HOW TO: Localize A Multilingual Website

It’s a glaringly obvious truism to say that the web is a global phenomenon. It’s relatively easy these days for anyone to put their blog, business or personal website within the reach of anyone else in the world – so long as they have an internet connection, of course. In theory, your little or not-so-little corner of cyberspace can be accessed by anyone from Boston to Beijing. In reality, though, the process of adapting an existing website to make it accessible, usable and attractive to an audience in a different country or culture requires a little more forethought and preparation.

Translation

English might be the mother tongue of the internet, but the majority of the world’s population does not speak English at all. Use of English as a second language now outstrips its use as a primary language, but studies have also shown that web users have more confidence in sites that use their native tongue, especially when it comes to parting with money online. Even if a target audience can understand your content, a version written in their native language will still yield more positive results.

Google Translator

Depending on the resources you have available, it might be possible to create localized sites translated by a native speaker from each target market; if your budget doesn’t stretch that far though, machine translation options are also available. The easiest way to translate your content is to add a widget for translation tools such as Google Translate, Babelfish or Microsoft’s Windows Live Translator to your site.

Installing the widget will allow visitors to translate your content into the language of their choice at the click of a button. Alternatively, you could incorporate inline translation to facilitate intuitive, automatic translation of your content. JavaScript libraries such as jquery.com offer tutorials on using Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to write inline translation code.

Related : Translate Your Blog Into Another Language Instantly


Country-Specific Localization

Some languages span more than one country or geographical area, but it should be remembered that linguistic usage and cultural mores can vary from one region to the next. The French spoken in France is different from that used in Canada, Belgium or Switzerland, while American English has many differences in vocabulary to the English used in the UK, India or Australia.

Languages

Focusing on a language rather than a country will require less time and expense and there will be a certain amount of crossover, especially if you avoid specific cultural references. However, it’s easier to make your copy engaging and to avoid embarrassing mistakes if you localize each site for the country, rather than the language.


Domains and Geolocation

Geolocation can identify a visitor’s location by checking the country in which their IP address is registered, and can then channel them to the appropriate localized site. There are companies that collate IP addresses and will allow access, for a fee, to their databases. One drawback with geolocation is that IP addresses are often hosted in a different physical location.

Many are hosted in China for example, so a visitor from Norway with a Chinese IP address may end up being channeled directly to a Chinese localized site, as opposed to the Norwegian site.

Geolocation

Investing in separate country code top-level domains (such as .no for Norway) and ensuring your localized sites are hosted on servers located in the target country will help with SEO, boosting your rankings on the local versions of all the major search engines (such as Google.no), as search algorithms prioritize local content in local searches.

Also, there’s less competition for search rankings in the non-English internet, purely because there are fewer sites in total in languages other than English.

This is the optimum solution, but subdomains and subfolders can also be used. A subdomain (such as www.no.example.com) may still be considered a homepage for listing purposes by some directories and will be listed as a separate entity in Google search results. Using a subfolder (example.com/no) can make it easier to change or edit code, as the code will usually reside in the same file storage space.


Formatting and Scripting Tools

Using CSS adds inbuilt flexibility to your site as it allows the content to be altered independently of the design. The direction of text and location of any vertical navigation bars can also be easily switched for languages such as Arabic that read from right to left, by adding the dir=”rtl” attribute to the necessary areas.

Unicode UTF-8

Lastly, when it comes to your character encoding for multilingual site design, Unicode UTF-8 is the ideal choice, as it covers every character in over 90 scripts and is supported by all the major browsers.

Do you know any other tip to Localize A Multilingual Website? Please share it in the comments.

This guest article is written by Christian Arno. If you wish to write for us, kindly check this.