When you are designing a new website, there are quite a few things to think about when you are in the planning stage. There are color schemes, typography, navigation elements, site structure, search engine optimization, style sheets… the list goes on. One area that often gets overlooked is that of localization: allowing your website to adapt and appeal to any local audience, no matter where in the world they are accessing your site.
If you never plan to cater to a multi-cultural audience, then there is no harm in leaving this out of the scope of your web design project. If, however, you think that one day you may need to reach to visitors in other countries, then it is something that you should build for in the beginning. Internet World Statistics showed an 832.5 percent growth in global Internet users from the years 2000 to 2015.
Designing for Global Appeal
If your first thought was to translate your websites into foreign languages as a global strategy, you are not alone; but, you are also not taking the right path. While translating content might make it easier for someone in another country to understand what your site is saying, it falls far short of what localization really is. It says to international visitors that you designed your site for your home country first, and then considered them as an afterthought. Not a good message to send if you are trying to build an international business, is it?
Translation is important, and important enough to be done right, but it is far from the only strategy you should take. To really help your global audience understand the message of your website, you need to do the following:
Be careful with images
Images and graphics are important to a website; but for an international audience, they can be confusing. If you have pictures of customers happily enjoying your products, or you use those common images of people sitting around a conference table getting work done, you need to ask yourself, “can all of my visitors relate to the people represented in these images?” The answer is likely no. As hard as it may be to do, images of people should be left off of your site as often as possible if you are aiming for an international audience.
But it’s not just people you need to leave out, but images that contain text as well. When important text is embedded into an image, it makes it hard to translate and is often overlooked during the translation process. So a visitor winds up able to read just about everything on the page, with the exception of the important words that are inside of the image.
Make room for foreign languages
When designing a website, real estate can be at a premium. Often times, we try to squeeze every bit of text that we can into a page, but after we account for whitespace and other design elements, there isn’t always a lot of room left over. So, what happens when you translate that content and all of the sudden, it doesn’t fit? For many web designers, this is a real problem. Take the word English word ‘views’ as an example. In Portuguese, it becomes ‘visualizações,’ which is 2.6 times the size as the original. The Italian ‘visulizzazioni’ is 3 times the size of the word ‘views.’ So where is all of this extra text to go if you have already fit it neatly into a constrained div element?
Unicode to the rescue
As web designers, we often run into issues when special characters in our pages don’t render properly in the users’ browsers. For our international visitors, this is a problem that is all too common if their native language does not use the English alphabet. Our Portuguese example above is one case where this could happen. While you could probably piece together what the site was trying to say, it certainly wouldn’t help gain any fans in Brazil or Portugal. Now imagine a visitor from Russia or Japan trying to view a website that does not offer support for the characters in their alphabets. For them, the entire content may come across as a garbled mess.
UTF-8 encoding was developed to help solve this problem; in fact, the HTML5 specifications encourage its use for your content because it contains code points to represent over 110,000 characters.
Optimize content for multiple languages
On the web, language and writing often does not conform to some of the rigid structure that is expected in other mediums. As a result, it is common to see slang and idioms scattered throughout the pages of a website. Unfortunately, this type of language does not translate accurately into others, and it winds up convoluting your message. Even some words and phrases that are completely acceptable in formal language don’t always convey the same meaning when translated.
To overcome this, it is important that you have someone review your content so that it is internationalized prior to having it translated. This helps ensure that your global audience is seeing content that conveys the same meaning, intent, and context as the original language.
Large global enterprises often employ teams of people that are tasked with ensuring that their website is appropriate to an international audience. Yet even if you don’t have a team of resources at hand to help design sites that appeal to international visitors, taking the right steps can really help to make sure that foreign users are given a quality experience. And remember, the earlier you include localization into your plans, the easier and more natural it will be to get things right for those visitors who aren’t familiar with your native tongue.
About The Author
Sean Huang is a Business Analyst at Clutch responsible for research and analysis of web design agencies. He is a lifelong native of Maryland and earned his BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. In his free time, Sean enjoys playing pool, bartending, and exploring the outdoors.