Monday, September 05, 2005

Going global with a corporate website

The majority of corporate websites are in English only, regardless of the location of the company. But what to do when the company wants to go global? Is an English website with a list of local contacts enough? And who will lead the complicated process of making the website and “face” of the company international?
The international marketing and PR professional is the one to handle this issue in a company.
There are several tough questions to ask and answer before even touching the website.

Does the company want to be global?
The answer is not as clear-cut as it seems. Companies are proud of their roots, and it’s a challenge for every international marketing and PR professional to implement “think global, act local”. It must be reflected in the website – the (potential) customers must get the feeling that they are joining or are part of an international family.

Where are the company’s (potential) customers located?
Especially Spanish, Italian, and French speakers don’t like to wrestle with English. They prefer their native-language version of the website. The same applies to a lesser extent to German and Portuguese speakers. Russian is the preferred language for most Central and Eastern European customers. Depending on the country, many African customers are fluent in French or Portuguese, but not in English. So how does one handle a multi-lingual website?

There are two options:
a) a full mirror site in the local language or
b) one to five pages containing condensed information about the company and its products in the local language (including contact information to reach the local representative).

What is the culture of the target audience?
This question is crucial - not only for the design of the website (colors, images) but also content wise (industry standards, features). Local case studies and success stories are a must; the “one-size-fits-all” concept doesn’t work.

Are sales generated through the website?
If this is the case, the website must allow the purchase of products from anywhere, at anytime. Online payment should be made easy – with instructions in the local language. Payment means such as locally issued credit cards must be accepted – too many (US) companies only accept credit cards issued by a US financial institution. Prices should be in the local currency or in US$ with an online exchange rate calculator.

Can the local markets be supported around the clock?
Support is crucial to keep customers. In case of online shopping, the helpdesk has to consist of native speakers. They should be reached by dialing a toll free local number.
In general, any company selling abroad must have local representatives or personnel for service and support if they want to build and maintain a lasting presence in that market.

How does the company show up in search engines?
At this moment, Google and Yahoo are still the main search engines.
Ranking depends on the location of the potential customer. shows a different ranking in the USA than in France, for example. Google and Yahoo also have local language versions that are often used as the default int that country. The local Google and Yahoo sites support several search modes: in the local language (only German text will show up), in the local country only (all pages in any language in Germany) and in English only (searches the web – results differ dramatically from country to country, since local preferences are embedded in the search tools).
Needless to say, in order to show up in local searches, having a local language website (or at least some website pages) is of paramount importance.

Does the company produce white papers or scientific documents?
In high-tech companies, it is not unusual for the CTO to address scientific forums and lecture at universities. These documents are a great tool to build confidence in the company’s technology. The best way of distribution to an international audience is by easy download (protected pdf) from the company’s website. English is the general scientific language, but the abstract should be in the local language for maximum impact.

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