How to Make Your Website Ready for International Business

This series is commissioned by UPS.

One of the challenges of small businesses going global is the complexity of dealing with language and local requirements. However, if you do your homework, you can sell your products and services outside the U.S. even if your sales and marketing budget is small. One of the most cost effective ways to sell across borders is to use your website, either for eCommerce, or as an informational and lead generation site. Here are 4 key ways to ready your website for international business:

(1) Internationalize your website content

Buyers are much more likely to buy if a website is in their own language.  For the small business, providing website content in other languages can be a particular challenge because it’s costly to translate text into multiple languages.  One way to keep costs in control is to translate text or provide country-specific sites only for the country or countries where you sell the most.  Organizations like Lisa.org and Gala Global provide resources to help businesses localize their products and websites, including links to translation services.  Don’t forget Spanish speakers in the U.S. — more and more businesses are providing Spanish translation specifically for this market within our own borders.

And remember, too, that it’s more than just text to consider.  Take into account cultural differences, which may call for different graphics.  Consider voiceover translations or subtitles for business videos.

Finally, if you’re not able to afford translating your entire website into other languages, there are some other techniques to consider.  For instance, translate a single landing page in your site into key languages.  Or, consider writing the text of your site in Simplified English.  Simplified English is a standardized way of writing that reduces ambiguity. It makes English website copy easier for non-native English speakers to understand.

Simplified English also makes machine translations more accurate.  Thus, you could add links to your website to the Google translation tool to provide a rough translation in seconds.  Insert small clickable flag images to enable visitors to launch the translation tool in their language.  A machine translation is no substitute for a fluent human translation, but it is an alternative for startups on very low budgets.  (We previously used a Google translator plugin for WordPress here at Small Business Trends.)

(2) Calculate buyer’s costs and estimate shipping

Shipping internationally can take longer and cost more than domestic shipping.  On top of that, you have differences in currencies.  An even bigger challenge is figuring the “landed cost” of your product to the buyer.  Landed cost refers to the entire cost of a product when it arrives in the buyer’s country.   This is the cost including payment of tariffs and duties (taxes and fees) in the buyer’s country.  (This Export.gov video has a good explanation of landed costs.)  These taxes and fees vary by country, and can be quite complex.

Luckily today there are shipping management software packages that do the heavy lifting.  The software will automatically figure the costs and delivery times for overseas orders, giving a close estimate.  It also converts the currency for the buyer.   Large shipping carriers (such as UPS) provide this software, as do some other companies — this article in Internet Retailer gives more information.  By integrating this software into your website, you provide a seamless experience for the customer.

(3) Optimize your site and search marketing for international Web visitors

As cross-border selling grows, we’re seeing a growing specialty among search marketers:  optimizing websites for visitors from specific countries, and employing techniques to attract international visitors through search engines and search ads.  This can involve using country specific domain names, localizing spelling variations (“customized” versus “customised”),  using keywords in other languages, and geo-targeting Google AdWords to specific countries — to name a few techniques.  Spanish SEO is an example of this breed of search marketing firm.  Spanish SEO caters  to businesses in the U.S. that wish to reach Latinos and Hispanics online.

(4) Comply with government export regulations

For most goods and services, you do not need government approval to sell across international borders. However, there are notable exceptions.  For example, certain “defense” or “military” goods have restrictions on what can be sold and/or where it can be shipped outside the United States.  An export license may be required for them.  Agricultural, plant and food items are another category of goods that may have restrictions or special labeling requirements.  Start with the Business.gov Guide to Exporting/Importing Specific Products to identify  any requirements that apply to what you sell.

Address such restrictions on your website.  For instance, if you offer eCommerce or online sales, you’ll need to program your catalog and shopping cart to restrict sales of any item requiring an export license, or accept orders only in certain countries.  Even if you don’t sell directly online and your website is primarily informational, not transactional, consider posting a notice of any special exporting requirements or geographic restrictions on your site.

Another document worth reviewing is the OECD Guidelines for consumer protection (PDF download), applicable to 28 countries including the United States.  These Guidelines contain a handy checklist of best practices to self-assess  whether your business and website are consumer-friendly for international e-commerce. The Guidelines are fairly general, but contain good practices to follow even for domestic sales and domestic Web visitors.

For more information

Business.gov points you to more resources to help you export and sell internationally. Export.gov is another useful resource.

Laurel Delaney of GlobeTrade.com has released the full text of her book on exporting for small businesses on Google Books.  You can read Start and Run a Profitable Exporting Business online.  Although the book was published in the 1990s, according to Laurel the vast majority of it is still valid even today.  Her BorderBuster blog and newsletter is another excellent resource filled with tips.  Cindy King’s International Business Blog also provides helpful tips for small businesses.

21 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

21 Reactions

  1. Great advice, particularly for European readers who have so many languages literally on their doorstep. Despite the dominance of English as a world language, the nuances of a marketing message are often lost when read as a second language. It’s really important to get into the head of the prospective buyer to deliver a message that takes accounts of cultural differences and national usage of products.

  2. Hi Anita. That was a highly informative post – thanks for sharing.

    Another consideration within your first point around language and translation. One of the challenges, even if just dealing in English, can be simple spelling. The market for my business is global including the US – but the US and UK/Ireland dialects have their own little nuances that should be considered. Colour/color as an instance.

    Where possible, I try and avoid words that are spelt differently and come up with an alternative that is common to both.

    Regards
    Barney

    • Barney, that’s a great suggestion.

      So words like “honor” versus “honour”; or optimization versus “optimisation” are ones you’d avoid. As well as words that unique meanings in one language versus another.

      Makes sense.

      - Anita

  3. “Insert small clickable flag images to enable visitors to launch the translation tool in their language.”

    I would recommend that you list the languages rather than using flags. While Japan’s flag is fine for indicating where the Japanese content is, languages like Spanish pose more of a challenge. Buyers in one Spanish-speaking country may not be familiar with the flag from another country.

  4. As an American in spirit, located in Europe at the moment, I enjoy reading this kind of international post. If you are interested to have reference book on international business rules, check out International Commercial Transactions by Jan Ramberg.

  5. If a business decides to allocate budget for international website presence, they should do it right. My main objection is to automated translation.

    Get a native speaker to write content, optimize your international site for target keywords in that language, get your website hosted in the target country, and start getting links to your international website from the target country. Anything less is a waste of money and time, in my opinion.

  6. @Anita: Simplified English is a standardized way of writing that reduces ambiguity. It makes English website copy easier for non-native English speakers to understand.

    Simplified English (ASD-STE100) is applicable to aircraft maintenance. To use ASD-STE100 in other domains, you must customise the dictionary of technical words.

    As an alternative to ASD-STE100, use Kohl’s ‘Global English’. Kohl gives detailed grammatical guidelines about how to optimise English for international readers. For a review of Kohl’s ‘The Global English style guide’, see http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/global-english-style-guide.htm.

    @Anita: Simplified English also makes machine translations more accurate. Thus, you could add links to your website to the Google translation tool

    • @Mike — thank you so much for the great resources!

      I will say that here in the States, “Simplified English” has taken on a much broader connotation than the aerospace industry. I linked to the Boeing site only because it had the best explanation of Simplified English. But the phrase “Simplified English” is used to describe a manner of writing in many more industries than that one. Perhaps it’s taken on the same meaning as “Global English”? Whatever… I think names are less important than the underlying point, which is this: write in a manner that makes it easy for non-English speakers to comprehend.

  7. @Anita: I linked to the Boeing site only because it had the best explanation of Simplified English.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    @Anita: I will say that here in the States, “Simplified English” has taken on a much broader connotation than the aerospace industry.

    Yes, in the UK too, we use ‘simplified English’ as a general term. Other good examples of simplified English for international audiences are as follows:
    * EasyEnglish from Wycliffe Associates is used for a simple version of the Bible (www.easyenglish.info/about-us/articles/communicator.htm).
    * Special English from Voice of America is used for news broadcasts (www.voanews.com/specialenglish/about_special_english.cfm).

  8. Very informative article.Simplified English are very well understood by all people but translation is a must in able for all people with different languages properly understand.

  9. Hi Janine, I understand your point and agree with it to a certain extent. The challenge is that we may not be able to write the name of their language using their characters. I’m thinking of Cyrillic, Kanji, Chinese, Arabic and so on. I don’t have a keyboard to write in those alphabets. The flag is easier to accomplish.

    And with machine-generated translations, all they’ll get is the gist, anyway. I mention it only for startups, and only temporarily until they can afford a better translation.

    - Anita

  10. Hi Lyena, You make a great point. Again, I intended the references to machine translation only for startups, as a temporary measure until they can afford a translation from a fluent speaker of the language. Machine translation is still not good enough to be a permanent solution for any established business serious about attracting customers from other countries in their own language.

    Anita

  11. Great article. Our company, iGlobal Exports, can handle all of the shipping and duty/tax calculations for any store and do it in real time along with currency conversion and a country-specific customized checkout. The companies we work with are often surprised to see that they immediately start to convert more international visitors just by integrating with us and without doing anything else. We also offer prepayment of duties and taxes using our landed cost calculations. We work with any kind of website as well. Check us out. Thanks!

  12. Very informative article. I’m recently thinking about expanding our business to global markets and this is what I like to read. Thanks for all of the links also. You’ve provided great quality and I appreciate it. We have very informative info on our website for internet marketers to get to the next level, but going global is the next move up. Going Global baby!!

  13. Hello Anita Campbell for giving great article on website ready for international business when read your post this is very useful news from your side my company name is Miracle Web Solutions Pvt Ltd . How my website http://www.miraclewebsolutions.com/ ready for International visitor

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