Whether you are already developing your international business and exporting to Europe (UK included) or in the initial stages, you should be aware that business in Europe is online.
Europe has overtaken the USA, worth $225.5 billion, to become the largest ecommerce market worth $379 billion, led by the UK with $131.5 billion, representing nearly 35 percent of the EU spend in 2012. Localized online presence is essential for successful business development in Europe, and the UK is a great example to get started. Whether your model is B2C or B2B or if you are marketing directly or via distributors, your products and services are expected to be found online and adapted to local needs. Decide if you wish to be perceived in Europe as a local credible player, or as “just another U.S. company”. Read this checklist to see whether you are on the right track, and learn some useful tips!
This article will commence with background information on the European ecommerce market, followed with a European online presence checklist subdivided into six categories: content; design; search engine optimization – keywords; search engine optimization – URLs; social media, and policies.
EUROPEAN ECOMMERCE MARKET OVERVIEW
Within Europe, the United Kingdom is generally the first target market, followed by Germany and France – the big three. Over the years, the European marketplace has continually and rapidly evolved, forcing change on the export business models. Nowhere has this evolution been more marked than that of the digital environment, and how the power of the internet can be deployed to deliver European business development and export revenue generation.
The EU Commission Digital Agenda for Europe and other investment programs have facilitated online spending; Europe has overtaken the USA to become the largest ecommerce market, with $379 billion of ecommerce sales among the 28 EU member states in 2012, an increase of 18 percent since 2011. In 2012, the “big three” represented 69 percent of the EU ecommerce spend: UK $131.5 billion, Germany $68.5 billion and France $61.5 billion. European corporate purchasing managers use the web as the first supplier evaluation tool. Electronic data interface (EDI) gains ground for B2B transaction processing and information exchange. The web is now the default corporate research tool. Your online presence can make or break your European success.
Online presence has now become obligatory for all U.S. companies seeking to develop their businesses in Europe. The converse, a U.S. dedicated .com only presence ensures the European perception of yet another U.S. company only focused on its home market. The below is a professional checklist of challenges and, most importantly, the solutions, to ensure that your online presence is optimized to support your European business development and export revenue growth.
Whilst no official language exists in the USA, English is used as the de facto language, followed by Spanish which is almost as widely spoken. By contrast the European Union has 24 official languages, however, as the table below shows, a total of 51 percent of those Europeans have English language skills.
As such, an English language website for Europe (focused on the UK market) is recommended, followed by your priorities. When addressing language there are choices, from full professional translation by locally qualified organizations who preferably understand search engine optimization (SEO) through to Google translate. The first option is highly recommended, as with local SEO you do not just create contents for people who already know about your company, but it also allows you to rank at the top of search results, targeting those who were not even aware of your existence! At the same time, professional organizations will use style and terminology appropriate to your sector. On the other hand, Google Translate is convenient to quickly understand inbound inquiries, but not suitable for website translation.
Content is not only about getting the language right. Text needs careful adaptation – watch out for patriotic sounding phrases, such as “made locally – made in the USA” when targeting Europe! Make sure your sense of humor is well understood by locals; try not to use irony to avoid possible misunderstanding. Choose testimonials to which your local audience can relate (references to hurricanes will probably remain misunderstood in the UK). Convert all measurements and monetary systems to the local ones. Provide free local calling numbers to your company representatives. Now you are a step closer to a localized online presence!
Coherent international brand management respectful of your existing U.S. design is the starting point. Then adapt the design to the local audience, carefully selecting images (e.g. image of cars driving on the left-hand side of the road for the UK), making sure chosen color schemes and symbols do not have adverse implications in target cultures. Product offers needs to reflect local demand.
Furthermore, do not simply replicate your U.S. website. Unless you redesigned it in 2013/2014 according to the latest web conventions, question every aspect and do not clutter your European website with outdated features. Make sure your website is fully responsive to all devices – Europe is mobile! Make the website easy to navigate around, test it on your target audience to ensure all features are understood as intended. Usability is the key to success.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION – KEYWORDS
European search engine optimization (SEO) is dominated by Google with a 95 percent average market penetration and Bing a distant second player, achieving a high of 7 percent in the UK. Compare that to the USA, as shown in the table below.
Google in each market has its own search engine, examples google.de for Germany, google.co.uk for UK etc. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to SEO in Europe. SEO must be localized, as there is a profound difference in search entries for each European market. Be sure to research relevant keywords and phrasing for your online content in order to maximize web presence. A website well optimized for google.com will not be well optimized for google.co.uk (regardless of language similarity) or other search engines, and on page optimization such as page text content, meta data, local meta tags, URLs, and files need to be well executed.
Leaving your website un-optimized and attracting visitors mainly via paid search, such as Google AdWords, is not recommended. The extra time and money you spend on SEO will pay off in the long term. However, a healthy dose of Google AdWords for new product launches, special events or very competitive keywords crucial for your local presence, will always be useful.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION – URLS
Apart from the right selection and application of keywords, having a local country domain extension is of crucial importance. Local extensions such as .co.uk, .de and .fr have a considerably higher chance of getting indexed in your target country, and will also increase credibility among your customers and clients. A lot of EU country domain extensions are freely available to register, but many require a local personal or business presence (e.g. Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Finland). But do not give up! There are many local organizations that can provide these. Ensure the registration of all European URLs for markets where you might wish to develop your business, before somebody else registers them! Speculative purchasing of URLs is a common practice and it could cost you a lot of money to buy your brand back. Do not hesitate; take that first step today!
The challenge in Europe is knowing which social networks and which languages will be most effective for your brand. Corporates localize their social media accounts in order to increase visibility of relevant promotions, services, and product launches specific to the EU.
Two to three years ago, there was a clear divide between personal and professional social media networks; this is no longer the case. Different networks remain more suitable for B2B (LinkedIn) and others for B2C (Facebook), but experimenting with different networks has brought many organizations pleasantly surprising results. Even though worldwide-spread Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are strong leaders in many countries, local social media networks still remain strikingly influential. Examples are already visible in some of the most commonly targeted export countries: Xing in Germany, Viadeo in France, and Tuenti in Spain. But do not always follow networks with the highest number of members – the number of active users often differs considerably, and that is a very important factor!
Another challenge in international social media strategy remains how to gather followers. Your U.S. Facebook followers might have grown organically, as your brand has gained prominence through word-of-mouth. You might be worried that this will not be the case in Europe. The solution lies in paid social media advertising which, when carried out correctly, can target exactly the type of people you are looking for.
European regulations for data privacy are strict, especially in France and Germany. You will need a comprehensive understanding of laws and regulations during your EU expansion. Some policies are EU-wide, such as European cookies policy, some are country-specific, such as requirement for Impressum in Germany. Furthermore, if you intend to use your European website for ecommerce, you will need to upload Terms and Conditions compliant with each of your targeted countries. Even though CE marking required for all products sold across Europe is universal, trading rules are still different in each country!
Successful business development and sales growth in Europe now require an online presence. The UK remains the first port of call for American companies when looking at Europe. The UK does lead the EU market in online, ecommerce and social media adoption and is the ideal starting place for American companies to begin their online presence. Finally it must be remembered that technology is an SME’s best friend, a cost-effective online presence does not require huge investment, lowering the return required to ensure your ROI.
ibt partners provides International Business and Trade development through the application of online digital services, in Europe and the United States. We welcome all readers to contact us and use our online resources. Please see www.ibtpartners.com/BAB and contact us for a free evaluation today!