in Rome, do as the Romans do' goes the adage, and it would seem that most international Internet companies in India think so, too. Going local has been the strategy of foreign players in the Indian online space ever since global giants such as Microsoft and Yahoo! launched Indian versions of their websites.
The trend continues with newer players such as AOL, Reuters and Google planting their Indian flags. While AOL India launched an Indian site in 2007, YouTube recently announced a website with an Indian domain name (youtube.co.in). In the platform which is the World Wide Web, there are no boundaries. So, what is it that makes Internet publishers create region and country specific websites? After all, there are many Indians who go directly to YouTube.com or Yahoo.com.
Most industry professionals agree that local content is essential in key markets where the Internet is booming. No doubt, it's hard to ignore a market like India, which has 35 million active Internet users.
SN Bhaduri, country manager, Consumer Media, Thomson Reuters India, says, "There cannot be a one site fits all strategy as far as content is concerned. If you go to each of the Reuters sites globally, whether the US, the UK, Japan or China, you will see that there is a subtle variation in the content and how it is presented." The news organisation launched a website for Indian readers, reuters.co.in, in September 2007.
A large number of Internet users also means more eyeballs for advertisers and hence, an Indian site may make sense from a local advertising perspective as well. Gopal Krishna, head of audience at Yahoo! India, says, "By localising content and feel, we are able to provide a distinct experience tailored to the local market. This indeed provides flexibility to get different experiences, if you so choose. For instance, as an NRI in India, you can continue to experience cultures and news from the UK, India or the US. This kind of mix is definitely a big lure for advertisers as well, as it provides better and more flexibility to them, too."
A local web address such as Reuters.co.in or AOL.in also creates a sense of identity as the domain is unique to India. There are technical benefits as well, of having the content developed within the country on local infrastructure, such as servers.
According to Krish Sheshadri, senior director, programming and product marketing, AOL India, "Apart from creating an identity, a local web address helps in creating a local brand. It also helps the consumers in getting a better experience online because the pages load faster. Our content and advertising deals are specific to the country."
For a user generated site such as YouTube, it makes all the more sense to have a local version. Sakina Arsiwala, international manager, YouTube, explains, "When a user uploads a video to the YouTube India site, they have the ability to ensure that their videos are tagged as originating from India. Upon searching for content on the site, relevant Indian content will be bubbled up over content from other locations. In addition to this, videos created by Indian users will be featured on the homepage of YouTube in India."
So, whether it is to attract local audiences or advertisers, focusing on content relevant to the market is a strategy that finds favour with international websites. The next level of localisation, of course, is speaking in local languages and most of these websites have already started offering regional language versions. MSN India is available in five versions, besides English, Yahoo! is offered in nine regional languages and newcomer AOL launched with two regional versions. However, as the online population in India is largely urban, investments in local language portals will take a couple of years to gain traction.