If you’re a business targeting visitors in non-English-speaking countries, providing multi-lingual sites is probably a necessity. Or, you may just see it as a nice-to-have that could potentially bring additional leads or revenue. Either way, building multi-lingual sites comes with its own set of challenges and considerations; it’s not as simple as clicking “translate”.
In this article we go through the main multi-lingual website best practices you should keep in mind when building foreign-language sites, to ensure that they are as optimal as possible. The most important aspect? To provide your foreign-language visitors with the same user experience as your English-speaking ones. Here are our top 7 tips:
1. Always have translations reviewed by a professional
Although using Google Translation may seem like a convenient idea, you could really alienate your visitors if your content doesn’t make sense or if it’s confusing. So even if you decide to largely translate content through a software, always make sure you get a language professional to review it before publishing it on your site. Only in this way will foreign-language visitors get the same understanding of your conent as English-speaking ones.
2. Pay attention to international SEO practices
Simply translating your content is not going to deliver the same SEO results as on your English site. Why? Because often different SEO rules apply to different countries.
There are several things you can pay attention to when adjusting your SEO:
- Keyword: a simple keyword translation won’t do if that keyword isn’t actually going to be effective in that language. Make sure you do keyword research for every language site to ensure keywords have an appropriate volume of monthly searches and that they are relevant.
- URL: think about whether your multi-lingual sites will be built completely separately or if you will build them as subdomains of your main site. Whether you choose one or the other will depend on how independent you want these sites to be of each other.
- Search engines: Believe it or not, not every country counts Google as their most popular search engine. For example, the most popular search engines in China, Russia and South Korea respectively are Baidu, Yandex and Naver. So if you’re building a site for users in any of these countries, make sure that your SEO practices are in line with the major search engines there.
3. Keep all sites consistent
One of the most common mistakes when building multi-lingual sites is not providing the same user experience across them. This can lead visitors to feel like they’re missing out on key information if they’re using a non-English site.
It’s therefore very important to ensure that different sites look consistent and give visitors confidence that they are all reliable. A way of doing this is to use global templates across all sites, ensuring that they all have the same look and content. Global templates can also help you reduce your design efforts and costs significantly, and make it a lot easier to maintain web updates across sites.
The most important part is that all sites provide the same features and functionality, so all your visitors get the user experience they expect and require.
4. Use content that is culturally appropriate and contextually relevant
Just like it’s necessary to have a translator to ensure your translations make sense in whatever language, the same applies to images and icons. Are they relevant, appropriate and respectful to the culture in question?
This will require a level of knowledge or research on your part to ensure that you avoid images that could be offensive or uncomfortable to your audience. The aim is to connect with your visitors and provide them with an online experience that makes them feel positive about your brand.
5. Make multi-lingual site access easy and convenient
There is nothing more annoying than trying to find the functionality to change a site’s language and being unable to locate it. And believe me, if it’s too hard to find it, your visitors will just leave.
Access to multi-lingual sites should be clearly available in the locations where your visitors expect to find it: the top right of your global navigation bar and the site’s footer.
If you are only offering one language other than English, for example Spanish, you could simply include a button saying “En español”. If you are providing multiple foreign-language sites, a drop-down box is a more intuitive solution.
6. Make your checkout process familiar to the relevant countries
The checkout process is an often overlooked aspect of multi-lingual sites that requires attention too. Some eCommerce providers already provide country-relevant checkout functionality, but even if yours does, always ensure that it includes:
- Appropriate shipping address formats according to the country (eg. different countries will have different zip/postal code formats)
- Appropriate currencies that are automatically assigned according to the country the site is being accessed from. Bonus point if these can be adjusted by the visitor from a drop-down menu
- Appropriate date and time formats (eg. the correct date format in the US is mm/dd/yyyy, whereas in Japan it’s yyyy/mm/dd).
7. Keep in mind text expansion
Finally, a challenge that many companies experience when translating sites is text expansion. Text translated from English into foreign languages often expands because of different grammar and syntax rules. For example, English text translated into Spanish expands by approximately 25%.
What this means is that, especially when using global templates, you may encounter difficulties fitting all content in on your foreign-language sites, so it’s important to plan ahead for this. Cutting down copy may seem appealing, but it should never mean that less information is available to your visitors. Ultimately, dealing with text expansion will involve a combination of trying to cut down your content and tweaking your design without making any major changes to the users' experience.
Do you know of any multi-lingual website best practices we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!