August 27, 2012, 2:07 PM

Localizing international e-commerce sites is not for the faint of heart

Companies struggle with managing multiple e-commerce platforms, a study says.

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28% of chief marketing officers and vice presidents in a recent poll of 200 U.S.-based b2b and b2c companies are operating between six and 10 regional web sites. In fact only 1% have no regional web sites, according to the poll, which was conducted in May by content delivery network Limelight Networks Inc.

Many companies surveyed say they are adding multiple regional web sites and languages within the next year to build global brand awareness and drive revenue. However, they also note challenges to adding and managing regional web sites, including budget restrictions and lack of technical resources to build and maintain foreign sites.

The overwhelming majority of companies (91%) say globalization is producing meaningful improvements in web site engagement, lead generation and revenue. Web site globalization is defined in the survey as launching a localized, multilingual version of a company’s core site in regions throughout the world.  A regional web site is an adapted version of the company’s core web site with content that has been translated and/or altered to match the region that it serves.

Drilling down more into challenges, 57% of companies say one of their biggest hurdles as they expand internationally is having to manage web site content across many e-commerce platforms.

Additionally, 60% of survey respondents say they would like to add more regional sites but do not have the resources to do so.  Respondents say their biggest challenges after having to juggle several e-commerce platforms include (respondents could choose more than one option):

• Staffing/budgetary constraints related to creating regional content in local languages, 48% 

• Lack of technical resources to build, maintain and enhance regional sites, 29%

• Lack of staff and budget to translate to local languages, 26%

“Globalizing a web presence entails more than simply translating a company’s primary site – it also includes developing, deploying, localizing, and regularly maintaining sites with regionally-specific content,” says Jeff Freund, vice president and general manager for Limelight Networks.  “Marketers face the challenge of deploying multiple regional sites in multiple languages and featuring custom content that is unique to each region–while still ensuring brand consistency worldwide.”

Outside of the 28% of companies managing six to 10 regional sites and the 1% managing none, 15% manage one to two regional sites; 24% three to five; 18% 11 to 20 and 8% 21 to 30. Additionally, 6% manage more than 30 regional sites, Limelight reports.

Moreover, 65% are planning to add two to five regional web sites over the next year and only 1% do not plan to add any. 10% are adding one; 19% six to 10 and 5% are adding more than 10.

When it comes to redesigning or updating regional sites, 55% plan to redesign or update two to five regional sites. 3%, the smallest amount of respondents, don’t plan to redesign or update any regional sites. 17% are updating one; 21% six to 10, and 4% more than 10.

The poll also finds many companies plan to add foreign languages and region-specific content to sites.  57% plan to add two to five languages to their sites. 17% are adding one language; 13% six to 10 languages; 8% are not adding any foreign languages and 5% are adding more than 10 languages.

“Translating web sites can be a difficult and timely process without translation workflow capabilities,” Freund says.  “Editors must have the ability to organize multiple language versions of specific content in a single workflow to help both them and translators efficiently see what has been or needs to be translated for each regional web site.”

Respondents were also asked the percentage of the content–such as web copy, white papers, case studies and videos–on their regional web sites is specific to its region:

• 5% said less than 20% of content is region-specific

• 15% said 21-40%

• 51% said 41-60%

• 22% said 61-80%

• 7% said 81-100%

“In addition to translating their web sites, businesses must develop web content with their local audiences in mind,” says Scott Liewehr, president and principal analyst at research advisory firm Digital Clarity Group.  “A one-size-fits-all approach will not resonate with audiences from different cultures and regions throughout the world.”

The survey, however, suggests many companies that have invested in launching international sites are struggling to keep content fresh and up-to-date. 27%, the largest pool of respondents,  say 41-60% of content is out-of-date or behind in regional sites. 26% estimate 21-40%; 25% say less than 20%; 18% say 61-80% and 3% answered 81-100%. 1% say they don’t know how much of their content is out-of-date or behind.

Of the 200 marketing executives surveyed, 92% manage regional sites in addition to a main corporate site, while 8% do not currently manage regional sites but plan to in the next 12 months. 85% of companies post annual sales of more than $100 million. 15% have annual revenues of less than $100 million.

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