Recently a client wanted to serve local language content to visitors from different countries. This practice is also known as Geotargeting, and much has been written about its potential to help a company expand to new markets or better target existing ones.
Geotargeting is, however, a tricky proposition for visitors and search engine spiders and so it is vital to know what implications the various geotargeting options have on visitor behavior. From a user’s perspective, there are several common methods used to deliver local content on any particular website.
Automatic redirect to the local language site
Skype.com does this, presumably through IP-based geotargeting. If I visit Skype.com from my office in Germany, I am automatically redirected to skype.com/intl/de/. Skype makes the assumption that I want my content in German since I am coming from a German IP.
Suggest local site with no redirect
Amazon.com takes a different approach. When I visit Amazon.com I land on Amazon.com. The site recognizes that I may be interested in the Amazon.de website and suggests I shop there. But rather than forcing the decision on me, Amazon displays the link to the German site prominently on the home page.
Another approach is to provide a splash page with a list of countries or languages. This is done by Xerox.com and is especially suited for sites where the .com (or other Top Level Domains such as .eu) domain is a landing page for the global market.
A final option, of course, is to do nothing yet provide links to local content on the home page. This is the route taken by Apple.com.
From a user perspective, each method has its charm…and its weaknesses. The automatic redirect method used by Skype is likely to satisfy to the majority of visitors who use the .com extension as a quick way to get to the site. On the other hand, it is likely to frustrate visitors who want to visit the english .com site from abroad. The suggestion approach is an excellent, non-intrusive way to make the visitor aware of the local site without making the decision for the visitor. The splash page method is very typical of support sites and works quite well especially for global branding initiatives that are based on the Top Level Domain .com. It does, however, force the visitor to make an additional click to enter the site. Doing nothing puts all the responsibility on the visitor to make the decision. In a sense, it is the least “patronizing” approach since it gives complete control to the visitor.
Whatever the choice, it is absolutely essential to allow a visitor to change the language and/or country at any time during the visit. All of the websites in the above examples allow visitors to jump to a different country/language site during the visit.
Web Analytics Tip: If you are using the automatic redirect method, check how many visitors are entering via .com, being redirected, and are then switching back to .com. A high number of “switchers” likely indicates dissatisfaction with the redirect.