A company website provides virtual access to a worldwide audience, but that doesn't mean you can assume your website...
is automatically meeting the needs of visitors from different geographic regions. Indeed, Web localization -- the practice of tailoring Web content to match geographical preferences, such as language and cultural norms -- is an important component of planning a global Web strategy. Launching website localization programs requires a major investment of time and effort, however, so many enterprises take an incremental approach to global expansion. Web analytics -- which can provide a snapshot of visitors' behavior, preferences and geographic location -- can provide vital perspective for website localization efforts.
In this excerpt from The Definitive Guide to Website Translation, analyst Dave Fimek explains more about this concept and why it's important for Web businesses, and discusses the folly of underrating visitors' geographic differences.
Peering into your Web analytics, it's easy to disconnect the true meaning behind the data within. Understanding this data requires a hybrid background in statistics and technology -- two disciplines not commonly associated with understanding the human element. Analysts chase patterns and commonalities in the data in an effort to lend credence to recommended courses of action.
One of my absolute favorite reports to look at when my clients ask me to make sense of their Web analytics is the geographic reports. Empires and civilizations across history have risen and fallen due to culture and geography, and it would be malpractice on my part to ignore these very basic human elements when understanding a website's audience.
I find that some analysts and clients ignore these reports, under the assumption that geography is insignificant since the Web is globally accessible. People will also ignore the data in these reports if they do not have any sort of brick-and-mortar locations and exist entirely online. "Why would I care where visitors come from if they can come from anywhere?"
Your website's front door may be open to anyone, but you will only accomplish your goals by understanding who is coming through it and what they hope to find. Localizing your website to the geographic regions you're targeting is catering to the person behind the keyboard. It's that special red-carpet treatment that your users enjoy; that smile at the reception desk or mint on their pillow.
Working with clients big and small, local and global, I've seen the effects of this website localization firsthand. The smaller, more localized companies' geographic reports show company headquarters as the epicenter of data coming in, while the larger companies exhibit a more even spread. Before even knowing what the organization is -- or where it's located -- I can point to that map and find the company, just from this data alone.
Those global companies that see more of an even distribution on the map do so because they've created a junction on their website that routes the users to a localized website. Those localized companies credit the pattern they see to a lot of things: word of mouth in the area, internal company traffic, targeted advertising and a few other factors. On one hand, they feel they have a global presence by default because their site is accessible, but the data shows that they only draw traffic in locally.
Most companies do not have the size or budget to facilitate a global website localization effort, and that's OK. A sound and proven strategy is to target a geographic area extensively. Let your company grow in size and budget as a result of the targeting. The next step in this strategy is to target another geographic area, and another, and another. As a result, your data will show an increase in quality traffic as that traffic achieves the goals of your website. Serve your users content that reminds them of home.
Dave Fimek is a Web analyst and trainer at Cardinal Path. He works with clients to implement custom Web deployments and designs, develop business intelligence dashboards, and conduct implementation audits to assess accuracy and best practices. His perspectives on website localization can be read at the Lionbridge blog.
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