Going International?

Here is a 5-point checklist before you launch your Website in other countries

The Internet has made it easier than ever to market products and services across the globe. Most companies today are so focused on their domestic market that they do not pay any attention to the overseas markets. Nevertheless, the international markets represent an immense potential. (A North American company can triple its turnover by properly addressing the world market). Of course, one must budget sufficiently for marketing to achieve this goal.

Things become more complicated when dealing with other countries where English is not the official language. Our main point here is that most everyone accesses the Internet in their own language. If they live in a non-English country, they are most likely not going to access the Internet in English. In order to market to them, you have to determine where they congregate (i.e. other language areas of the Internet) and market to them there. A Web site needs to be able to attract visitors from many countries without them having to wonder whether they will understand the message once they arrive at your Web site. This idea is equally true for translated Web sites. No one overseas could possibly find your it (even if translated) unless you make an effort to make it visible in the language(s) concerned.

The importance of marketing a Web site cannot be overemphasized. Recent statistics show that large American corporations are actually cutting their budget for Internet business, since they did not achieve the results they expected a year or so after they launched their Web site. The real reason for lack of online business goes back to lack of marketing the Web site, not lack of interest from those online. Even in English-speaking countries, there has not been enough marketing and promotion of the existing Websites. It is strongly recommended to budget just as much for promoting one’s Web site as for creating it.

Here are some basic points that need to be understood and followed to achieve success in international online marketing.

  • Whether to translate? Which languages?
  • Don’t forget email marketing.
  • Make sure you have established your logistics in advance.
  • Promote and advertise your Web site abroad.
  • Other techniques.


As you start using the Web to present your company’s products or services to the international market, your analysis needs to keep in mind two factors:

  • which countries you already sell to
  • which countries are sufficiently online to attract clients

To translate or not to translate:

Not all Web sites have to be translated. It depends on who your market is and what you are selling, and how much English your target market already understands. For technical products and services, English is commonly understood, and only a “jumper” page needs to be translated (with links to your English pages). A “jumper” page is a summary of your offer, translated, so that the Web page can be registered with the local indexes of the countries you are targeting. Typical translation costs are $50-$100 for a short page (200-300 words).

If you choose not to translate your site, but still want to draw visitors from Northern Europe (where English is widely understood), at least promote your Website in these countries, in their own language(s). They will find their way to your Web site and usually be able to understand it adequately in English.

At the opposite extreme are products and services that are marketed to everyone abroad: entertainment, household products, CDs, etc. Here you need to translate as much as you can afford, to have as much of your site as accessible as possible. You cannot just create your Web site in English for the world market and just assume it will be understood. (The attitude that “visitors will have to read English or nothing”.)

Most Websites, however, fall between these two extremes, where it is good to translate part of the Web site. Not translating will always make a portion of your audience click elsewhere, since they cannot understand English or do not want to read it in English at that time.

The importance of language can never be overemphasized. Overall, only 12% of Europe’s population speaks English as a first language, and only 28% speaks English at all. A recent major research study of almost 38,000 European Internet users (http://www.blueskyinc.com/langues.htm) found that English is cited as the first language by 52% of all European users (or, not counting the U. K./Ireland, English is used by only 32% of users, followed by German at 22% and French at 17%).

An extremely enlightening article about the international aspect of online business is in Hambricht and Quist’s online e-zine, “I-Word”, at http://www.hamquist.com/iword/iword23/istory23.html. It is one of the best articles on the subject, underlining the need for American companies to seriously address international markets. Excerpt:
“One of the best ways for maturing U.S. businesses to maintain or exceed their historic rates of growth is to expand internationally by targeting under-served markets overseas. This has been the case for myriad U.S. companies ranging from Ford and McDonald’s to US West and Walt Disney. The same now holds true for high-growth U.S. Internet companies. While we would be the last to suggest that growth opportunities for Internet content and service providers in the U.S. market are anywhere close to being fully exploited, many are now investing significant sums of capital to extend their services into regional markets around the globe.
“Because Internet adoption has — as a whole — been slower worldwide than in the United States, a number of emerging foreign markets represent unique opportunities for American Internet companies to be first to market, a key competitive advantage. Some will be able to establish their brands at even earlier stages of market development than they were able to do in the United States.

“The international appetite for such services is unquestionable; today most major U.S. Internet companies report that fully 22% to 32% of their customers access their U.S.-based English language services from overseas. Yahoo! reports that users from 110 different countries access its core English language site at www.yahoo.comon a daily basis. While European sources tell us that their markets are anywhere from 18 months to two years behind the United States in terms of Internet adoption, this should be viewed as an opportunity for U.S. Internet companies looking to expand overseas. In fact, we at Hambrecht & Quist believe it portends the type of explosive growth in Internet use that swept the United States between 1995 and 1996, especially as telecommunications deregulation begins to take effect in countries around the world.

“We believe prevailing market research supports our contention. SIMBA Information, a market research firm in Wilton, Conn., predicts that non-North American international markets will produce 30% of all consumer online revenue by 2000, up from just 12% in 1995. Jupiter Communications, a market research firm in New York City, forecasts that fully 40% of the world’s online households will reside in Europe and Asia/Pacific Rim by 2000, up from 29% today.”

There is no reason for shrinking away from translating your Web site because of expense. Instead, translate part of it at a time, and increase the marketing efforts on the language sections where you feel most confident, and see the results in your sales. You can translate part of your Web site at a time, so that you start with, say, two languages, and gradually develop more. Remember: “You can sell in any language you want, but you only buy in your own language.”

Which languages?
So you’re convinced to translate part of your Web pages to attract visitors. But which languages? Make your decision based on which countries you already sell in, as well as the logical conclusions from the figures of how many people are online there. If you already sell in most of these countries, then let the online language figures guide you. Certainly you need to provide translations of as many Web pages as you can afford into Japanese, German and French, and if you can, at least one page in Swedish, Finnish and Dutch (because of the high concentration of online population in these three countries). Next in importance come Spanish, Dutch and Chinese.

There is a growing interest in bringing Web sites not only into European languages, but into Asian ones as well — especially Japanese. And don’t think that these native language Web sites are aimed at Asia. There are more Chinese online in the U.S. than in China (one-third of the 2 million Chinese-Americans), and there are many Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos living in the U.S. and Europe — all of whom prefer to access various media in their own native language.

As of this writing (summer, 1997), there were approximately the following major language families. These figures reflect the number of email accounts, not those with Web access (which generally represent one-third of these figures):
7.5-8 million Japanese online (Japan, U.S./Canada)
3 million German-speaking, French-speaking, Swedish and Finns (Norwegians and Danes can understand a Swedish presentation too)
2 million Dutch-speakers and Chinese-speakers (China, U.S./Canada, Europe, Australia)
1.5 million Spanish-speakers (U.S. Hispanic, Spain, and Latin America)
1 million Brazilians (Portuguese language).
(The most recent figures are available on Web page http://www.euromktg.com/globstats/ Only some of these people can read English, ranging from only about 0.2% (Southern Europe) to 30% (Northern Europe).


The figures for language groups online (above) represent how many people can receive email in each language. According to Netscape, the number of those with Web access is generally one-third of these figures (with certain exceptions). That means you can target overseas markets by certain Internet environments with far more results than using only the Web.

Two acceptable techniques for email marketing are Newsgroups and online forums, both in the languages of your target group. Although both areas are just developing for the first time now, both are accessible for those people abroad who have access only to email. You can see German Newsgroups at “de.*”, French ones at “fr.*” (or at http://www.fr.net/news-fr/liste.html), Dutch ones at “nl.*”, etc.

Lists of discussion groups can be found at:

French: http://www.cru.fr/listes/
Other languages at the bottom of http://www.euromktg.com/eng/res/cybmktg/maillistex.html

Of course, you should always have autoresponders ready for prospective customers who request information, and the text of one autoresponder can refer to other documents that the prospect can “pull” in the same way.

Whereas there are starting to be acceptable means of targeting “opt-in” email databases, for people interested in something quite specific, there is not yet any equivalent outside the English language. These direct marketing lists will surely develop, but they are not prevalent yet. This being said, it is my experience that Europeans are far more tolerant of direct marketing by email than Americans are, as long as the presentation is professional.


Just because the Internet is global in scope does not mean that international business is easy. Let me be quite clear of your goal in overseas marketing: your goal is to motivate potential buyers for your product or service… to identify themselves. The rest is traditional international business practice, and is quite straightforward. If you are not used to selling abroad, you need to consider issues that have been part of international business for centuries.