So your company has a Web site, but it is not generating the type of traffic or sales you had envisioned. You’ve built it, but they have not come. If this scenario rings true, now is the perfect time for your organization to truly become internationalists — that is, to extend the reach of your product, brand name or service beyond state and national boundaries to the entire online world. This feat can be accomplished within weeks, and will unlock the true power of e-commerce for your company in a manner that will only grow larger with time.
Every day millions of potential customers outside of the United States search the Internet for information and use it to shop in what amounts to the biggest, most accessible international marketplace ever created. Web usage outside of our nation is literally exploding, dramatically outpacing domestic expansion and creating huge opportunities for companies that take placement steps to harness this potential client universe. Internet usage is growing quickly in Europe, where a recent report from Web research firm eMarketer says there will be 108 million Internet users by the end of 2001, up from 70 million at the end of last year. The same firm predicts Asia’s Internet population will surge from 49 million users currently to 173 million in 2004, generating over $338 billion in e-commerce revenues in that period. China’s Web usage is in its infancy, but is projected to challenge Japan’s 36 percent of Asian Internet users in that same time frame. France, Germany, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom also have rapidly expanding e-commerce markets and rates of Web usage.
The key to selling your product or service online to an international clientele is making sure your Web site is seen by customers in native-speaking markets, and can be understood through basic language translation. Just as the average American will not go to Yahoo! Japan to access information or products, the typical Japanese Websurfer will not use AOL to search. To unlock the true power of e-commerce, your business should be specifically positioned in foreign online markets, where those that speak the language go to find what they want. For instance, to attract French traffic to your site and penetrate that market, it is critical to place your business within such search engines or directories as Lycos France, Voila, or Nomade.fr, in appropriate categories such as “Ordinateurs, Mode, or Musique” (computers, fashion or music). With over 350 languages now available for registering web addresses through VeriSign, the top Internet naming authority, the opportunity to go global virtually overnight is tremendous and still growing.
Foreign traffic will be attracted to your site when Websurfers are able to read the title of your site and its description in their native language. Particularly effective are placements into markets that have relatively few resources in that language, such as Romanian, Czech, Russian, Swedish or Hungarian. Successful placement involves basic language translation of the title of your Web site, a short description, key words and business names. It is not necessary to translate your entire site; rather, the information that will make the decision whether or not to visit should be readable in a native tongue.
When potential customers in Hong Kong or Berlin locate the category where they want to shop, your business should be positioned prominently and be easily identified in that language. Though English is the universal language, it is not accepted universally online.
In order to track foreign traffic levels to your online operation and gauge effectiveness, it is recommended that traffic analysis software such as Webtrends be installed on the host server. A report can be generated in minutes that displays the countries from which your visitors come, the Internet Service Providers they are using, the engines or directories in which they found your business, as well as the overall number of daily visits to the site. This information will be invaluable as your international strategy progresses, providing your marketing department with benchmarks from which to work as well as targeted areas of concentration.
When your company is ready to become serious about e-commerce, you will have arrived at the foot of the marketing Mt. Everest. An international strategy and native-language placement, combined with being seen in the right places and persistence, will allow the mountain to be scaled much faster. Becoming an international company rather than a drop in the online ocean is the key to joining the e-commerce revolution.