By LeeAnne Hayworth, U.S. Commercial Service

With 95 percent of the world’s population living outside of U.S. borders and 55 percent of the world’s population using the Internet, thoughtful website design and functionality should be part of each U.S. exporter’s global sales and marketing strategy.

Your website is already providing you with global exposure. Why not use that exposure to your advantage to attract new customers and generate international sales?

The U.S. Commercial Service, which is the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, has developed the following recommendations to optimize your website for international visitors by combining website globalization best practices with your company’s branding and technology. Website globalization can be implemented in three phases.

The first phase, simple enhancements, incorporates simple yet effective improvements to a company’s website to make it obvious that the company is interested in selling internationally. Phase two, website internationalization, refers to creating a culturally neutral website that is easy to load and navigate, but it is not designed for a specific region or country. Lastly, website localization develops a customized website to reach consumers in a targeted market. Companies seeking to internationalize and localize their websites should engage professionals who possess the right cultural, business and technical knowledge to make your website appeal to prospects in your targeted markets.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with website globalization.

1. Demonstrate You Are Open for International Business: International visitors look for clues that indicate the company is receptive to international inquiries. Incorporating simple enhancements into your website design make it obvious to the international visitor that you are ready for their business. Examples of these simple enhancements include:

  • Providing an international salesperson’s name and email address, such as john@company.com instead of info@company.com so that a potential customer knows they will be contacting a real person;
  • Creating a separate “International Sales” page for those visiting your website from other countries; and
  • Providing your company’s full address, such as 100 Main Street, Pennsylvania, USA, including the country code with your phone number, and including international technical standards and measurements (such as the metric system) on your site.

2. To Translate or Not to Translate: The first thing most people think of when they hear “website globalization” is translating their website. However, for a lot of small- to medium-sized companies, this may not be the best approach. Translating a website is a complicated process that considers culture, dialect and even the size of the translated text on your website.

Most importantly, though, visitors to a translated website may expect the company behind the website to be able to conduct business in that language. If you do not have a multi-lingual staff available to answer international inquiries, then it is recommended to leave your site in English. After all, English is still the number one language for international business.

Small- to medium-sized companies can take two actions to address website translation. The first is to install a translator app, such as Google Translate or another similar app, at the top of your company’s webpage. This will enable interested international visitors to view your website in their native language. The second is to translate an introductory page in the languages of your targeted markets. The introductory page could include an overview of the company and its products, your experience in the region, and a link to the main website that is in English. These actions will leave a positive impression on the international viewer, and it can increase the site’s search engine ranking.

3. Proactively Promote Your Website on Local Search Engines: In the United States and in many countries around the world, Google is the most popular search engine. However, a lot of companies neglect to register their home page and site map on Google’s country-specific sites, such as google.de in Germany. By doing this, you have a better chance of being found in your target markets.

We live in an increasingly global marketplace and internationalizing your website should be part of a successful digital marketing strategy, as your website is your calling card. The U.S. Commercial Service offers a complimentary Website Globalization report that looks at a company’s website from an international sales and marketing perspective and offers suggestions and best practices that can significantly impact an international prospect’s ability to find your company on the Web.

If you are interested in learning more about website globalization and this service, contact LeeAnne Haworth, a Senior International Trade Specialist, with the U.S. Commercial Service’s Pittsburgh office, at LeeAnne.Haworth@trade.gov or (412) 644-2816.