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How B2B brands can get it right online for cross-border audiences 

October 18, 2022

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"Don't forget about website performance. Your websites need to deliver an optimal experience wherever they are being accessed."

This is the third blog in our series exploring the key issues B2B marketers face when targeting global markets. Together with our partner TriComB2B, Cross-Border Communications reached out to clients and other savvy global marketing experts to gather a range of opinions and advice.

In our last blog, we addressed the challenges of producing globally relevant creative. Now, we’re tackling the challenges of building a globally relevant website.

A surprising number of industrial B2B-ers still hang their hats on an English-language, one-size-fits-all website as their hub for global marketing. But let’s face it: you’re not global unless you’re meeting a minimum threshold of localization. Our B2B experts have some ideas on what that means.

The minimum standards

“The minimum website experience is translated content. Period. You can’t risk the appearance of irrelevance or worse, arrogance, by sending global visitors to an English-only website.” So said Monica Arroyave, an accomplished multi-lingual global marketer at Gilbarco Veeder-Root, who has plenty of international experience. She added, “And if your products are designed or offered specifically by region, your website must reflect that. Customers must see what is applicable to them and their environment.”

Klaus Sejr, Brand Manager at Hottinger Bruel & Kjaer, agrees. “We must market globally, and we recognize language adaptations are the basic point of entry. We have one website translated into the 10 key languages we deem as essential to our business. We also ensure downloadable documents are offered in a country-specific manner.”

However, the ‘minimum’ extends beyond simply swapping out English copy for another language. Vijith Basheer, Global Marketing Leader at Flowserve, clarified. “Don’t forget about website performance. Your websites need to load quickly and deliver an optimal experience wherever they are being accessed.”

For example, the number of letters in a given word varies from language to language. A word in Portuguese may have twice as many letters as the same word in English, for instance. Consequently, pixel widths and design complications can arise. Many content management systems (CMS) and web developers alike fail to take this into account. Headlines run into extra lines or become misaligned, images are shifted into odd places, unintended page breaks occur, etc. This can end up expressing bias and favoritism to your English-speaking visitors, even if unintentionally.

Respect each of your pages as you would each of your customers. You need to translate your templates and designs in addition to translating your copy. This extra attention paid to detail will go a long way.

Customizing the experience 

Once your minimum threshold for a localized web presence is met, you can consider more sophisticated experiences for global audiences.

Thomas Heide Jørgensen, former Head of Marketing Communication for Danfoss Heating segment, employs a more decentralized approach. He noted that for geographic markets where the business opportunities are significant, Danfoss offers websites with a full range of country-specific content. Other variations include versions of their website for smaller-opportunity geos where the content is less extensive and customized, but still translated. They deploy even more customized versions in certain geos where a particular customer type is prominent.

Adam Sidders, Marketing Communications Leader at Cummins, offers this description of the ideal global website experience: “Beyond ensuring customers see the right products for their region, we should also strive toward a more personal experience. That means letting the visitor choose their region and then serving up the language, imagery and support information that is specific to their area.”

Make it easy for customers to find you 

The search engine marketing (SEM) environment takes time to master just in one country, let alone on a global scale. But that hasn’t deterred globally ambitious brands from forging ahead to attract and convert website visitors.

Madsen said that for Hottinger Bruel & Kjaer, search engine optimization (SEO) plays a very important role in their global marketing efforts. “Keywords are defined early as part of every campaign planning process. The fact that we do this on a global basis adds a level of complexity, but we are intent on finding the balance between great content that is also localized and search optimized.”

Jørgensen noted Danfoss is similarly committed to SEO globally. “We have a great focus on SEO but need to balance corporate and local needs to get the best performance. We also know SEO isn’t enough. We balance these organic efforts with our paid programs while also making sure we have the right tools in place to capture the opportunities we create.”

Make sure to let Google know where your translated pages are and how they relate to their English counterparts by adding an ‘hreflang’ tag to your HTML or sitemaps. This simply tells Google that a group of pages are all effectively the same but presented in different languages. Not only does this help to avoid technical issues like duplicative content penalization, but it also allows Google to point users to the best pages possible on your site, depending on the language and theme of the user’s query.

Similar to the ‘hreflang’ tag, LinkedIn offers a convenient affiliate page system in which multiple LinkedIn company pages, each with a specific regional or linguistic focus, can be connected to a primary brand identity. Often, companies try to juggle posts in multiple languages on the same account, or face conflict between regions posting similar messages in competing times of the day. In addition to confusing audiences, this doesn’t segment them well. Affiliate pages offer a simple way to address this by allowing regional autonomy, without losing track of the brand’s bigger-picture goals. Just make sure your different regional marketing teams are clear about how to represent your brand and adhere to some common posting cadences, messaging practices, etc.

Make the effort – and new friends 

While the idea of creating multi-language, customized websites is daunting for many B2B marketers, our experts agree that there are no excuses for having anything less than language-friendly websites for global visitors. So, are there any helpful tips on how to make this easier (and affordable) to implement and maintain for your business? We asked an agency expert to weigh in.

“You don’t have to do it all at once,” noted Andrew Humphrey, Director of Media Strategy at TriComB2B. “If you’re not on an urgent timeline, try testing a paid digital promotion for a specific service or product in a new international region, but only serve your ads to English speakers. If a topic really resonates, you can take the next step and translate your pages, assets and ad copy that support that product or service in the region’s primary language preferences. Keep escalating your efforts as you learn what’s working and what isn’t. For a lot of businesses that are just trying to dip their toes into international outreach for the first time, this is a pretty failsafe approach.”

Topics: Building B2B brands across borders