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Once you’re ready to go global, you must decide exactly where to go. You can’t cover every country and language at once, so it’s best to set priorities. Keep in mind that borders don’t always define a market. Some companies may choose to target a certain country, but others might pick a language, such as Spanish, knowing full well they’ll be communicating with people across many countries, including the U.S.

For more information on Spanish-language localization, see “Hands-On: Spanish.”

No matter what languages you select, you’ll gain the added benefit of reaching U.S. residents who also speak the languages. According to the most recent U.S. Census, more than 30 million U.S. residents don’t speak English at home (see Figure 4.2). Increasingly, companies can justify their localization efforts without even planning on selling outside the U.S.

Figure 4.2. Languages spoken by U.S. residents.

Source: U.S. Census 2000.

For the purposes of this book, however, assume that you want to begin with a foreign market and that you don’t have an international presence to build on. Now you must decide what that first market should be.

Listen to the Logs

Every time someone visits your web site, a log entry is recorded on the server. Often, the log includes the country code domain where that web user is located, such as .ru for Russia or .kr for Korea (see Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3. The WebTrends Log Analyzer (www.webtrends.com) can tell you where many of your web visitors are based.

You’ll find the complete list of country code domains in Appendix D, “Language and Country Codes.”

Logs are by no means a definite precursor to web localization success in a given country, but they do indicate global traffic patterns on which you can base certain assumptions. Perhaps you’ve noticed a lot of activity originating from Asia, as opposed to Latin America. Perhaps users from a certain region tend to visit specific sections of your site more frequently than visitors from other regions.

Look Beneath the Logs

You might notice that users outside the U.S. seem to spend more time on your web site, on average, than your domestic users, but don’t mistake length of usage with interest level. Users outside the U.S. generally have slower Internet connections, which means they must spend more time on your site to view the same number of pages as your U.S. users.

Log analysis can help you decide which countries to localize for first and which portions of your site to localize first. For example, if you’re a software developer, you might notice that users in other countries tend to spend more time on the software support pages; this data could indicate that you need to invest more time and resources into localizing this section of your site.

Listen to the World

When you compare your company’s traffic patterns with global Internet usage patterns, you may discover some valuable opportunities. If many users visit your site from a country with relatively low Internet usage or access, you might have discovered a potentially promising market. In 2001, the research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) measured Internet usage by country, as shown in Figure 4.4. As you can see, there is a wide variance in Internet usage among countries.

Figure 4.4. Global Internet usage by country.

Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres Interactive (www.tnsofres.com), July 2001.

Keep in mind that Internet usage does not always equate with Internet commerce. The Japanese, for example, are more likely than Brazilians to purchase over the Internet. The TNS study also found that

  • The U.S. has the highest proportion of online shoppers at 33%, compared to the global average of 15%.

  • In India, the Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey, 2% or less of the online population shop on the Internet.

  • Germany is the most reluctant nation to supply credit card details, and was surpassed only by the Czech Republic when it came to general security concerns.

In addition, not all people are predisposed to shop for the same things online. TNS discovered that online purchasing habits vary widely by country:

  • Israel leads the pack in purchasing business travel online, while Australians are most likely to purchase leisure travel online.

  • Koreans are more than twice as likely as people from other countries to buy cosmetics online.

  • The U.S. is fourth on the list in purchasing PC hardware online, behind Denmark, Israel, and Germany.

Just as there is no such thing as an “average web user,” there is no such thing as an average country. Each country and culture is going to use the Internet in a slightly different—or widely different—manner. The successful companies will be those that notice the subtleties and respond to them.

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