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A Guide on Multilingual Ecommerce for Small Businesses

Angela Fabunan

Content Marketing Manager @ Tomedes

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For small businesses, it might be challenging to do cross-border ecommerce, where you go beyond your borders to reach a global audience. As referenced by BigCommerce, cross-border commerce can generate about 200% of revenue, so there's a lot you can do with an international audience. But you're probably thinking, "I'm a small business; how can I do that? It seems impossible."

Yet, it's not as impossible as you think. With small steps, you can reach a global audience by building a multilingual website, setting up international shipping methods, and navigating peer-to-peer transactions. We'll look at ways to leverage your ecommerce business on an international level without leaving the comfort of your home.

For those who want to do all this and more, you may consider hiring a team specifically for this. Or, you can opt to outsource to a translation company that will do the necessary work for you. If not, some freelance translators may be able to help set your ecommerce brand up to reach a global audience. 

Preliminary Considerations Like a Freelance Translator or a Translation Company 

It's possible to build your multilingual website with a limited budget. Here are three ways you can do this:

  • Utilize your team. You'll have the freedom to dictate where, when, what, and how to leverage your ecommerce small business to a multilingual audience. 
  • Make use of a translation company. The great thing about using translation companies is that they have a lot of experience making ecommerce businesses go beyond their borders and expand globally. With these services, they have the experience and expertise to do everything mentioned in this article.
  • Hire freelance translators. You can also hire freelance translators who can build a multilingual website for a cost-effective method. After vetting the translator, you can set a budget and a time to do this type of work.

Building a Multilingual Website to Reach a Global Audience

Here are some considerations to keep in mind while building an ecommerce website with multilingual functionality:

Conducting localized market research

You'll have to perform localized domestic market research to find out where best to extend your ecommerce offerings, what that target market needs, and what products are best suited for them. This includes creating an audience profile if you're targeting audiences in a specific region.

Setting up your website structure

Once you've decided what areas you're going to target, your website needs to be appropriately structured to suit different multilingual needs. You'll be concentrating on:

ccTLD codes: the first step to creating a multilingual website to make sure your ccTLD is formatted correctly. Here is a list of ccTLD codes for almost every country.

  • What is a ccTLD? The ccTLD is your country code top-level domain, which means this is your main country, territory, or sovereign state. This will be your homepage for many of you, which will contain either subdomains or subdirectories. This will apply to your multilingual ecommerce website that is targeting several countries. You must remember that ccTLD is your automatic country code, which is different for all countries (.us for the US, for example, .uk for the United Kingdom, and .eu for European Union countries). 

Subdomains or subdirectories: The second step in your website structure is making sure you're utilizing either subdomains or subdirectories.

  • Subdomains: Subdomains are an easy way to create multiple microsites under a single domain. Each website will be considered different for various languages and will be crawled by Google for each different website. If you want a highly localized site for each audience, this is a good approach. Your subdomains will look like this:[site].com for French and www.en.[site].com for English.
  • Subdirectory: You can also use hreflang for subdirectories instead of subdomains. A hreflang is an HTML tag that you can use to specify the language or region you're targeting. For example, you can have a hreflang to point to the English language page, as www.[site].com/en or www.[site].com/es for Español (Spanish). Subdirectories are the more popular approach to website structure. If you plan on keeping your content similar across each of the languages you provide, this is key.

Creating core content

With your localized market research done and your website set up for multilingual use, you'll have to provide the website content. With ecommerce sites, this includes product offerings and maybe a blog. Your main ccTLD will have this content. A good content strategy will keep your focus on what you're producing, as well as answering the "why." You also must make sure that it's SEO optimized, so your page can be crawled by search engines, as well as knowledgeable and engaging so that they can rank. 

Creating localized content 

With a multilingual site, it's not enough to just have general content; you'll want localized content too. This means optimizing your content to be translated into different languages in your subdirectory or subdomains. This is probably when a translation company would be of use, as well.

Suppose you don't want to go through all these steps to set up your website. In that case, there are multilingual ecommerce platforms where you can set up an account and access their multilingual website capabilities, such as Shopify and BigCommerce. WordPress is also a good alternative with multilingual capabilities.

Optimizing Your Multilingual Ecommerce Personalization Strategy

For all businesses, marketing is essential. But for online businesses, personalized marketing is critical. Ecommerce personalization is the process of delivering personal experiences dynamically through content, product recommendations, and special offers. They can do this through user data such as previous actions, browsing history, purchase history, and demographics.

Personalization includes:

  • Creating a personalized buyer's journey: This includes considering different demographics in different nations' browsing behavior and purchase history. 
  • Localizing websites and apps: We've shown you how to build a multilingual website, but you need to localize it fully. It would help if you were localizing apps and other related software for use in the languages you're targeting. Each requires a different process. 
  • Multilingual personalized marketing messages: Once you have the consumer data, you'll need to translate customized marketing messages for the multilingual regions you're targeting. This means French Canadian for Canadian consumers, not Parisian French. 
  • Running targeted PPC ads: For more information, here's a beginner's guide to ad targeting.

For small businesses, there are cost-effective ways to utilize research on a multilingual level. For example, there's Weglot for all things ecommerce, Ahrefs for SEO, and your friendly neighborhood Google Analytics. 

Critical Considerations for International Shipping Methods 

International ecommerce shipping needs an excellent strategy since not all shipping methods are free. You'll need to keep in mind some goals that your plan should be targeting: decreasing costs, increasing conversions and average order value, and expanding the market audience. For considerations, you should know: 

  • Product size and weight: Get rates directly from your overseas carrier about the size and weight. Ensure that your products have accurate weights and dimensions before even comparing rates with your carriers.
  • Shipping destinations: International rates can vary based on proximity. For example, shipping to Canada may be cheaper than shipping to Australia if you're in the US. Again, ask your carrier directly to get a rate. 
  • Shipping options: Once you have the rates from your carrier, you can adjust your shipping options for domestic and international rates. For example, you may offer free shipping for all domestic, then adjusted shipping rates for all international orders depending on the country. Make sure you adjust your shipping offers, too. For instance, if you're shipping an order to Japan, you may not want to show your local domestic carrier for that customer.

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