Parlez-Vous E-Commerce?

Parlez-Vous E-Commerce?

Your Website may be popular, but if you’re not reaching out to foreign customers, you’re missing out on a world of business opportunities. According to research firm IDC, more than $900 billion in Internet spending was projected to take place outside the U.S. by 2003. The Net has made it easier than ever to market products and services across the globe, and it makes good business sense to make sure your site appeals to customers in Areas with high online populations such as the Asia/Pacific Rim and Western Europe.

“The baseline point of having a Web presence is marketing, giving your company visibility and highlighting your product or service,” says Melanie Mosley, CEO of Light Dynamics, a full service Internet solutions company in Lisle, Illinois. Of course, just because the Internet is global in scope doesn’t mean tailoring your Website to an international audience will automatically translate into greater revenues, warns Mosley. “If you are not already providing a service or selling a product abroad, then in addition to the online aspects, you need [to] understand traditional international business practices.”

Global Reach, a marketing communications consultancy, reports that overall, only 35.8% of the global online population speaks English. Moreover, there are many Spanish, Chinese, and French speakers living in the U.S. who prefer to access the Web in their native languages. So, how do you make sure your company doesn’t pass up opportunities to cash in on global Internet growth? Learn to speak their languages.

Should I translate my site? The answer, in any language, is a resounding oui (or da, ja, or sí). But first, you’ll have to figure out two basic issues, says Jupiter Research Senior Analyst Eric Peterson: how much content you are going to convert and how much time and money you want to commit to translating across languages. He adds that translating your Web pages into one or two foreign languages may be less challenging than customizing your site for users in different regions of the world.

You’ll need to do a market analysis to determine where your audience lies, says James McNeil, CEO of McNeil Technologies (No. 66 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $52 million in sales). The Springfield, Virginia-based management consulting firm provides language services to multinational companies. “A site in English, Spanish, and simplified Chinese would cover the bulk of the market — about 80% of the world’s population,” he says. The next three most popular languages are Hindi, Russian, and French, adds McNeil, whose combined language group handles 150 languages, employs 200 linguists, and generates roughly $20 million a year in revenues.

Traditionally, the complete Website is translated into one or more foreign languages. Another option is to translate only the pertinent parts of your site, giving readers access to those pages by clicking on the navigation bar or on hyperlinks. It is also a good idea to translate the meta tags so that the site is optimized for foreign search engines. For example, you would register your URL as .de