The internet has made international business so much easier, but it also causes new dilemmas. Internet expert Danny Mekić answers entrepreneurs’ practical questions. A tiny lecture.
1. I’ve made a website in French in order to offer my products on the French market. Does it matter in what country I have it hosted?
Yes! There are benefits to hosting a website intended for a foreign market on a server in that country. Firstly, it improves the website’s speed for foreign users. Data traffic will not have to travel to and from the Netherlands, which saves time. It also reduces the probability of system failures. The less intermediaries, the better. But the most important advantage is that it will make your website easier to find. Recently, Google also ranks websites by how quickly they are found. Hosting a website on a local server may be somewhat more expensive, but that difference is amply made up for by more customers finding them. Incidentally, you won’t necessarily need to contact a foreign hosting company for this. Local providers can get your website hosted on foreign servers too.
2. Is there any point in using a different domain name for every country?
If you use only one domain name, e.g. www.bedrijfx.com, you can only host your website on just one server. By using several domain names – www.bedrijfx.be, www.bedrijfx.fr – or by using subdomains – be.bedrijfx.com, fr.bedrijfx.com – you can have your international websites hosted at local servers abroad. This makes your websites easier to find and faster to use, like I said. Which of those two options is right for your company depends on your websites’ layout and content. If they’re very alike, use subdomains. If they’re very different for each country, use separate domain names.
3. Is it important to use the same graphic design and layout for my international websites?
In the interest of saving money, you could say: yes. A default layout and a translation into the language of the country in question can go a long way. But be careful with cultural differences, because those can be a major pitfall! Look at Germany, for example. In Germany it’s normal to prominently feature the company’s management on the website. Here in the Netherlands, we don’t do that nearly as much. The Germans also value academic titles very much, which are important to signal status there, whereas we prefer to leave them out. Moreover, German websites like to emphasise the corporate appearance of a company. You can read a lot about the organisational structure. Dutch websites are much more user-oriented. For example, compare the website of the Dutch Railways – www.ns.nl – to that of the Deutsche Bahn – www.db.de – and look at the difference. Americans are often way over the top as being customer-oriented goes. They’ll pull you right through your computer screen, stuff a train ticket into your mouth and all but push you into the train. There’s a major emphasis on sales.
4. What laws does it involve when I offer my products abroad via my website?
International entrepreneurship often involves all sorts of legal complications. People often underestimate that. Particularly for online business. Within the European Union, legislation regarding things like warranties and quality standards for products are fairly streamlined, but outside of it, regulations will often differ. To avoid unpleasant surprises as much as possible, I recommend hiring a jurist who has a good understanding of the legislation of the country you want to cater to. You should also indicate on your website that your company’s head office is in the Netherlands, and that you operate under Dutch law. Explicitly mention this in your general terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions must be easy to find on your website. For example, they could be included in the checkout process for ordering a product. That would give your customers an explicit opportunity to inform themselves about your terms and conditions. That can work in your favour in the event of any conflicts.
Interview by Wim Glas for BM, magazine of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs