Your website is a pivotal marketing tool. It is often the first place a prospect meets you, where an existing client looks for product information and how a job seeker decides if they want to submit a resume.

Adding to the complexity is the reality that companies frequently operate across multiple countries, and it’s important to ensure your web presence reflects that. Your website should speak to all the audiences you serve in a way that makes it easy for them to receive the information. It may feel like a daunting task, but with the right approach it’s a manageable — and very rewarding — process.

Website internationalization should always start with an honest assessment of how your business is conducted as well as your audience’s needs.

Here are a few key questions to consider:

  • Are your clients best served by a global or local approach?
  • What cultural aspects should be reflected?
  • What language and dialect should content be in?
  • How do your product offerings differ by region?

Understanding how your customers’ needs vary across geographies will enable you to take the first steps toward creating a digital experience for them. 

Once you are ready to move forward with globalizing your site, here are three practical considerations.

Choose your site architecture.

Websites are organized and connected through domains, subdomains and subdirectories. Typically, when different versions of your website are built to support international audiences, the structure that determines where each website lives falls into one of three architectural categories:

  • Top-level domains

Each international version has a domain all to itself.

Example: Olympusamerica.com vs. Olympus-global.com

  • Subdomains

Each international version sits on a different subdomain of the main site.

Example: usa.FAGE vs. de.FAGE

  • Subdirectories

Each international version is directly attached to the primary top-level domain as a subfolder, usually designating a country language pair.

Example: bcg.com/en-us/ vs. bcg.com/de-de/

Each approach provides its own opportunities and challenges for internationalization. A subdirectory keeps users on the main site and can minimize competition among your websites for traffic and search engine optimization (SEO). We find that subdirectories are also usually the easiest to manage centrally within one content management system. On the other hand, a subdomain is often the easiest to implement so some companies prefer this route.

Decide how to handle translation and content.

One motive that often prompts companies to explore website globalization is the need for content that speaks to regional audiences. This practice makes good business sense. Research shows that companies that localize content are twice as likely to increase profits and 1.25 times as likely to grow earnings year over year.

However, it’s important to do more than simply translate words. Companies sometimes focus on translating their content from English to other languages without paying as much attention to how the actual message might need to change. To successfully achieve a global presence, you should consider the content itself in addition to language and dialect. The more specific you can get, the more successful you will be in connecting with local stakeholders. Tune the value proposition to the region and focus on the products and services that speak most to their needs. Consider the images and people who are featured on the website as well. This is a prime opportunity to spotlight local teams and allow them to connect directly with their customers.

When it comes to the actual process of translating the content on a website, many companies turn to dynamic translation tools that integrate directly with their content management system. It’s important to evaluate what technology you currently have and which systems might integrate with your existing stack most smoothly before committing to any one tool or service.

Optimize for international search engines.

To help ensure the intended audiences will find your site, you must take some steps regarding local SEO vs. global. This action is a strategic imperative as most users around the globe will turn to search engines to find your website, and it’s up to you to make sure these engines know which version of your website should be served to searchers.

An HTML attribute called a hreflang can help by alerting search engines that there are multiple versions of your page. This improves a website’s targeting and helps search engines serve the right version — for example, sending a user in France to the European version of a site rather than the U.S. version. Helping users find the version of a site best suited for them also improves their overall experience, often leading to SEO-friendly actions like spending more time on the site and clicking through to additional pages. And telling search engines there are multiple versions of your site can help keep them from being logged as duplicates, which has a negative impact on global SEO.

Implementing the right hreflang tagging on your site can make or break your global digital footprint. In order to execute this properly, a full tagging strategy should be developed in response to business and regional audience needs. It’s important to remember that Google only recognizes countries, not regions, so tagging regional versions of sites will often mean sending users from multiple countries to the same site version. Most often, hreflang tagging is best handled by experts.

Globalizing a Website Requires a Long-Term Strategy

Globalizing a website can be extremely fulfilling from a business and customer relations perspective, but it is a project that requires dedication and patience. Remember that websites won’t realize their full potential overnight. Take an iterative approach and map out a long-term strategy so you can get there in a manageable fashion. And if you need a partner to help with the process, give us a call.  

A Best Practices Guide for Professional Services Web Design