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.

Published by

Christian Arno

Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translations company Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 employs some 4,000 professional freelance translators covering a hundred different language combinations. Follow Christian on Twitter: @Lingo24.

16 thoughts on “HOW TO: Localize A Multilingual Website”

  1. google translator is great but sometimes there are so many errors on the translation ,*`

  2. No doubt machine translations like google translate are useful for those who are on a tight budget. However, the inherent risk with machine translations is that you can never be sure of accuracy.

    If the aim in creating a multilingual website is to offer the customer a professional impression of your company, then native human translators should always be the first port of call, the use of which can actually be more cost effective in the long run. For example, a poorly translated website may turn out to be more costly both financially and reputationally.

    TransABC

  3. Hi! this was a great post youve made. I will make sure to share this with my friends. Sign language is a very serious topic we should take into account

  4. Very interesting post. English is the international language but not all are good with it. When you are running a business international you’d be really getting lower income in countries that don’t use English much like china, japan and some other countries. So this idea of making your website multi-lingual is great. Thanks for the useful post.

  5. Great post! I use chrome as my browser and everytime I browse a site with another language, google translate always helps. Great job for google!

  6. Just install Google Translator on my website after reading this article, a good read, we can drive lot of localize traffic by using techniques above,.

  7. Localizing a multilingual website can be best done by using Google translator on your website as you mentioned in the post.You don’t have to spend any penny for that.

  8. Nice post, but build some website or blog in foreign-language which will be equivalents of your main site may require some professional touch , they need to be properly localized before you launch the website or the blog on the world wide web and the process can be made much easy if you plan from the on set.

  9. Maintaining a multilingual website is very very hard because of the number of factors concerned so I think localizing it for a geographic audience will be a good idea and will help in the success of the website

  10. Good stuff!

    Quoted

    “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.”

    It’s absolutely right! Translation of the website is mainly for the follks who are unaware of the English language, so if we focus on language than country specific it would help those guys and the website get easily localized.

  11. this is actually a very good article, keeping a translation option on the site is a great idea, it will surely help the non-english speakers. about the geo-location thing, well it can have a negative effect as well. i remember once i landed on a site that told which citi am from and what’s going on in the citi by showing me some local news. this is great for information but it hurts privacy, i remember to quickly close that site lol… 😛

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