How to avoid the pitfalls of a multi-national website
A strong online presence has transformed opportunities for international expansion. Yet while most organisations now recognise that a local language site – and not just a poor translation – is essential, how many truly understand the impact on revenue and the brand value implications of failing to deliver country sensitive as well as language specific content?
Market maturity, payment models and local attitudes vary significantly and organisations that fail to understand and adapt messaging, offers and even essential product information to each specific market risk disenfranchising the potential new customer base.
The failure to attain local understanding through A/B and multivariate testing could result not only in lost revenue opportunities but, in an era of social media, risk undermining the brand not only in new markets but at home as well.
Organisations across the UK, indeed across Europe, are being encouraged to look for expansion outside domestic borders. And with cross-border trade already worth 25% of global GDP, and rising fast, this is an essential component of the business strategy.
For any company with a strong online presence, expanding the model into new countries and regions is compelling. As long as the back-end service and customer fulfilment processes are in place, creating new, dedicated, country specific web sites is a low risk approach to tapping into valuable new markets.
However – is expansion into any new market ever that straightforward? How will a web site that was developed for one market be received in another? How effective are new offers to a less mature customer base? And what are the attitudes to payment methods?
Simply opting to create a local language site for each new country may seem an obvious solution, but as organisations are rapidly discovering, it is also fundamentally important to reflect market maturity and local attitudes to messaging and offers.
Content versus Scale
For any organisation that has created a highly tuned and performant web site in its main market, it is clearly tempting to apply the experience and expertise gained over the past few years into new arenas. And there are obvious opportunities to leverage economies of scale: usability improvements through navigation changes, improved checkout funnels or bug fixes can be tested in the largest region and then rolled out or A/B tested in other regions.
Indeed, the creation of a single infrastructure rather than structurally different sites for each country or region delivers economies of scale. A single, central team can manage the fundamental performance requirements of every site and avoid the time consuming process of repeating every usability test on separate regional sites.
However, applying this model to content creation and offering a single source of content is a mistake. Over the past few years, organisations with a mature presence in markets such as the UK, Germany or the Nordics for example, have exploited the insights provided by testing to fundamentally reduce the amount of information on a page. For those sites that have grown organically, rethinking the purpose of the page and stripping out information has typically resulted in higher conversion rates.
This model does not work in less mature markets, especially if the organisation is providing a product or service that will, by default, require more information to support the buying decision. Failure to understand that fundamental difference in customer experience and expectation will result in disappointing returns.
There are a raft of differences that need to be taken into account for each market. However, with a central team handling the core infrastructure requirements, the local resource demands for content provision and testing are small – perhaps just a tenth of the central online presence. These local experts can provide insight into attitudes to offers – does the market respond better to cost or benefit based offers? And payment mechanisms: whilst in the UK, individuals are happy to use credit or debit cards online, many individuals across Europe would rather use bank transfer or rely on third party payment systems such as PayPal.
While the decision to replicate the UK payment processes or offer models may work in a new market, without local content testing an organisation will have no idea how much revenue is being lost by failing to reflect local practices.
As such, it is also important to add new return on investment (ROI) measures to those typically used in the main market. Rather than focus exclusively on conversion rates, an organisation can significantly improve the success of its international expansion by improving its understanding of local behaviour. How much content is being consumed? How long are individuals spending on each page? And what payment choices are they typically making?
By using local insight to drive and test local content, organisations can reinforce global brand values whilst reflecting local culture and, critically, put in place a model that minimises the cost of expansion whilst also ensuring the organisation is tapping into the specific requirements of each new market.
For any sizeable web business the easiest way to increase market size is to move into a new territory. But organisations need to minimise the risk and maximise effectiveness: a one size fits all approach will result in a site that appears to work well in the home country but is failing to realise its potential in every other region.
Yes, there are opportunities to leverage economies of scale by creating a single infrastructure that supports multiple regions and share usability and customer experience lessons. But without creating dedicated, region specific content, organisations risk disenfranchising potential customers in new markets. It is by constantly testing and refining that country specific content that organisations can rapidly build upon online expertise and achieve the vision of low cost international expansion.
Nick Nottle is Head of Client Services, Maxymiser.