Pro Tip: Use names of languages, not flags.

Pro Tip: Use names of languages, not flags.

Online B2B sales are growing rapidly at home and overseas. Scalability of cloud platforms, constant mobile access, and the changing demographics of B2B buyers will accelerate the move to ecommerce. As industry, logistics, and warehousing becomes automated, purchasing will be expected to keep pace. For many B2B businesses, overseas markets have become essential for growth.

  • Forrester Research predicts that US online B2B sales will increase from 855 billion in 2016 to 1.1 trillion by 2020.
  • Frost & Sullivan predicts the global B2B online market will be twice the size of the online B2C market by 2020, with a projected $6.7 trillion in revenues.
  • The total Chinese ecommerce market topped $2.3 trillion in 2015 alone, and almost 70% of that came from B2B sales.
  • Cross-Border eCommerce Community (CEBC) found that “60-80% of ecommerce exporters survived their first year in business compared with a 30-50% survival rate for traditional businesses.”
  • English-language sites will account for only 33.1 % of online global purchasing in 2020. The next two top languages will be Simplified Chinese (12.8%) and Spanish (8.4%).

B2B merchants are under more pressure than ever to strengthen their global digital presence. This includes creating a multilingual, optimized website with ecommerce capabilities.

Website fundamentals

Translating a website for cross-border e-commerce requires much more than just choosing a multilingual and multi-currency e-commerce platform (of which there are currently more than 120). We often see incompletely translated websites that aspire to overseas sales. These either assume English proficiency on the part of the user or rely on Google to translate information on the fly. For best practices in ecommerce translation, we offer the following tips:

Reach across organizational silos before you begin.

Your organization did market research to decide whether to enter the market at all; leverage this. The findings can provide a useful foundation for keyword research as well as overall content strategy. International SEO is a wide topic in itself; we’ve written about it here and here.

Establish priorities and limits

Market research can also help decide whether to translate the whole site at once, or to focus on top-selling items in that particular market. It can also help you decide on the domain structure and whether to localize according to language (i.e., one site for all German-speaking countries) or according to country (separate sites for Switzerland, Austria, and Germany).

Don’t be stingy

Once you’ve determined how much of the site to translate, do not skimp on product descriptions. Some online merchants will localize the pricing, shipping, and sizing information, but leave the actual descriptions in English. This is a mistake, because buyers want information in their own language. In addition, using the language of your target market improves search rankings. And don’t forget to translate the website and product metadata.

What about additional product marketing content?

For many B2B sites, detailed product information is included in the form of a downloadable .pdf, or demonstrations via streaming video. This content will be necessary for your foreign customers.  Keep in mind that your language service partner will maintain translation memories as content is translated. Future updates and changes can be added without needing to translate the entire piece of content over again. Voiceovers are a good choice for localizing streaming video. If marketing material on the site needs to be lively and localized, transcreation provides a mix of translation and native language copywriting.

There are many more considerations that B2B ecommerce websites need to take into account. B2B sales have unique requirements such as tiered pricing levels and customized products: this creates more complexity in the localization process. User interfaces need to be localized to accommodate not just different languages, but different fonts, patterns of syntax, and user expectations. Responsive design is essential, as use of mobile devices for business purposes increases across the world. B2B customer education and relationship management tends to be ongoing, so this content will require attention as well. Finally, the frequency with which you intend to update your site will determine whether your site would benefit from a proxy or other translation management service in partnership with a language service provider. To compete in a globalized world, translation and localization services are more important than ever.  Choosing a language service partner with digital savvy and experience will facilitate the shift to international ecommerce. We invite you to talk with us to learn more about the complexities of ecommerce localization.