Most ecommerce merchants get their first sales locally and in their native language. Heck, some successful online stores never stray away from one language and only ship to their home country. While there's certainly nothing wrong with that, you should know there can be huge benefits of thinking global early on in the process of building an online business. Here we will share a few strategies to consider while starting your company.
Let’s assume that your run a U.S.-based online store, in such a case, another ideal language for you to target would be Spanish. Presently, there are 38 million people who speak Spanish in the United States. That’s almost 12% of the entire U.S. population.
Now, the beauty of this strategy is that you’ll pick up search engine traffic for searches conducted in Spanish. And of course, you can build loyal customers that appreciate your effort to provide a service that is easy for them, similar to companies like Zapatoo.
So, where do you start? Here's a three-step process to help you get going:
Step 1 – Create a subdirectory called /es/
It’s best to create sub directories for each language you wish to target. Depending on how your ecommerce platform is structured, you may have to create new product pages with the copy translated into Spanish.
An example subdirectory would look something like this: http://example.com/es/
Step 2 – Do not machine translate your copy
Google will penalize websites that use machine translations (like copy created from Google Translate). If you’re not well versed in the language you are targeting, hire someone to provide written translations of each of your product pages. Odesk.com is a great place to find someone who can translate your webpages for you at an affordable price.
Step 3 – Use the correct HREFLANG tags
HREFLANG tags tell search engines that you are creating duplicate content (which is bad for search engine optimization), but for the specific purpose of providing information in another language. In the case of targeting Spanish speakers within the United States, your HREFLANG tag should look like:
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com" hreflang="es-us" />
Place this tag in the head of every page in your /es/ subdirectory.
You can use online tools to generate the correct HREFLANG tags for your website (if you want to target different languages and/or countries). This is a great tool for generating such tags: http://www.internationalseomap.com/hreflang-tags-generator/
Targeting Customers in Different Countries
The first step is to simply expand your shipping options to allow for international orders. You’ll find that a small percentage of new sales will originate outside your country. Take extra caution because more fraudulent orders will arise when shipping outside your country. Be sure:
- That the billing and shipping addresses match.
- Require CVV3 (the three or four numbers on the back of a credit card).
- Don’t accept checks.
You may even want to refuse business from certain countries that are notorious for fraudulent orders. The energy, cost and time required to process chargebacks and loss of inventory is usually not worth doing business in certain regions.
The more advanced strategy is to create new websites for each country you wish to target and purchase the TLD (Top Level Domain) of that country. For example:
- A Website Targeted for Mexico – You would use the same domain, but get the .mx CCTLD extension (CCTLD stands for Country Code Top Level Domain). So your domain might look like: www.domain.mx
Naturally, all your content should be in the native language of the country you are targeting. Again, don’t machine translate your content. Hire a native speaker to translate all your copy, including your meta tags (title tags, meta description and alt tags).
Search engines and the people in those countries generally prefer using websites that represent their home country. Of course this gets extra tricky because you’ll either have to decide if you want to set up an office in that country, or simply ship from the country you’re currently based out of. The one disadvantage for your customers is that their shipping costs will be inflated if you choose the latter.
However, if you’re in a really niche market and you’re one of the only suppliers of the merchandise you carry, then this strategy can work quite well. Either that or your business has become so large by now, that you can afford to set up shop in multiple countries. If that’s the case, you're well past your first sale and probably well-versed with everything we've talked about in this guide.