Fewer then 10 percent of American manufacturing and service companies are involved in international trade, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Yet, in the rest of the modern industrial world, most service and manufacturing companies are involved in global trade in some way. It's a bandwagon you can't afford to miss.
Why Go Global?
It's easier than ever to market internationally. The numbers tell the story. ComScore recently released a study of the global search market showing that more than 113 billion searches were conducted in July 2009, which was an astonishing 41 percent increase versus a year ago.
If you thought Americans were the only ones using search engines, think again. Europeans and Asians search far more than anyone else and Latin Americans do the most searches per searcher.
To Domain or Not to Domain
Although subdomains aren't preferred for a long-term strategy, you can at least test entry to any market with a subdomain utilizing a paid search campaign. Your subdomain structure should use the country acronym rather than the language or country. For example, http://de.example.com instead of http://german.example.com or http://germany.example.com. To find an acronym list of your target countries, visit AcronymSearch.com.
Tread on translations carefully; getting your next-door neighbor's kid who studied French is an approach slightly above automating translation. You need to find a translation firm that has local translators who are familiar with your industry terms and are local to their market.
Translate and localize as much of the site as possible, including your fonts, forms, and form buttons. A translated page linked to your English forms or shopping carts will make it difficult to read, but you'll also lose that visitor's trust, which is far worse.
Proofreading is also highly recommended. Just because your translator raved about how great the translations are, nine times out of 10 it won't be perfect. Getting a second opinion is money well spent. For example, a major brand has a mascot bunny, but the translator uses the term "rabbit," which gives the readers a different visual from the cute "bunny" to something that, more or less, makes them hungry.
Finding the Right Markets
Every company is unique in terms of product, marketability, and competitive factors, so find what works best for you.
Your analytics are a starting point to see where your traffic comes from; however, don't depend on them as a starting point in terms of your global rollout. Because you're already gaining traffic, you can use your analytics as a tool to identify what service or product you have that's popular. Localize those popular terms and, with a little keyword research, you may find a starting point of what countries you should target first.
In general, international search marketers use a few different regional acronyms. FIGS is French, Italian, German, and Spanish (EU Spanish), and BRICs is Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Other than that, we go by all the other popular acronyms such as LATAM (Latin America), APAC (Asia Pacific), and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa).
Just as a basic guideline, you may want to start getting the feel of international markets by starting with your own language. American companies could start with a campaign targeting the U.K. and Ireland. There are language and cultural barriers that you will have to learn, but at least you'll get a good feel of your next steps.
FIGS would be a natural next step, then Holland and Scandinavia. All of them are great markets with good e-commerce ability.
In APAC, you would likely see Japan as an excellent market if you're persistent and descriptive with your landing pages. Rolling out in BRICS now is the best opportunity ever for a company to exploit low cost, massive exposure for online branding.
Test, Fail, Learn, Test, Fail, Learn
Global online search marketing is challenging as much as it is rewarding. You will certainly make mistakes as you go about finding new markets, but you'll learn greatly from them. You may discover that with your site, the Germans shop differently then Americans, the French have the biggest bounce rate, and the Japanese somewhat found it hard to follow through on a purchase.
To succeed, treat each market differently and approach them at the correct cultural angle. Get local feedback if you can by contacting potential buyers in your target country and having a chat with them. Most people are glad to help and share their ideas of how they think your best way is to enter their market.
Also, see what your target country competitors are doing and how they approach things. You may find that all you need is a floating anime of a smiley face on your landing page, or a site guide to engage with an unsure buyer.
Author Lloyd Jones once said, "The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed." There has never been a better time to expand internationally. If you go into it knowing that you will likely make some mistakes, the learnings you get out of them will be invaluable.