Net the World

International Web users want to buy from your site--make it easy on 'em.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you've tested the global e-commerce waters and received a lukewarm response, the problem may not be your product, but your Web site, according to Jorden Woods, CEO of Global Sight Corp. in San Jose, California. It just means you and your Web site have got some learning to do.

To help entrepreneurs bring themselves and their sites up to international speed, Woods co-founded GlobalSight, a company offering globalization consulting and software, in 1997 with international business expert Excelle Liu. Woods points out that when users visit sites not in their native language, studies show 76 percent will look for a translated version-or leave. But when a Web site is in their native language, they stay twice as long and are three times as likely to place orders.

Woods offers several tips to help you reach this vast international audience:

  • Offer a localized page for every locale you target. Use professional translators. It's best to find a native, but you also need someone who knows business and can share your product effectively with customers.
  • Determine how you want to be perceived. "Do you want to come across as hip?" asks Woods. "Are you targeting an upscale, a technical or a fashion-conscious market?"
  • Be aware of regional and cultural differences within specific languages. For example, Spanish is not spoken quite the same way in Mexico as in Spain or Argentina, nor is Quebecois the same as Parisian French. "We're working with a company that's [offering its site] in seven versions of Spanish, two versions of French and five versions of English," says Woods.
  • Choose colors with positive cultural impacts. For example, a Web site that uses a lot of black and white may be effective in the United States, but in Asia, "it looks like a card inviting you to a funeral." In Europe and Japan, color schemes tend to be more pastel-oriented and less formal.
  • Choose images carefully. Be sure not to portray products or ideas that offend your target audience, such as showing alcohol or pork in Muslim countries. Even the portrayal of hands or gestures is important: "In Asia, the thumbs-up symbol is positive, but in Europe and Latin America, it's an obscene gesture."
  • Be careful when using flag images. "If you're targeting Latin America, having one flag for the entire region is not perceived well," says Woods. Similarly, using a U.S. flag to represent an English-language page won't go over well in other English-speaking countries.
  • Check your numbers. In a Chinese-speaking country, for example, the number four is considered unlucky, while eight and nine symbolize prosperity. If your phone number or address is full of the "wrong" numbers, you may be sending a negative message.
  • List dates, prices, times and other numbers in international format. $1,000.00 would be written as $1.000,00 in Germany and other countries. Also, most European and Asian countries use the 24-hour clock-so list 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as 8:00 to 17:00.
  • Include information for foreign consumers. Shipping rates, tariffs and assorted taxes should be present. Be sure your order form doesn't assume a U.S.-style address, but can accommodate international ones.
    Your Web site may be an overseas customer's first glimpse of your company-and you have to make a good first impression. "Business is about capturing someone's attention," says Woods. "If you want to use the Web as a global e-business tool, you have to make that bond. Otherwise, you're missing that opportunity."

Why Translate?

Because there's a world of people out there who don't speak English.

  • Net users, global 46%
  • Japan 90%
  • Western Europe 68%

Moira Allen is a freelance writer in Mountain View, California, and editor of Global Writers' Ink, an electronic newsletter for international writers.

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