Many small business owners use websites to help them market their products and services and provide information about their businesses to potential customers. But few of them set up their website with the intention of selling worldwide, at least not right away.
But if you have a website, potential customers throughout the world may be viewing it and wanting to learn more about your business. Intentionally or not, you have a global website.
So even if you are not planning to sell globally right now, be aware you can make simple changes to your website to make it easier for global visitors to learn more about your business and what you have to offer.
I recently attended a seminar presented by the Georgia SBDC Network International Trade Center. The presenter discussed a phased approach to website globalization that began with the following simple enhancements to make your website more global-friendly.
One problem global visitors run into is how to ask for further information. Sometimes “contact us” links that auto-open e-mail don’t work well.
To make it easier for them to contact you, it is better to take visitors to an online form they can complete. The form should only ask for information you need, so don’t include too many required fields.
Address formats may be different for global visitors, so be sure you allow for additional lines in addresses, more lengthy postal codes, longer names, more digits in phone numbers and a field for the name of the country.
Request that no abbreviations be used so you won’t have to make assumptions about what they mean.
Do not ask for first names and last names because global visitors may not use first and last names. Just ask for full names and be sure to allow plenty of space.
Be aware of international formats and standards. Specify your contact or service hours in both 12-hour and 24-hour formats, as some global visitors are not accustomed to using “a.m.” and “p.m.”
Also, be sure to include your time zone so global visitors know what time you really mean. You may consider adding a reference to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Dates can also be confusing to global visitors. In the U.S., 6/8/10 normally means June 8, 2010. But in other countries it could mean Aug. 6. So spell out the date as June 8, 2010.
Include metric weights and measures in addition to those normally used in the U.S. If you use calculation routines to help visitors convert to the metric system, be sure it works by testing it for the correct results.
If you sell products with plugs and wires, be sure to specify voltage, megahertz, cycles and plug types so potential customers will know how to use your products safely and effectively.
Shoe and clothing sizes don’t mean the same thing in other countries. Represent sizes based on other standards so visitors to your site know what sizes you really mean.
Although English is commonly used throughout the world for business, you may consider translating your website into another language, particularly if you see that your site is getting a lot of visits from a particular country.
To translate your website, use the services of professionals who employ native speakers of the target language. Don’t use a machine translator because it just translates words and does not take into account the actual way the words are used in that language.
Be aware if you decide to translate your website to another language, customers will expect you to be able to do business in that language. So you should have someone available who speaks that language.
Making your site more global-friendly will help you assess global interest in your products and services. Depending on your goals and the market potential you observe, you may decide to move forward and take additional steps to globalize your website so you can grow your business into a truly international firm.
For assistance with using your website to promote your business in the global marketplace, contact Dimitris Kloussiadis of the Georgia SBDC Network International Trade Center at 678-985-6820.
Connie Edwards is a business consultant with the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at 912-651-3200.