Are you planning to start participating in global ecommerce? Congratulations! Doing international business is an ambitious and potentially very profitable endeavor — but get ready for some long hours and hard work.
Technology makes it possible for even businesses of modest means to develop a customer base in a foreign country, but you have to take steps to lay the foundation on which you will base your success. Follow this guide to marketing your ecommerce website overseas.
1. Create Subdirectories for Each Target Country
In order to pick up traffic for searches generated in the language of your target country, create a subdirectory of your US-based website. If the target language is Spanish, an example subdirectory would look like this: http://YourBusinessWebsite.com/es. Link the subdirectory pages to new product pages that are translated into Spanish, or whatever the target language.
2. Hire a Human Translator
Google punishes mechanical translation from services such as Google Translate. Perhaps more importantly, mechanical translation misses the nuances and subtleties associated with every language and culture such as slang, necessary formality and racial or cultural sensitivity. Use a service like Upwork to hire a freelance translator who lives or has lived in the target country.
3. Set Up a P.O. Box
Contact information is critical to both Google rankings and brand credibility. A physical local address will go a long way to convincing both the search engines and your customers that you are credible, relevant and trustworthy. Set up a P.O. box with instructions to forward any incoming mail to your offices back home.
4. Establish a Local Number
Like a physical address, a local phone number is part of the critical contact information that Google considers when ranking websites. It also lends credibility to your company and gives your customers a way to reach you without calling complicated, unfamiliar country codes. By establishing a virtual number, you don’t have to maintain an actual phone line in a foreign country.
Virtual numbers are local international numbers that are linked to a forwarding service. Your customers call a number they saw on your ad, and the call is routed to your offices back home — without the caller ever knowing that the call left the country.
5. Customize Forwarding Options
Once you establish a local virtual number in the target country, it is critical to set the options to meet your standards.
For example, you can use simultaneous dialing to ring several different numbers at the same time. As soon as the call is answered on one line, it stops ringing on the others.
Sequential dialing rings numbers in a predetermined sequence. If the primary number doesn’t answer, the call is transferred to a secondary number, a third, and so on.
Time-of-day routing lets you determine which line incoming calls are routed to depending on the time of day or day of week the call was placed. This is an excellent way to get around difficulties that come with doing business in different time zones.
6. Create a Bill of Lading
Bills of lading are documents that make international shipping easier for you, your customers and customs officials by transferring titles to the recipient. Create a bill of lading template with a service like Shopify, and use it to extend your branding by including your logo or other brand imagery.
7. Target the Right International Social Media
Facebook dominates the social media landscape — in the United States and much of Europe. QZone and Sina Weibo, however, dominate China. Are you selling in Russia? You’ll have to create a presence on Orkut. Don’t assume your domestic social media strategy will translate to your new audience. Instead, get to know the international social media landscape and tailor your strategy accordingly.
8. Learn International Laws and Regulations
Aside from language barriers, the hardest part of doing business overseas is navigating the web of international laws and regulations, which vary from country to country. Countries like Germany, France and Belgium, for example, are strict when it comes to language in advertising. The United States, on the other hand, is comparatively lax in allowing advertisers to use words and phrases like “best” or “number one.” International business law can be complicated, and you may need to hire professional legal help.
It has never been easier for companies of all sizes to do business overseas, but don’t assume you can simply translate your ecommerce site and wait for the sales to roll in. Everything from translation to shipping to social media becomes more complicated when you do business on a global level — but if you do it right, it also becomes more profitable.