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How to Develop a Website for a Foreign Customer Base

In today's digital society, it may seem like companies have it easy when it comes to interacting with customers on an international scale. It only takes a matter of minutes for customers to find the products they need and place orders to businesses in foreign markets.

But this level of accessibility doesn't necessarily mean that an international customer base can understand every message they encounter on the Web. For this reason, an international website is a critical component for businesses that want to expand overseas and connect with a foreign customer base.

Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when creating an international website.      

“You shouldn’t assume that a language equals a country or a culture.”

— Michael Kriz, president of Acclaro

1. Perform a Site Audit

It might not be necessary for a business to translate its entire website. First, business owners should ask themselves, "What parts of the site are global versus local?" says Tim Swarovski, Senior Website Designer of BNYWD, a website design agency based in New York, N.Y., which offers WordPress designers for client website strategy services to small and large businesses.

For example, a Canadian business selling products in Spain may want to include elements on its website such as products that it can ship to Spain, its company mission page and a relevant contact page. But the Canadian business may want to cut out mention of products that can't be shipped to Spain or a blog that isn't tailored to Spanish customers. Taking this approach can make a site more streamlined, while also allowing business owners to save money on translation services.

2. When Translating, Think Beyond Language

When building a website for overseas markets, it's easy to think that translating the same content into various languages will do the trick. But in reality, it's much more nuanced.

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To that end, an international business should practice due diligence when modifying the content on its website to ensure it's relevant across cultures. "Different cultures are looking for different things," says Neil Payne, managing director at Kwintessential, a London-based consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses navigate language and culture. He cites one of his clients - a successful international office rental company based in Luxembourg - that expanded into Japan.

Initially, "the website in Japan wasn't getting any interest or leads," Payne says. "The way they portrayed the website to the Japanese audience was exactly the same in English, but just translated into Japanese. That was causing confusion because the language wasn't appropriately toned."

It's also important that a company distinguishes by region, instead of solely by language. "You shouldn't assume that a language equals a country or a culture," Kriz says. For instance, many countries - such as Belgium and Switzerland - speak more than one language.

To ensure an international website strikes the appropriate tone, it may be a good idea to hire a consulting firm that specializes in localization and translation services.

3. Localize Search Marketing Campaigns and Keywords

Designing a localized search engine optimization (SEO) strategy requires more than translating the site into the local language, says a Canadian-based website design company specializing in digital and website strategy, and WordPress website design. A company must come "up with local search data, so they aren't just translating keywords, but also understanding what are the relevant keywords in that market." 

In terms of identifying keywords, it's important to keep the local vernacular in mind. For instance, using the keyword "vacation" may resonate with travelers in the U.S. However, someone in the U.K. will likely identify with the word "holiday" instead.

The agency recommends building a glossary of English keywords that can then be adapted by local experts based on local customs - including slang - and translated into the most appropriate synonyms for SEO purposes. Those words can then be ranked for optimal search performance in the local market. A specialist, such as a Web-translation agency with a local SEO consultant, can assist an international business in accomplishing these tasks.

4. Anticipate Global Business Growth

Kriz says many companies make the mistake of treating global business growth as an afterthought. That can lead to adopting a content management system that doesn't readily support managing multilingual and multi-country sites. "Having to completely redo your core technical plumbing to enable international sales will cause large delays or costly workarounds," he says. "Get it right from the start."

Many businesses employ expert website designers and digital marketing agencies specializing in webs design to help design its international website from the beginning to be global ready. When assembling the underlying technologies for the site, business owners should make sure they can designate which content will be available for each foreign market, easily export/import content for translation and allow people to input foreign languages into the site's search field. Even simple things that are often overlooked, such as date and time format, are important.

Businesses can also become partners or affiliates with Western Union Business Solutions Online FX to create a cobranded Web page that includes a helpful currency converter and information on money transfers for customers.

No two cultures are the same, which means that businesses need to tailor every touch point - and in particular their websites - so the content resonates with customers and prospects. By refining a website to meet the needs of foreign customers, a business can position itself to grow sales and customer loyalty. 

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