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Think Global Act Global: Writing for Your Online Market

When you write web site content and design your pages, do you truly act with your target audience in mind? Or do you think global and act local?

I am amazed at the number of web sites I see that claim to target a global market, yet design and write their content for a regionally-specific audience. Not sure what I mean? Take the site I saw yesterday, for example. I won’t embarrass the site owners by pointing to the specific domain, but let’s just say the site is based in the U.S. and sells high quality gold chains throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

Now the owner of this site was complaining loudly in a webmaster forum that his pay-per-clíck campaign was having no luck converting salës from overseas visitors, particularly in the UK and Australia. He had spent a long time developing and tweaking a landing page for the campaign and he couldn’t work out why hardly anyone outside the U.S. was buying. I took a look at his landing page and could see the problems straight away:

1) He used the American English spelling “jewelry” throughout the page without considering that persons who use British English spell it “jewellery”.

2) He provided a toll-free telephone number for persons in the U.S. to call, but did not provide any contact telephone number for persons located outside the U.S.

3) He used the word “national” throughout the page, immediately isolating anyone outside the U.S.

4) He promoted “frëe shipping throughout the U.S.” but did not specify shipping costs for persons outside the U.S.

The owner of this site had not even considered that persons outside the U.S. might search for keywords in anything other than American English. It didn’t even occur to him that there may be an alternative spelling of his main keyword and he didn’t think about the logistics for purchasers outside his country. No wonder the page wasn’t converting outside the U.S.! He had made the classic mistake of isolating a large chunk of his audience by sending everyone to a one-size-fits-some page.

What he should have done was to create a separate landing page using British English spelling and shipping/contact information applicable to persons overseas. He could then have set up a unique PPC campaign targeting only UK/Australian searchers with regional keywords and ads leading to the British English landing page.

I see similar problems occur quite often in the online travel industry where you not only have to deal with regional spelling options, but also regional jargon. Think about the word “accommodation”. Apart from the fact the word is commonly misspelled, it is used most often in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to describe places to stay while traveling. In the U.S., the words “accommodations” and “lodging” are more commonly used. Same goes for “holiday” and “vacation”, with the latter being more common in the U.S. The word “traveling” itself is spelled “travelling” in British English! So you can imagine the minefield of problems webmasters must face promoting their travel sites online to a worldwide audience.

I don’t mean to single out a particular country, but Americans seem to find it especially difficult to step outside their regional mindset. I am always receiving emails from the U.S. with helpful suggestions for fixing my “spelling mistakes”.

The funniest email exchange I ever had in relation to this was from an American web designer. She had seen our Australian-based web site (with a .com.au domain) and emailed me to tell me it was “full of errors” and that if I wanted to present a professional business to site visitors, I should correct them. So condescending! I asked her to elaborate and she pointed me to these words she felt were spelled incorrectly:

optimisation
counselling
organised
enrolment
colour
catalogue
favourite
centre

Resisting the urge to use a few offensive words I’m sure she would recognize, I tactfully explained that our site was only targeting the Australian market and that we use British English spelling in Australia. Her response? Perhaps if we wanted to be taken seriously by an international audience, we should consider using the “more proper” American English. Flabbergasted, I pointed out the fact that American English was a derivative of British English and was not widely used outside her own country. Wikipedia has more about the differences between the two here. And let’s not forget that although it is the most common language used on the web, English is used by less than 30 percent of the world’s total Internet users.

The point of this story is that you absolutely have to think outside your market if you are going to advertise on the web. As ignorant as she was, my email friend did make me realize that many of her compatriots might also think our site was full of errors. American English is more common on the web and I’ve since learned to cater to that trend. I try to remember that in all writing I do for the web now, whether it’s in my daily blog, the syndicated articles I write regularly or web page content.

Whenever you design or write for a web site that has an international audience, make sure you address each market. It pays to undertake detailed keyword research into your markets you are targeting so you can capture the correct regional jargon and spelling that people are searching for. Remember it’s not enough to think global, you’ve got to act global too.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects

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