Schreiber Translations, Inc.

Globalizing your Website

"Beyond Localizing -- Related Issues"
Article 4 of 4 in a series

[ Article 1 ] [ Article 2 ] [ Article 3 ] [ Article 4 ]

For a truly global site, the steps found in the previous article, Taking Your Site Multilingual provide a good preliminary outline. However, there are more complex issues of localization as well as other related issues that are important to keep in mind when taking your site global.

Localization Issues

Language Gateway -- Make it easy for users to find the multilingual equivalent of your site. Even if you have separate foreign language gateway pages, be sure to make the foreign language options clearly visible from your original homepage as well. Not everyone who's interested in these versions will find you through the foreign language gateway pages, not to mention the fact that having a multilingual, multicultural site lends your company or organization an air of prestige and worldliness. And don't bury the choices under "Corporate Info – International Operations" or the like. Have the language names, or better yet, country names prominently displayed and if space is limited, use a drop-down or other such tool.

Font Issues -- Most languages have some kind of characters or letters that are in some way different from the alphabet used for English, whether it's French with accented letters, or Russian with its Cyrillic alphabet or character-based Asian languages. Roman-alphabet languages such as French or German and Cyrillic-alphabet languages, such as Russian or Ukrainian are fairly easy to deal with; as long as you have coded the site for the right language, the user's browser should recognize it and display it correctly.

Character-based languages such as Chinese and Japanese are what is known as double-byte languages and are more complicated. When working with them, in addition to specifying the special character set in the HTML code, you must also download special browser support to be able to view the pages. Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 5.0 and higher have "install on demand" and automatically prompt you to download this support. However, to really be able to work with the material and actually program, you need the native Operating System (e.g. Japanese Windows) or alternately a stand-alone program that allows you to do word processing and data entry in the foreign language.

Cultural Issues -- While this was touched on briefly in the previous article, it bears repeating and emphasizing. There is a lot more involved with making your site global than just translating its text. The content itself as well as every detail of the site's appearance needs to be examined for its appropriateness and appeal to the target culture. Even something as basic as the color-scheme of your site is critical – for example, while white is the color of purity in the U.S., it is the color of mourning in Eastern cultures.

The writing style is a factor as well. Most content on a website is of a marketing or advertising nature and it is still true that the kind of language and style used in the U.S. is less formal than is used in a lot of other countries. Choice of graphics is important as well since icons and ideograms do not convey the same meaning or idea to all people. The trash can used on MACs, for example, looks very much like a British postal box, a problem that originally caused some Brits to "throw away" email they were intending to send. Use of photographs must also be taken into consideration – a photo of a woman smiling without covering her mouth would be considered suggestive in Japan. There are myriad cultural issues to address with text translation alone and the addition of the visual effects that exist with a website increases this number greatly. An experienced localization team or company can guide you through these potential pitfalls gracefully.

Technical Issues -- There are technical issues of a localization nature as well. A main such issue is currency. If you display prices on your site or even reference dollar amounts in any way, this is a consideration. Similar concerns are measurements and time and date formatting – most of the rest of the world represents dates as DD/MM/YYYY as opposed to the U.S. MM/DD/YYYY. If you have a contact form on your site for people to fill out, consider that postal addresses across the world do not follow the same conventions. Even an issue such as bandwidth limitations is worth keeping in mind – if your site is graphics- or flash-intensive it may have problems loading in areas where bandwidth is more limited.

If all of this information has your head spinning, relax. There are ways to simplify the process the most obvious of which is working with a professional translation/localization company who will worry about all of these issues for you. Another tactic is to take pieces of the information on your site and create some "simplified" pages that you can then localize. If your original site has a lot of information containing any of the above issues, e.g. a timeline of your company with numerous dates, don't include those kinds of sections in the simplified version.

In addition to the above-described localization issues, there are a few more important items to keep in mind, outlined below.

Updates

Plan for how updates and changes to your site will be handled. In keeping with the above suggestion, if you create a new version of your site with only parts of the information from your existing site, don't include those sections that are updated and changed frequently. If your site is unusually large or very text intensive you may want to consider a software program that automatically and regularly reviews the site to identify sections and materials that have changed.

As far as having these changes translated is concerned, you can establish a contract with the translation or localization company that localizes your site to handle them. Or, depending on the nature of the material that is being changed, you can consider investing in Machine Translation, or translation software. If the kinds of changes are minimal and the text involved is fairly simple this can be an effective tool as long as you have some mechanism in place for having the Machine Translated material proofread.

Communications

Don't forget that if you reach out to the rest of the world via your website your hope is that the rest of the world will then respond in some way and you need to be prepared for this. Plan for this from the outset and establish a mechanism for handling incoming calls in foreign languages. If this is too complex for your situation, establish a means for handling incoming emails in foreign languages as well as means for responding to them and indicate on your site that you don't have the ability to handle foreign language phone contact. Consider having some of your print collateral translated as well so that you have something to send those that indicate they are interested in receiving more information. And of course, if you intend to sell directly from your website, you need to consider a whole slew of international e-commerce issues.

E-Commerce

There are four main concerns to address when contemplating international e-commerce: payment practices, payment acceptance, currency conversion and regulations.

Payment practices are not the same all over the world. In the U.S. most purchases are made using credit cards, but this is not a common practice everywhere. In Germany, for example, goods and services are often purchased using bank transfers. In Japan, COD and bank transfers are most popular – a very small number of consumer transactions are conducted with credit cards. Thus, your payment acceptance mechanism needs to take these difference practices into consideration.

An effective way to address international payment acceptance is by using a third-party payment gateway service. This is an online service that your customers would go through when it comes time for them to make payment. When choosing, look for one that has the ability to show pricing in multiple currencies but pays you in U.S. dollars, one that accounts for calculation of shipping, tax/VAT and other global charges and is able to give your customer a total final price, and finally, one that takes the different accepted payment practices into account.

If you intend to address currency conversions yourself, there are two main approaches. The first, which makes sense especially for B2B e-commerce is building the risk of exchange rate fluctuations into your price and only updating the posted amounts monthly or even quarterly. The second approach is to run software that will update your prices daily based on the fluctuations.

Finally, if you are selling a product that will ultimately need to be shipped internationally you must address issues of regulation, mainly related to shipping and distribution. An approach here might be to establish a relationship with a local distributor with whom you can work out any necessary custom costs and regulations together.

The success of a multilingual web presence rests on effectively addressing all of the issues described here. And now that you have all the information you need to make your site truly global, there is still one thing left to do – promote it!

Promotion

Just as you promote your existing website, you also need to promote the new multilingual versions of it as well. While many US search engines maintain international directories, you will also want to get listed with international search engines as well as local foreign search engines and indexes. The top international search engines, as compiled by The Search Engine Watch, are:

Alltheweb
Altavista
Excite
Google
Infoseek
Looksmart
NorthernLight
Yahoo

For an exhaustive list of foreign search engines, visit:

http://www.searchenginewatch.com/links/article.php/2156221

Also consider registering your domain name in foreign countries, a move which can help you list better with foreign search engines. There are currently 184 active country codes (e.g. .de for Germany and .cn for China), and while most of them are restricted and require a local presence and or specific legal documentation in order to register with them, many do not.

The other methods of website promotion apply here too. Banner ads can be placed on popular foreign sites and strategic linking from foreign sites can be done as well. Other ideas include press releases, direct mail, print advertising and advertising in cyber cafes, which are much more common in Europe.

The process of globalizing your website can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it, but the bottom line is that any effort you make will go a long way towards demonstrating your open attitude towards other cultures and international business.

[ Article 1 ] [ Article 2 ] [ Article 3 ] [ Article 4 ]