Opinion

Make your website welcoming to foreign buyers

4 tips to get more visitors, boost conversion rates and close more deals

When it comes to reaching international buyers, you already have an advantage. That’s because, as an Inman reader, you are probably more digitally savvy than the average agent.

This is important because international property buyers tend to rely heavily on digital media — the only practical way to educate yourself about real estate markets located halfway around the world.

In fact, without online listings — and, to a lesser extent, Internet-enabled apps — we wouldn’t be benefiting from the current flood of cross-border property buying.

“Flood” is not too strong of a word. Canada, the U.K., Russia, Latin America — the sources of overseas buyers of U.S. property seem endless.

I personally am most familiar with those from China. They alone spent $50 billion last year on real estate in other countries, according to the Global Chinese Real Estate Congress. According to another estimate, their purchases generated $1.2 billion in commissions for real estate agents.

Because international buyers do use the Web to research real estate markets, your professional website has to play a new role. It is no longer just an overlooked online brochure for local buyers. It now becomes a vital marketing tool for international buyers that can help boost your revenue.

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By improving your website, you will benefit from improved visitors, page views, rates of inquiry, rates of conversion, and, ultimately, closed transactions.

In my last article, I gave tips for international search engine optimization. Here, let’s look at the four most important ways to optimize your website for foreign visitors.

1. Reduce your site’s load speed.

If you asked five people to tell you the most important thing they can do to optimize their site for international buyers, all of them would probably recommend adding more content tailored for them.

They would be wrong.

That sort of content strategy does indeed have a place, and I would like to talk about it in a future article, but it’s not first place.

The most important thing you can do is not to add custom content, but to improve the speed at which your site loads for international users.

Why is site speed so important? A slower site causes users to spend less time and do fewer property searches on your site. Even a delay of just one fifth of a second has been shown to cut user page views and searches, in research by Google.

A fast site can also be a point of differentiation for you because, as a category, real estate sites are the absolute slowest, only exceeded in sluggishness by news sites.

Use Google’s free Page Speed Insights tool to identify ways to improve your load time. Pass the results on to your webmaster for implementation.

And, if you want your site to load even faster for international users, ask your webmaster about using a content delivery network. For Chinese buyers, consider hosting your site within China itself.

2. Give your users the option to view property prices in their own currencies.

You don’t want your website to create unnecessary barriers to use. Any extra effort or uncertainty in the minds of users will reduce the rate at which they make inquiries and eventually convert into buyers.

That’s the primary justification for showing your listings in the currency of your international visitors. Your properties are in U.S. dollars by default, and visitors can choose to convert the dollars price into the currency of their choice.

There are plenty of good tools for currency conversion available. Some are built into real estate industry-specific solutions. There are also currency-conversion APIs. The Web authority Mashable recommends the Exchange Rate API.

3. Think about color from your international user’s perspective.

Your foreign users might experience the colors on your site very differently than your American users. Colors have different associations in different cultures.

Depending on your location in the world, blue may suggest peace or be believed to repel bad spirits. But blue might also bring to mind depression or gloominess.

Despite the potential negative undertones, Interbrand reports that more than one-quarter of the world’s 100 most valuable brands have blue logos.

Some “experts” overplay the impact that cultural color preferences can have on your marketing effort. The best advice I can give is to use color in a strategic way for the type of international buyers you want to work with.

To learn more, read this article by Nataly Kelly posted on Chief Marketer. Kelly is the chief research officer for Common Sense Advisory, and this article provides a good, practical overview.

4. Use language with care.

If you professionally translate your website and listings, you can significantly increase the number of page views, searches and inquiries your site generates from international visitors.

It is, however, a serious project that creates an ongoing responsibility for you to translate new content any time you update your site.

If you do not translate your site, then at least think through how it will look to those users who use machine translation tools. Use of these tools is growing rapidly. Google Translate already translates the equivalent of 1 million regular-length books per day.

Machine translation can lead to problems on your website. Text embedded in graphics cannot be translated and will remain impenetrable to your users who don’t read English.

Also, design your pages to remain legible after a user machine translates the text. Translation can change the flow of text so it runs longer or shorter than the original.

In the end, your goal is to make it easier for international users to access the content on your site. These four tips will get you started on marketing to this important buyer group.

Andrew Taylor is co-CEO of Juwai.com, a real estate portal linking Chinese buyers with property in the U.S., Canada and a total of 54 countries.