Today’s post comes courtesy of Nicolas D’Alleva, a web design and SEO specialist.
Own an online business? Are you checking out your analytics data and seeing some great action from people from outside the US? That’s awesome! Well, it’s awesome if you are capitalizing on those visitors and turning each into profit. This post will give you a few tips on how to transform your local website into one that appeals to a more global audience.
In order to ensure that your traffic and revenues (hopefully) flow from all across the globe, it is essential to have a website designed to meet the needs of customers who differ from each other in terms of language, preferences, likes, dislikes and culture. Think about this, if you create a great “cosmopolitan” style website, you run the risk of not appealing to most of your customer groups. On the other hand, if you build in too much localization to appeal to one group of customers, you might end up offending a set of potential customers from a different geography or ethnic profile. So how do you decide on which is the best course of action for truly global web design? You continue reading this post that’s how! We’ve broken it down into 6 points to follow if you want to capitalize in a global marketplace.
Let’s pretend you don’t have a website and are just toying around with the idea of making money on the Internet. During the planning phase, identify the website’s globalization goals, such as which region is your target market. Define your customer profile in terms of the language they use, the colors they prefer (we aren’t crazy here – certain groups of people prefer different color schemes), their cultural nuances, etc. Don’t just think in terms of how likely people are to buy your product or services. Identify the additional elements needed in your site at this stage (such as support for multiple languages or product shipping logistics/fees) so there is no corner cutting later due to lack of time or budget.
One thing that you should be wary about while designing a website for a global audience is not to be trapped by stereotypes. Today, people’s behavior is not only governed by their ethnicity or background, but also on the context. For example, an expatriate from China working for an American IT company may have Chinese preferences while at home, but would take a more Western approach while in a work meeting. How does this affect your website?
Well, if you are selling food products like Virginia peanuts or Atlantic City salt water taffy, you may want to localize your content because people are buying the product as well as the “idea” of the product. For something less fun like IT servers, a more cosmopolitan design may be better suited. As the world shrinks and information and content gets shared almost in a real time basis, it is important to research the preferences of your target market. Make sure research broadly and include a wide variety of user types–not a narrow group. Let’s look at the salt water taffy product again. To design a website that only appealed to a narrow age range (like 21-28) would be foolish as the product appeals to all ages. Do some research about what age groups are most likely to buy that product coupled with which group is most likely to purchase it online and target it to that age range.
Once you have gone through the research phase, analyze the data to arrive at a set of design goals (both functional and usability related) for your website. Take specific care to include globalization targets in the design goals. For a great example of this, check out Amazon’s country specific sites (like amazon.cn and amazon.it). You will notice that the offerings on the homepage are much different for each local area because the target “likes” are different. Today, the homepage for US amazon is plugging its new Kindle HD where the Chinese version of the page is selling liquor, wine, & cheese.
During the design phase, it is a good idea to go for “rapid prototyping”. An ideal scenario is to involve your end user in the design process, but if that is not possible, you should at-least try to engage with them through channels such as social media or online surveys. During the design phase it is a good idea to develop a checklist based on the following elements:
Target Market Profile: Identify the differentiation requirements in the website needed to appeal to the target markets for your products, and the cost of incorporating these additional elements. This will help to easily arrive at a design trade-off at a later stage, if required.
- Technology: Keep in mind that the appropriate media for engaging the customers differ across regions as the fonts, color combinations and even supported file formats may vary from one place to another. You should also keep in mind that the metaphors and mental models differ among user groups. Thus, while an American audience would easily identify with a desktop metaphor, an Asian audience is more likely to identify with a book shelf metaphor.
- Interaction: Broadband and mobile penetration varies across countries and economic profiles. Thus, an image heavy website may be suitable for a target audience who has access to high speed broadband internet, whereas a text only, minimal input site would be suitable for regions which still rely on slow internet connections. You may also want to provide both versions of your site for engaging both types of user profiles.
You can also develop multiple design options and test them with different members of your target customer groups to come up with a universal winner. Google Analytics is great for this and you can implement different scripts in your website that will direct users to certain pages based on their IP address (global location) to assess success or failure of any page. It is also necessary to maintain documentation regarding the design decisions taken, so that you maintain consistency across various pages of the website.
Once the design is complete, the implementation phase starts. Make sure that you have the right tools for ensuring a global design. This includes even minor things such as the right set of fonts to enable the correct display of currency symbols to the selection of universal icons.
After the website implementation is over, it is necessary to constantly evaluate performance. You may continue to tweak your SEO strategy in an attempt to drive traffic to your site and boost the revenue numbers, but for all you know, people may not be visiting your site either because they find the content offensive or because they are unable to understand the contents of your site (either due to language barriers or due to a misunderstanding of the symbols and icons that are being used). You should conduct usability tests using an international user group or specific localized user groups so as to achieve a globalized user interface. This is not as hard as it sounds! Again, if you can direct certain locations based in IP protocol to different locations (like page A or page B) you can conduct usability tests without the end user even knowing they are being tested! The design will then need to be strengthened to make it more appealing to your target customers.
If the above sounds complicated, it’s really not! Appealing to a global audience is more than creating a website in a vacuum and hoping it works. It takes proper planning, implementation, analysis, change, then back to analysis in a never ending cycle. You want to keep up with the web right? Then you need to properly plan for it and keep up with changes in consumer behavior. Creating a successful global website is a full time job but if done right, the ends will justify the means!
If you have a website that’s performing well globally or just some tips that we didn’t cover here, please jump in & post some comments below!
Nicolas D’Alleva is an avid blogger and entrepreneur from Pennsylvania. He started and manages two businesses, Spotted Frog Design, an incredible design and SEO company, and Specialty Answering Service, an outsourcing company that answers your business phones when you can’t. Please visit either website for more information on Mr. D’Alleva and to read some other great blog posts.
An easy way to gauge your site ranking in different countries is the How Do You Rank Globally tool listed on our Small Business Resources Page (under Marketing & Advertising)