What is eCommerce Internationalisation?

In eCommerce, internationalisation is the term used to describe the strategic decision to branch out into new markets. When done correctly, internationalisation can be a quick way to grow a business overseas with minimal risk associated. In this article, we’re going to explore finding the right overseas markets and how to internationalise correctly. We’re also going to look at how to grow a global audience and manage your organic growth.

Why should you internationalise?

Internationalisation is usually decided upon when the market gets too complicated or expensive to dominate further. In most cases, as an eCommerce store grows there will be a critical point where expanding markets is obvious. In other cases, a market might be in a financial turmoil which would make dominating that market harder.

Finding the right markets to move into

The first step of any marketing campaign is to do some strategic planning. In the case of internationalisation, that’s finding the right market to move into. Thankfully, any big eCommerce website worth their salt has a lot of data that can be used to find opportunities.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics should be your starting point for any data-driven decision. For a really simple report, just head over to “Geo > Location”, this will tell you which countries have the most customers.

Use Google Analytics to find the Countries to grow into
There’s much more you can do with Google Analytics, choose different metrics depending on what’s important to your goals. If you know the AOV for a specific age range is higher, then include that in your metrics.

Shopify

Use Shopify to find similar data sets to Google Analytics. Shopify collects data separately to Google, it’s always good practise to refer to more than one data set. From the Shopify admin you’re able to see where your users are, orders to specific countries and order specific reports. It’s really important that you run safeguard reports such as “return rate by country”.

We once ran an insights report for a client before internationalising and found a huge return rate from certain countries. This was because the sizing for those countries were different and it wasn’t clearly labelled on the site. They were able to create an overseas eCommerce site, with native sizing options which dramatically reduced the return rate.

Social Media

Social Media is a great way to get personal with your customers. Using Social Media analytics, you’ll be able to see where your fans and followers are living. Don’t forget to analyse the comments and messages for common international FAQs. Your social media followers are your customers, if you’re struggling with picking a new market, then ask your social fans.

How do you do internationalisation?

Once you’ve worked out which overseas markets to move into, the next stage is to create an internationalisation strategy. Every business, eCommerce store, international market, and audience is unique, so every internationalisation strategy should be unique too. But there are some solid foundations that remain constant across all strategies:

Translations

One of the biggest mistakes we see on a consistent basis is missing translations. It’s really important to translate everything:

  • Titles & Subtitles
  • Content
  • FAQ’s
  • URLs & Handles
  • Collections

It’s surprising how many French versions of a site have an English URL or collection. When we create an internationalisation strategy, we translate as much as possible. We do this because occasional missing translations can have an affect on your user experience and conversion rate.

It’s also worth noting that you should be translating English (UK) to English (US), especially in fashion. How often do you use the word: “colour” on your site?

Hreflang Tags

Hreflang Tags are small snippets that tell Google and other search engines which country and language a specific page is targeting. These tags should be on every ranking page on the domain, and should explain where the translated counterparts are. A common oversight is the lack of self-referencing tags, it’s important that each page references itself in the hreflang tags.

You should start your hreflang tags with your default. This x-default page was introduced to be a landing page where the user can select their country and translation. However, it can also be used as a “catch-all” option.


< link rel="alternate" href="https://example.com" hreflang="x-default" />

To ensure the original site doesn’t lose any visibility, we create the following hreflang tag. In this case, the original site is based in the UK.


< link rel="alternate" href="https://example.com/" hreflang="en-gb" />

The next tag tells Google to show the subdomain us to English speakers in the United States.


< link rel="alternate" href="https://us.example.com" hreflang="en-us" />

The next 2 hreflang tags both target Canadian users, but one is for English speakers and one is for French speakers.


< link rel="alternate" href="https://ca.example.com" hreflang="en-ca" />
< link rel="alternate" href="https://ca-fr.example.com" hreflang="fr-ca" />

Canonical and Hreflang Tags

It’s important that you continue to use the canonical tag alongside the hreflang tags, and it’s set up correctly. Whatever domain the user is on, that’s the domain the canonical should point to. If you put the UK domain as the canonical on the US domain, then Google will likely drop the US site.

How to Manage Internationalisation and Complex Rules

Usually, internationalisation isn’t as straightforward as translating and getting the right hreflang tags. Most merchants will want to choose different product and content availability for different countries. This includes different promotions, voucher codes and software integrations.

The whole point of internationalisation is be as native as possible. You shouldn’t have a Mother’s day promotion on the UK and the US site at the same time. (They celebrate it on different days)

Using a PIM (Product Information Management) tool will allow you to assign translations, variants, availability and change the hreflang tags. This essentially allows you to visualise the differences in each market and make changes in one place.

Monitoring Internationalisation

We use visibility monitoring tools such as SEMRush for key stages of internationalisation. This allows us to see the transition and growth of domains across different countries. It also allows us monitor the health of the strategy and quickly jump on any issues we may find. Because we look at organic growth and SEO from a holistic point of view, we monitor every aspect of the site. This includes performance, technical SEO, internationalisation, content and more.

Get in touch

We understand the importance of being able to sell internationally and creating the right marketing strategy around your online store. As Shopify Plus Partners, we’ve invested heavily into internationalisation R&D to offer overseas growth to our clients. Get in touch to find out more about internationalisation.

AUTHOR

Will Lynch

Will is Head of Marketing at ELS Media. He can be found fixing Google penalties, optimising eCommerce sites and creating automated email marketing strategies.