Poor usability, inappropriateness, cultural insensitivity: such are the issues that can characterize country sites of all types, often reflected in poor feedback from users. Frequently, such sites have a spare, clinical, sanitized feel that discourages a real connection with the target audience -- a grave problem in a space where experience is becoming the most important element of a website.

Knowing Your Market and Your Brand

Having just the central marketing team dictate the design and content for a localized web presence can lead to problems: superficial or poorly translated content, content that hasn’t even been translated, or information that is factually incorrect for the locale. It can also take months -- or years -- for country sites to be brought up to date with the organization’s flagship sites.

Some companies have decided to tackle this problem by allowing local teams to manage and design their own sites. This, too, raises issues. Giving the local team a completely free rein can lead to a diluted brand and mixed, or at worst conflicting, messages. For example, a local marketing team driven exclusively by sales may concentrate on getting users to buy, while ignoring key business differentiators and deeper messaging.

So it is all about getting the balance right between central control and local flexibility, in order to craft a successful global website management strategy without losing the local touch.

A Question of Identity

As mentioned above, central marketing teams must always bear in mind that although everyone works under the same brand, local offices have their own unique identity. Ensuring the success of a country site involves getting local buy-in when setting global guidelines, and ensuring local identity is fully recognized. In fact, it’s only once you have your country teams on board that you can roll out a unified vision for your web presence.

So how exactly do you get all your local teams, with their various customer bases, sales targets and individual goals, to embrace a single brand vision? Involving them in the creation of that vision is essential.

Ideally, website polices and standards should be set and managed centrally. However, a common mistake made by many organizations is that although their brand guidelines are defined centrally (typically either by their central team, or an external agency), local teams are only involved when the guidelines are scheduled for actual rollout. That’s too late and inevitably leads to problems. Involving individuals from around the organization at the outset, particularly those who are involved in creating local materials on a day-to-day basis, can help ensure there is no mismatch at a local level.

A Global Strategy with a Local Touch

So, what’s the secret to ensuring your country sites will engage visitors? Here are seven considerations central web teams need to keep in mind:

  1. Document everything -- Documenting your visual brand guidelines and product strategy and making this information readily accessible throughout your organization will help local teams understand the reasoning behind certain brand guidelines. Don’t simply expect them to follow the rules “because HQ said so.”
  2. Be culturally aware -- Cultural sensitivity, including an awareness of how your brand is perceived in different countries, is paramount here. Observing local conventions and adapting to regional tastes is an essential element of crafting a successful site.
  3. Think beyond translation -- Translating your content is only the first step. You also need to think about the layout variations involved with different character sets, the likelihood of text expansion (e.g. some languages have longer than average word and/or sentence lengths than others), and differences in syntax and language structure, particularly for system-generated messages.
  4. Invest in training -- Don’t centralize all your expertise. Make sure local teams have the expertise and awareness they need to make decisions about their sites. And, reciprocally, make sure there is a feedback mechanism in place by which they can provide inputs back to your central team.
  5. Involve the relevant stakeholders -- Local teams should be involved in defining the design and content strategy for websites -- there is no point setting brand guidelines that will be inappropriate in some markets.
  6. Compliance -- Each locale will have a differing legal structure so, when it comes to websites, making sure any centralized guidelines and templates accommodate these is essential.
  7. Be mindful of infrastructure -- Often overlooked, the speed of internet connections available in the target country and the devices used to access your site will have a major impact on how your content is received.

So, the success of any country site strategy depends on involving local teams in defining your global strategy -- and in continuous monitoring which will provide key site performance metrics to define strategies that will work across the entire web presence. This allows central web and marketing teams to pinpoint exactly where their initiatives aren’t working, and make changes where needed.

Editor's Note: To read more by Simon Lande:

-- Opportunities and Challenges of Mobile Websites