Going global may bring new customers

The word global causes us to think big and conjures up thoughts of costly investments which aren't too popular these days. But going global may not be as expensive as you think, and you may already have an existing customer base.

The word global causes us to think big and conjures up thoughts of costly investments which aren't too popular these days. But going global may not be as expensive as you think, and you may already have an existing customer base.

By far, the most overlooked opportunity, even in the Internet Age, is the global prospect. According to IDC, by 2005 more than 70% of the 1 billion web users around the world will be non-English speakers. And according to Forrester Research, by 2004, 50% of all online revenue will be generated outside the United States.

Do you have plans to support and expand your international customer base?

Surprisingly, you may already be hosting international prospects without even knowing it. To find out, take a close look at your site traffic and determine where your customers are coming from. Most log-file analysis tools provide a mechanism for breaking down domain information, in particular country of origin. I regularly peruse our log files from InfoWorld.com, and I have been very pleased to find traffic from more than 100 countries within a few weeks.

I suspect you'll find that many of the countries are English speaking, or you may conclude that site visitors from the non-English speaking countries speak English. But don't jump to conclusions just yet. Depending on the functionality of your site analysis tools, you may find that your international prospects are confused by your site and are abandoning you after just a few page views.

I visit non-English sites often. The very best sites provide multilingual support, but I do encounter sites that leave me with the translation burden. My favourite translation tool is Alta Vista's BabelFish.

If the business case for multilingual support exists, you may wish to provide either full language translation or specific content key word enrichment. Tools such as RichLink eGlobalization solution will provide you with contextual link support. The RichLink language databases automatically add language annotations to your site documents. The language database library includes more than 3 million terms in eight languages. Systran provides tools and services for complete language translation. You can either host the solution yourself or use its translation service. GlobalSight's System3 solution integrates with existing content management solutions from companies such as Vignette and Interwoven. Of course, you can always use human translation services, but that can be costly and slow.

More often than not, going global requires much more than language translation. Consider business processes (currency conversion and shipping), cultural awareness, legal and regulatory issues (encryption), local market knowledge, and more. For more ideas, check out our recent globalisation feature.

In addition, several companies focus on helping companies reach global markets, including GlobalSight and Berlitz GlobalNET.

Speaking of going global, I am expanding my own horizons and heading into the global scene as I join Aguirre International. It has been a rewarding nine-plus years serving you and learning from you. Thank you all for your contributions to my life's experience.

Keep those sites savvy because I'll be looking for them, and remember that the online experience is everything! You can drop me a line at laura_wonnacott@yahoo.com.

Laura Wonnacott is vice president of InfoWorld.com.

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