trends

The European Market

Sam Anson
With a relatively wealthy population of more than 500 million and the largest total combined economy in the world, Europe needs to be on your radar screen to make the most of your hard-earned traffic.

Improving your sales in the European market is long overdue and should be a priority for webmasters, but before you start ripping the guts out of your existing billing setup remember this key point: optimize, do not cannibalize.

The point here is that sales generated from your primary processor are the bread and butter of your online business.

Squeezing more European sales out of your traffic sounds like an attractive proposition but it should not come at the cost of losing sales from your primary processor.

In order to better capture the European market, webmasters should focus on three areas: payment options, geo optimization and site translation.

Payment Options
For starters, Visa and MasterCard are worldwide brands with global reach, and your current credit processors are more than capable of accepting the primary European card types. This includes localized country specific credit and debit cards such as Maestro, Switch, Solo, Electron and Carte Blue, just to name a few. A key goal for every webmaster is, while optimizing your payment options, to not pull credit card transactions away from your primary processor. Rather, supplement your primary processor's offering with additional payment types like direct debit, bank transfer and phone billing.

A word of caution: If you are a U.S.-registered business, and therefore use a U.S.-based IPSP to handle your primary credit card processing, you cannot simply hook up with a European IPSP to handle your European credit card billing needs. Do not risk your sponsored merchant status or your merchant account by breaking cross-border regulations.

Of course, you don't need a European credit card processor to accept European credit cards. To avoid not being in compliance with cross-border acquiring rules, you'll need to choose additional credit card partners who are strictly U.S.- registered IPSPs.

In addition to credit card billing, webmasters should supplement their payment options with non-credit-card-based billing mechanisms like direct debit, bank transfer and phone billing. Rather than going with a "one provider fits all" model, go with a specialist for each payment type. Naturally, the major advantage of choosing more than one provider is that it spreads the risk, so you don't have all of your eggs in one basket. Like any well-diversified stock portfolio, risk is mitigated when assets are more balanced.

Alternative billing solutions offer merchants reduced risk and in certain cases complete protection from chargebacks. Alternative billing options support standard one-time and recurring billing and the programs sit side-by-side on your join pages with any credit card billing option, complementing the offerings for clients worldwide, who enjoy a larger choice of payment options. Furthermore, alternative billing solutions allow sales in countries that may be blocked from credit card usage.

With the alternate billers, it should be noted that the products they offer are totally separate and "off the radar" from Visa and MasterCard. Therefore, when you add alternate billing options you are not in danger of jeopardizing your core Visa and MasterCard processing capability. Be diligent and make sure that your alternative billing company really does offer alternative payment options and not just masked credit card solutions. The last thing you want to do is violate cross-border rules or cannibalize your existing credit card sales.

Geo Optimization
It is important to understand the difference between using geo-location to aggressively reroute users to secondary billers, and the art of geo-optimization. In many cases using geo-location to enable aggressive surfer redirection will confuse your customers and hurt your sales. This is because geo-location is not 100 percent accurate and usually has a margin of error of around 5 percent. Therefore, if 70 percent of your sales are from the U.S. and you implement an aggressive geo-location strategy based around redirecting your foreign traffic to an alternative biller, you will certainly lose legitimate U.S. customers. In addition, if you aggressively geo-redirect surfers to a processor's join form, bypassing your standard join page, it creates confusion for the surfer and effectively deletes the most important page in your tour.

A better strategy would be to show or hide country-specific alternative payment options on your standard join page. For example: A German surfer might see a debit button that is not presented to the American surfer. Conversely, automated clearing house (ACH) options that only work inside the U.S. would not be shown to the German user. The basic idea here is to only display billing solutions to users who can actually utilize them and not present a user with options he/she can't use. This technique is sometimes referred to as geo-exclusion and can be easily setup within the admin areas of popular affiliate programs like NATS or MPA3.

When it comes to an alternate billing mechanism that works in every target market, such as phone billing, you can simply use a static pay-by-phone link at the bottom of your join page.

Certain affiliate software, such as NATS and MPA3, provide the ability to choose the credit card processor based on the country of origin. Using this feature you can test the processor's through-put and scrub level on a country-by-country basis and optimize the primary processor and cascade order for each country of the world. Start this test with the largest markets first, such as Germany, the U.K. and France. If one credit card provider performs significantly better in France for example, use that processor as your primary provider in France. Then work down the list of countries in order of priority using the same test methods.

When the matrix is complete, you will then have an objective custom billing cascade specifically built for your affiliate program. This test procedure will help you optimize the performance of your current credit card processors and therefore more efficiently help you target the European market.

After performing the above tests on a country-by-country basis, you may notice that some countries are not converting via credit card billing at all. These countries may be prime candidates for using geo-location to redirect users to alternate solutions. However, you should proceed with extreme caution when implementing redirection and scientifically test your results to ensure that you do not hurt sales at your primary processor. Start with one country at a time, keep a close eye on your credit card sales and ratios, and only when you are 100 percent confident that you are not negatively affecting your core business, test another country.

The Local Language
As a final undertaking, you should seriously consider getting your sites translated into the major European languages. Although this task may sound daunting at first, as the European Union has 23 official languages, you can start with a half-dozen major languages, such as German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and one Scandinavian language. Once the initial round of full-site translations is complete, and you reap the benefits of additional sales as a result of the localization, you can begin adding the more obscure languages.

"If translating sites to target the European market wasn't worthwhile, the majority of the top 100 sites on the Internet wouldn't do it," said Omar Rodriguez, owner of GloballyTranslated.com. "There is a ton of money to be made by translating your sites and your business should be a part of this global economy."

There is no need to worry about your processor's forms being translated — they already are. CCBill, DHD Processing and Epoch all support multilingual join forms as well as multiple currency options, allowing the users to purchase in several currencies including pounds sterling and euros.

In summary, to optimize your site for the European market you should diversify your payment options by adding alternative billers. Steer clear from the one-size-fits-all solutions and spread the risk across multiple companies offering different services. Don't risk your entire business by breaking cross-border rules, and make better use of your current billing providers by setting up a scientifically tested geo-optimization strategy. Finally, get your sites translated.

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