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Can you explain the specific areas that need to be included in a Web site to assist global trade and attract potential clients? What languages should the site display? Should I use a program that displays the site content in various languages? —S.V., Australia
Develop content for your Web site with an international clientele in mind. For instance, be sensitive to cultural nuance, use universal images and metaphors, and develop a slogan that reflects your global outreach, says Ayse Oge, president of Ultimate Trade, an international consultancy based in Encino, Calif. "Include testimonials from internationally known prominent people who use your products. If you have been written up in a well-known publication, include a short piece on it on your front page," she says.
All these factors will enhance your credibility and help you avoid major blunders. But you'll need more than an appealing Web site to find and keep international customers, says Peter Zapf, president of GlobalSources.com (GSOL), a consulting and outsourcing firm based in Singapore. "Keep in mind—in addition to the Web content—customer service, logistics, and product delivery and payment," he says.
Smooth out issues ahead of time with customs duties and shipping procedures, and include UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX) international shipping rates on your site in a drop-down box, so your clients don't get sticker shock when they check out, Oge says.
Be aware that selling outside of your country exposes you to higher transaction fees and a higher likelihood of fraud, Zapf says: "At a minimum, you need to have good fraud management practices in place in order to minimize potential charge backs."
When it comes to multilingual Web site content, remember that if you include it, you'll also need a multilingual customer service team to answer telephone inquiries and reply to e-mail. "The key to attracting clients is having content localized for each global market, but this can be costly to maintain, particularly for smaller companies," says Susan Peters, senior director of corporate marketing and Web strategy at ILOG, a software firm headquartered in Silicon Valley and Paris and recently acquired by IBM (IBM).
"One approach is to make available basic information on the company and its products in a couple of select local languages, like Spanish and Chinese," she says. "A rule of thumb is to target content one click down from the home page for localization, including things like pages describing corporate background, products, and services information."
If you're just starting up, begin with domestic sales in Australia, then move to other English-speaking countries, Zapf advises, before you consider multilingual marketing.
Additional languages may not be necessary, depending on the industry and audience you're targeting. "GlobalSources.com targets international trade but does it all in English, because this is the language most buyers and suppliers use to communicate," he says.
If you decide to use automated translation, make sure you have a professional review the content before finalizing it. "Web site translation services are getting sophisticated in terms of the product features they provide to small and midsize companies, but shopping is required to find the best company, given the needs and expectations of your international customers," Oge says.
Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.