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Although English is the language most used on the internet, it is the primary tongue of only about 28 percent of all web users. Chinese follows closely behind at a little over 23 percent, with eight other languages in the top 10 making up 84 percent of total internet users. Given these facts, it stands to reason that if you want to broaden your reach to increase online sales, you can optimize your site to reach potential customers who don’t speak English. We checked in with Gabriel Fairman, CEO of Bureau Translations to find out what it takes to make your website ready for foreign markets.
Small Business Center: Why might website owners want to internationalize their sites?
Gabriel Fairman: Each international market added taps into hundreds of millions of potential consumers. For instance, Chinese adds over a half-billion internet users, Spanish over 164 million, and Japanese and Portuguese are close to 100 million each. It’s a powerful form of marketing with a comparatively small investment. Not to mention the fact that people who would have otherwise never known you exist can become potential consumers or propagators of your brand, which will increase in status by having a multilingual website. In an increasingly competitive world, having your product available in different languages increases the odds of success. For instance, small-business owners who are struggling locally may find that a different region of the globe has intense demand for their product, with little competition. This could provide for an optimum growth environment.
What does it take to make a website ready for international buyers?
Website owners need to decide on the markets they want to target, determine which languages need to be added, and then address all applicable legislation, such as import-export duties, import-export legislation, and local-target country legislation. This can be a complex undertaking, which is why you may want to involve an expert to help with the process. Adding a currency converter with live bank exchange rates can also help foreign buyers with purchasing decisions.
How does website localization differ from website internationalization?
Both are key components of the globalization process. Localization includes the stages that follow the internationalization of the website, such as local product testing, quality assurance, and local product marketing. It’s working with each and every locale as per its own legislation, currency, measurements, and culture.
However, I am not too keen on these terms as they borrow from different contexts and are loaded with implications — I would rather just think of the steps that it takes to get your product out there. First, you must have a product or service, and make it available in other languages. Then you should target those markets that respond positively. Finally, you will need to deal with the vast range of nuances that unfold from this growth one step at a time.
For instance, certain colors and expressions fly well in some cultures but not in others. Without a huge budget, the first step should be just getting the information out there and ensuring there is nothing in the product, words, or company that could be offensive to the target market. From that point on, the localization process can can be refined and calibrated as international revenue growth organically justifies the investment.
How should website owners decide which international markets to target?
Owners should think about which market will most easily add new revenue to their company. I like to first and foremost ensure that the content is out there and discoverable in several countries. From that point on, I allow the interest and feedback to lead the way in terms of targeting.
Should website owners go into one international market at a time, or jump into more than one?
Targeting an international market can be as much work, if not more, as starting a local business. Website owners should have the content available in as many languages as possible to start, and then build the strategy for one specific market at a time.
How much does it cost to have a website internationalized and localized for an international market?
The cost is entirely dependent on budget and expectations. We can get a website up and running for approximately $500 per language. Naturally, this will vary according to the amount of content that is necessary and the kind of website it is.
Is it necessary to hire an expert, or can business owners do this themselves?
Business owners can do it by themselves but it will ultimately be more time-consuming and ineffective than hiring an expert. For instance, as a translation partner, we have the right technology and resources to produce results quickly and far more efficiently than if someone were to try working this out by themselves.