Moreover, more than 67 percent said localization helped facilitate brand consistency across borders.
For American exporters, localization is becoming an increasingly important part of competing in the global marketplace. “In today's online world, it is essential to include website globalization in your export strategy," says Susanna Hardy, director of client services for IBT Online, which specializes in helping American exporters localize their websites.
Sales and Marketing Benefits
American exporters invest in localization to support business development, sales and marketing efforts, and brand awareness. An important common denominator, according to the Lionsbridge survey, is that companies doing business in multiple countries want to deliver relevant and engaging content for their customers.
That content, Hardy noted, has to start with a focus on the customer experience. “Website localization maximizes your global expansion, builds brand awareness, creates local engagement and supports your in-market representation," she says.
—Susanna Hardy, director of client services, IBT Online
One of the most important considerations in localizing a website is to think of it as a new site, not just an extension or add-on to an existing English language site. "Yes, it is a new website and it has to be adapted to fit a new language and culture," says Hardy. “But you need to make sure the brand stays unified, and that core corporate values are translated and integrated into each website."
Another key part of the localization process is to develop a strategy to ensure that the process of translating an existing website is structured and organized. This includes thinking about the look and feel of the site, as well as optimizing and testing.
SEO: The Holy Grail
While a lot of effort goes into the localization process, one of the primary benefits of localization is search engine optimization. “SEO is the essence of website localization," says Hardy. “Not everyone realizes that search engines localize." For example, Google in the U.S. is different from Google in Mexico.
Search engines also rank and prioritize information based on the context and language of the local market. While a company's primary site may do well in its home country, such as the U.S., it may be nearly invisible in other countries. One of the primary goals of localization is to consider market-specific criteria to boost SEO in specific target markets.
“Search engines are localized, so it follows that your global websites have to be localized if you want to be visible to international business prospects," says Hardy.
Of course, small- and medium-sized companies, with limited resources, have to weigh the benefits of localization for each country. Hardy suggests asking some fundamental questions, such as: In which countries would you most benefit from a localized online web presence? And where online can you best develop your brand and make it easier for prospects to find your company?
For U.S. companies, localization efforts usually start with export destinations such as Germany, the UK, France, China, India, Japan and Mexico. Another driving force in deciding where to focus, says Hardy, is often based on successful markets that an exporter wants to grow in the future.
One company that has worked with IBT on localization is Miami-based Avionics Support Group Inc. (ASG), an avionics systems integrator and manufacturer. The company started by localizing its website into Spanish and Chinese in order to support its global lead generation efforts.
“Our reps are thrilled that we have a Chinese website because it helps explain a lot of technical information for prospective customers," says Hugo Fortes, senior president at ASG. “Having the Chinese language website almost immediately helped us land a deal with a Chinese airline because it helped our representatives in China sell our product."
Thanks to its success with Chinese and Spanish, ASG is now considering French, Portuguese and Arabic as the next steps in localizing its website for potential customers worldwide.
Investing in Market Expansion
Localizing a website requires time and a financial investment. Hardy says translation and customization takes around 90 days, and longer for more complex sites and/or content. In addition to investing in the site itself, Hardy says it is critical to include a marketing budget to help boost the new site's visibility in the target market.
“One of the really important keys for success is that the company factors in an on-going budget for social media to make sure the website builds traction, content stays fresh and engaging, and potential customers see the on-going local commitment that is so important to the buying process," she says.
Localization also can be a tool for new market penetration. In these cases, says Hardy, “website localization rapidly becomes a cost-effective route toward success in new markets."