Getting Your Business Website Ready for the Multilingual World


Getting Your Business Website Ready for the Multilingual World

Whist English is still the dominant language of the Internet, accounting for around 56 per cent of all Web content by the end of 2011, this figure is rapidly falling. More than three quarters of the world’s online population predominantly use languages other than English for everyday browsing and online tasks and this number is only likely to increase. In fact, the number Chinese Internet users, for example, is almost as high as the number of English users. Today, the Internet is not only a global network – it is also a multilingual one. With the launch of multilingual domain names and the enormous popularity of Unicode, the trend is certainly not likely to reverse. For this reason, many businesses will find it profitable to prepare their website for the multilingual world.

Why You Should Translate Your Website

Of course, there is no point in translating a local business website targeting local markets into other languages but, if you are in the business of selling products or services online, particularly internationally. It may well be time to translate your website. Think about where your customers come from. Do you receive many visitors from Spanish-speaking countries, for example? If so, you will probably receive a lot more visitors and make a lot more sales if you have a Spanish version of your site. Forget the myth that most people around the world speak English – people would usually far rather deal with companies and purchase in their own language. If you are finding that you are getting considerable attention from a certain country, consider making a localised version of your site for that country.

The importance of High-Quality Translations

Shockingly, some companies that localise their sites simply use machine translations. The quality of these translations is appalling and, often, unreadable. You may have seen such low quality translations in spam emails. Most of the time, people delete them immediately and pay no more attention to the advertiser.

If you are going to translate your site, hire a native speaker to do the job for you. It is essential that the person translating your site is fluent in both the source and output language.

You can take this one step further by localising your site for different areas and countries which use different dialects of the same language. For example, if you are targeting a Spanish (from Spain) marketing, you should have your content written in Spanish from Spain. If you are targeting a Mexican marketing, you’ll want to make sure that your translator translates the site into Mexican Spanish.

Website TranslationLocalised Search Engine Optimisation

If the translator you hire has experience with SEO and keywords, you may want to leave this one up to him. What you do need to avoid, however, is literal translations when it comes to choosing keywords. It may seem simple and tempting to translate a keyword phrase of two to five words by using a machine translator and then smatter your foreign-language content with them, but this will likely not get you anywhere. You should take the time to research which keywords people actually use when searching for content in their language.

Use of Unicode

Most of the world’s languages use special characters or even entirely different alphabets or writing systems altogether. Unicode is a tip elf character encoding which allows almost any known written language to be displayed correctly in its native form. Almost all Web browsing decides support Unicode and have no problem displaying special characters, particularly those used in European languages. If you are translating a website, be sure to use Unicode (or another suitable character set) rather than having your website display blocks or question marks instead of special characters. If you have a Spanish language version of your site, for example, you don’t want “español” being displayed as “espa?ol” or something similar.

Domain Names

For each localised version of your website, it is a good idea to have an appropriate country code top level domain name. While your main English-language site may use the .com or TLD, for example a Spanish (Spain) version of your site could use the .es TLD while a French version should use the .fr TLD and so on. If you prefer to save costs and stick with one domain name, ensure that you have localised subdomains for each version of your site such as or etc.

Navigational Features

Localising a website is not just about translating its text content. In some cases, it can also be important to modify some of the navigational features. Some languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, are written from right to left rather than left to right like Indo-European languages. This means that your website’s existing navigational features such as left=side vertical menus or scroll bars will not be so user-friendly to your Arabic or Hebrew viewers. Switching such navigational features around for such localisations of your website is not particularly complicated, but it can make a world of difference to your visitors’ experience.

About Eimear McCormack

Eimear is International Marketing Director at Grafton Media, Eimear's responsibilities include furthering Grafton Media's reach across all global territories.
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