With English still the number one language on the web with over 536.6 million English users in 2013 it is easy for designers to forget about other languages when developing applications for the web. Yet the web is a truly global medium, (according to internetworldstats.com) Chinese is the second language of the web with 444.9 million users in 2012 and looks set to continue growing through 2013 with other languages such as Spanish and Japanese also catching up.
If your website is in the business of making money or selling you are missing out on a potential 78% of all internet users by providing an English only version of your website. In many cases an English only website will suffice for small and local businesses, but if you are looking to reach out to users in other cultures using their native languages then follow some of our top tips for cross-cultural web design and website localisation.
Proper keyword research is probably the most important aspect of launching a website in another language, especially for e-commerce and businesses selling products or services. Many will be tempted into simply translating their English based keywords for products into the target language which is a definite step on the road to failure.
A classic example of bad keyword translation is for ‘Car Insurance’; Google Translate gives the result of ‘l’assurance automobile’ in French. While this translation is accurate it is not a typical search term that French users would use, whereas they would most likely use something along the lines of ‘assurance voiture’.
Language specific keyword research should be approached in much the same way as English keyword research by researching popular search terms using tools such as Wordtracker and Google Insight, while also employing a professional translator to help brainstorm for synonyms and popular keywords for your sector.
Choosing the Right Domain
This age old debate never fails to arise on discussions of multi-lingual websites. Is it better to use a country code top level domain (ccTLD) or a sub domain of your main domain?
Both choices have their ups and downs, for instance using a ccTLD such as www.yourdomain.it may make your site look slightly more authoritative in Italy to local search engines and visitors than a .com/.net address. Although there is much debate as to whether this is truly the case.
Using ccTLD’s is useful if you are looking to target countries or regions, but don’t get caught in the trap if you simply want to provide alternative languages for your site. There are many countries that speak the same language; you wouldn’t really want your Spanish .es site serving your South American visitors would you? Add in the cost of some ccTLD’s, maintainability issues of separate domains and hosting and you have to ask yourself if you targeting a specific language or a specific country.
The alternative is to use a sub domain of your main domain such as www.it.yourdomain.com or even www.yourdomain.com/it. This method is more practical if you are looking to provide alternative languages of your content, yet are not solely focused on selling products or services in a specific country or region.
Localizing Your Website
Much in the same way that keywords require research, multilingual content should be correctly optimized and localized if you are serious about making money or adding value to your visitors on your foreign language sites.
Different cultures around the world have different perceptions of viewing content and design issues, both design and content layout issues should be taken into account when designing for foreign audiences. A UK visitor may respond better to content that is in a less formal, almost ‘chatty’ tone; German visitors may respond positively to clean, modern designs and a more corporate tone.
Getting international design and content right can involve a lot of trial and error, so use tools at your disposal such as Google Website Optimiser to create A/B or Multivariate tests to try out different combinations of layout or content on your visitors. You may well be surprised with the results.
Managing Your Translations
You probably have hundreds of pages of content on your site, and are probably asking yourself how you will manage so many different page and languages? Well management of translated content needs careful consideration straight from the design stage. Many CMS systems have the capability already built in to manage translations, while systems such as WordPress have readily available third party plugins that can help manage translations.
Managing translated content can be challenging, especially if you are dealing in many languages, what happens when the English source content is changed? Do you re-translate all of the other language content translated? There are other efficient ways of working with translated content including the open source GNU gettext (http://www.gnu.org/software/gettext/) which allows your professional translators to work from easy to use .po message files.
Analyzing Your Statistics
Google Analytics should never be ignored; first you should make sure you have a separate account for each domain or sub domain you have running. This will help to segment and break down the analysis of each site to help draw conclusions on how each country or language version is performing and where to improve. You should be able to see clear statistics about where your main target audiences are coming from and where you can refine content and landing pages to improve visitor bounce rates.
Research, Refine & Re-write!