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Your website is the gateway to your business, says Fiona Ballard, a specialist in internet marketing. If you don’t have one, or your site isn’t effective, you’re at an instant disadvantage to all of your competitors. While a lot of exporters were brought up in an analogue world, the reality today is very different. “In some industries, up to 90 percent of all buying decisions start with an online search,” explains Jeff Bullas, of Infinity Technologies. “If you’re not participating on the web you are going to become extinct like a dinosaur. We live in a digital world, you’ve got to play in a digital world and you’ve got to know the rules of the digital world.”

Your website can even form the initial part of your sales cycle, Ballard advises. “This will not only save you time and money but will qualify and quantify your relationships in international markets.” If you have appropriate products, a website with an inbuilt virtual storefront can do the whole job for you.

Most importantly, don’t put all of your money into building a ‘set-and-forget’ site, where nothing changes from month to month. Building a great website is just the beginning, Bullas says. “You need to live on a social web now. You need to start publishing regular content and educate your customers on your website.” This is where the real work begins. Your website needs a space for dynamic content, e.g. a blog. “A blog is a place where you actually get feedback from your customers. Which gives you direction on what you should be doing with your products or services.” Your number one priority is to start capturing emails, Bullas advises. “That gives you the ability to communicate instantly and send out a newsletter.”

Social media strategy

Give your website ‘wings’ by using social media. “One in 12 people are on Facebook. It’s an ecosystem where everyone is hanging out,” Bullas says. “You need to be fishing where the fish are, and the fish are on social media.” Treat your website as a ‘hub’, where all of your content goes. Then use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube as your ‘outposts’, where you can share relevant and interesting content. “Using social media is like putting your marketing on steroids, because you share once to many and then many share to many.”

Social media is a highly leveraged platform to get content out globally very quickly, and it’s a vital part of any web marketing strategy, he adds.  Don’t dismiss it because its origins were superficial. “Facebook was about dating girls, YouTube was about recording a dinner party, they developed around people’s personal lives. But they’re evolved into something much more powerful, and they have now become a serious business and marketing tool.”

Speak their language

Remember, a global platform is not a global offering. You should reposition your print marketing in every new market, and the same goes for your website. Make your keywords market specific. “If you are trading in Brazil, Google search results are going to be different than what they are in Australia,” Ballard says. “It is important to think only of your customers when you write content.” Translation is hard to get really right. “Well-written uncomplicated content in English is preferable to having a half baked translated site that can potentially create cultural animosity.”

You can create specific pages within your site to demonstrate the benefits and features of your product or service specifically in a particular market, she adds. Consider adding testimonials, videos and photos specific to that market. Lastly, have your website reviewed by someone familiar with your target market before going live. That way, you can avoid making small cultural faux pas.

Register country-specific domain names. Don’t go overboard on design elements, Ballard advises. “Clean design and layout with simple fonts on a white background is preferable.” The less imagery and colour that needs to translate across multiple markets, the better.

Don’t forget…

For all the advantages of having a website, it will never replace face-to-face engagement with customers, Bullas says. “Treat it as a place to create weak ties. Create an initial engagement with a customer that might lead to a face-to-face meeting where you can create a meaningful offline relationship that could lead to a real business.”

Websites are a job in themselves, Ballard says. “They require management in order to get the best out of them. The only limitation is in adaptability and the need for them to be maintained as a dynamic and integral part of the business model.” Being in the game isn’t enough to be noticed. “You have to be found. Optimising your website for search engines (specifically Google), with your target locations in mind is imperative.” Good off page search engine marketing is also invaluable. “You have to put your website in context with the rest of the world. With 1 million new ones every day you can have the best website in the world visually, but unless you market it, it will do very little.”

Don’t just put your content out there with no way of measuring its value. “Google Analytics is invaluable for measurement and free. Good research in how to create good analytics is certainly a good investment,” Ballard adds.

Intimidated? Creating and leveraging an effective website is not expensive and can be a DIY job, but you need to have the temporal resources to achieve it. “Typically small business owners don’t have that luxury, so you would be best to find a specialist,” Bullas says. “It doesn’t mean you don’t understand it, but it makes sense to bring someone on board who can bring you up to speed quickly.”

Two billion people are now online. “The world has become a knowledge economy,” Bullas says. As smartphones and tablet devices evolve and become cheaper, that number will increase rapidly, so it’s important to stay ahead of the game.

Getting an ‘export’ focus to your website

We all know the power of Google and Bing searches to bring up provider’s websites from whom we might purchase. But what about prospective overseas buyers looking over your website? Is it effectively promoting your business and bringing sales?

Here are a few thoughts on making your site more appealing to overseas visitors.

*      Does your site welcome buyers from overseas?

*      Do you have foreign language pages for your main non-English speaking markets?

*      Are international packaging, insurance and delivery costs included in your shopping cart?

*      Do you cater for international payment methods?

*      Is there a returns policy for international buyers?

*      Do you have set delivery timeframes for key countries?

*      Will you accept payment in a currency other than AUD? Does the site have a currency converter if not?

*      Do you have packaged specials for overseas visitors, so that the delivery costs can be apportioned over several items, or free shipping for a certain spend amount?

*      Do your product/service benefits align with values in other countries?

*      Can you supply paperwork that might be needed to clear customs at the buyer’s destination?

*      Do you include testimonials of satisfied overseas buyers?

*      Have you won awards, received industry recognition that can be included on your website?

*      Are there adequate pictures of products, so buyers clearly see what they are getting?

*      Is it worth establishing a domain name in key markets to assist local searching activity?

*      Do you provide samples?

A starting point would be to have a few friends assess your site as if they are overseas visitors and give you their feedback.

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Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake is a staff writer for <i>Dynamic Business</i> magazine. Fascinated with the power of media, she's previously worked for Sky News and <i>The Jakarta Globe</i>. In her time off, she's likely cooking up a storm, haunting vintage stores on King St, Newtown or trawling design blogs for things she can't afford.

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