With the global economy still languishing in recession, conventional wisdom would declare this an absurd time to try and launch a new business onto the world stage. In reality, though, the economic crisis has actually created numerous opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs with specialist, money-saving products or services, especially those who are looking to tackle emerging markets (such as the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China) and who know how to do it with minimal risk and outlay.
The internet is the key to turning your bedroom business into a booming multinational corporation; consider that there are 1.8 billion web users online, of which 78% are not native-English speakers (internetworldstats.com). That’s a huge market waiting to be tapped, if you know how to use the web to your advantage.
The first step to going international with your online presence is to research, research, research. Before you start targeting foreign markets, you need to figure out which foreign markets it’s worth your while to focus on. Make up a list of countries that you think might have a gap in the market for your product, then check out the websites and online strategies of your potential competitors in that market. If possible, make some contacts in each country so you can get on-the-ground advice and even, if possible, take a trip to the country to study the market first hand and meet potential contacts and customers.
Then you can use what you’ve learned about buying habits, e-commerce and website design preferences in each different market to create localised web sites for each of your foreign target markets, for instance, one site for Brazil, one for Russian, one for China and one for India.
Localise your sites
You need to speak to your overseas customers in their own language – research has shown that 85% of consumers will not buy a product if they can’t read about it in their native language (Common Sense Advisory, 2006).
This means you can’t just get away with creating one English language Top Level Domain (TLD) and then giving the option of automatic text translation for pages – those auto-translate tools may be fine for getting the general gist of a piece of text, but they’re useless as far as creating a convincing and credible piece of foreign language copy.
That’s why it’s essential to not only tweak your website design to the aesthetics (design, colour, navigation) of your target audience, but also to have the copy translated by a professional working into their native language, to make sure that you avoid any embarrassing mistakes or mistranslations and that your tone and style is appropriate to the audience.
Localise your SEO
It’s safe to assume that readers of an SEO blog will be fairly clued-up on SEO strategies – however, there’s one error that online marketers and web designers often make when targeting foreign language markets, and that is to not research their keywords for each specific market.
The English term, or a direct translation of the English term, is not always the most popular – for instance, if you were selling ‘weekend holidays’ to the French market, for French-speaking Canada you’d use the direct translation ‘fin de semaine’ for ‘weekend’, while in France itself they’ve adopted the ‘Franglaise’ term ‘le weekend’.
A quick search using a keyword tool like Google’s will reveal the most popular keywords in use in any market – the trick here is to make sure that you’re focusing your efforts on the most used search engine for each market – while Google may reign supreme in English, many foreign languages have their own popular search engine equivalents, such as Baidu in China and Yandex in Russia.
Localise your online marketing
Your next step is to make yourself seen and heard in the online realm of your target markets. There’s far less competition for page rankings amongst non-English websites, purely by virtue of there being less pages over all, so with a bit of clever marketing you can get great search engine results.
Utilising Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is a cheap way to get to the top of page rankings straight off, and you can set a nominal budget, such as $10 a month, and then review the most effective keywords and search engines each month.
Even cheaper is using social media – it’ll cost you nothing to set up an account with Facebook, or hi5 or Ibibo in India, or Orkut in Brazil – and you can then build a grassroots fanbase and interact directly with, and get feedback from, your customers.
Other effective – and cost-effective – online marketing tips include building relationships and links with partner websites, getting your name out there by writing and pitching articles to relevant media sites in exchange for links and posting on their message boards and comments, and making sure to keep your site regularly updated with fresh, relevant material to draw in the search engine bots.
By researching emerging foreign markets for opportunities and marketing strategies, and then localising your web presence for each market and using clever, cheap online marketing strategies, you can go global with minimal risk and expense.
About the author: Christian Arno is the founder and managing director of global translation provider Lingo24, which works across four continents.