Dos and Don’ts with International Online Marketing

For small and medium sized businesses considering exporting, a website is a shop window to the world. The internet has changed the way we shop, work and do business.  National borders are less of a barrier, and it’s easier and more cost-effective than ever to export overseas.

More and more shoppers are buying from overseas websites, whether they’re looking for a wider selection of products or lower prices.  According to IMRG, the online retail industry association, UK retailers are set to make £10bn from cross-border sales this year, an increase of more than a third on 2012 figures.

A European Commission survey (2012) found that 52 per cent of respondents were interested in buying from other countries. In fact, customers in Austria, Ireland, and Luxembourg, were more likely to buy from overseas websites than those closer to home. Ecommerce is also an effective way to reach growing online populations in Asia, the
Middle East and Latin America.

For SMEs looking to expand their customer base, it makes sense to target these shoppers. And investing in ecommerce is less costly and risky than bricks-and-mortar stores.

But how do you get started? The optimistic approach, “build it and they will come”,  doesn’t usually apply to websites. Standing out in the crowded e-marketplace requires plenty of research and planning.

Here’s a brief guide to some “dos” and “don’ts” when marketing your online business overseas.

Do your research

If you already have a UK website, then start by analysing where your existing customers come from. If German or American shoppers are already ordering your products, then a targeted website could boost your revenue there.

Otherwise, try to discover where there might be an untapped market for your products or services. Free online tools such as Google Adwords, can give an idea of how many people are searching for relevant keywords in a country. Consider everything from the amount of competition to shipping costs and red tape.

Do test the waters

Research by the European Commission has found that customers are much more likely to buy if they have information in their own language. But you don’t need to pay for translating your entire website straight away. A taster campaign is a relatively risk-free way to test the waters.

Try translating a dedicated landing page for a new language and country, with a few of your most popular products and ordering details. Invest in a pay-per-click advertising campaign with a set budget. Monitor the results carefully to decide whether it’s worth investing in a fully translated website.

Don’t cut costs in translation

Translation can be tricky for new exporters  – especially if you don’t understand the completed results! Cutting costs by not using professional translators or relying on free online tools is usually a false economy. A badly translated site is unlikely to inspire trust in customers and can damage your company’s reputation. And if you have to pay to re-do a poor or inadequate translation, then you could end up spending more money.

Don’t translate into dozen of languages

It’s better to carefully target a few markets, one at a time, rather than over-stretch your resources. This means you can fully monitor the results, and ensure you have effective distribution channels set up.

Do localise your marketing

Of course if you’re targeting another English speaking country, such as the USA or Republic of Ireland, you won’t need to translate your site. But you should still localise it. This includes registering an in-country domain name (such as since humans – and search engines – tend to prefer locally based sites.

Take into account spelling and language differences, and tailor your products and marketing message to fit the culture. Think about local holidays, the seasons, and “back-to-school” dates when promoting products.

Don’t forget details

Have you changed the currency, measurements, and shipping details for your overseas sites?  Consider which payment methods are most popular in your target market, whether that’s credit cards, bank transfers or PayPal. And make sure that there is an easy way for customers to get in touch. An online form is the often the best choice when working across language barriers and time zones.

Do invest in international search marketing

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the key to making sure your site is visible to foreign web users. It’s a big topic, and there are numerous companies and websites offering advice in this area. But a few basics include keyword research and optimising your web pages.

A little research will help you identify the most popular keywords for your type of business in your target market – and remember, they won’t necessarily be direct translations of your English keywords. Ideally, translation and optimisation should be carried out at the same time, so your keywords are slotted seamlessly into your website.

Don’t spend money on SEO/PPC without monitoring analytics

Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and other online advertising can be a cost-effective way to rapidly raise the profile of your new overseas site. But it’s vital to monitor these campaigns closely, to see if they’re attracting customer and providing a return on investment.

As more of the world gets connected, the global ecommerce market will continue to grow. Thinking outside your borders, and adapting your website and marketing, can be key to reaching millions more potential customers.

Sectors: Wholesale & Retail
Countries: Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe
Topics: E-commerce, Export Planning, Getting Started, Localisation, Promotion, and Sales & Marketing
Export Action Plan