Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Build a Multilingual Web Site to cater to your Global Customers

German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying from you, dann müssen Sie in meiner Sprache sprechen." (Translation: then you must speak my language.)

Web globalization is making a major comeback, driven by a rebounding global economy, emerging markets and a stronger appreciation for the value of multilingual Web sites.
In addition, Internet users who do not speak English now outnumber users who do. Companies in search of growth are looking outside of the US, to emerging markets such as China, Brazil and Eastern Europe. According to market-research firm IDC, Western Europe and Japan lead e-commerce growth.

Consider Google. Google offers 97 language interfaces, making it one of the most multilingual Web sites on the planet. All those languages have paid off. Today, more than half of all Google's traffic is generated by non-US Web users.

However, even companies that are not pursuing international markets are discovering the need for multilingual Web sites. There are now more than 30 million Spanish speakers in the US, and their collective buying power has caught the attention of corporate America. While these markets represent huge revenue opportunities for many companies, it can be a mistake to rush into Web globalization without proper budgeting and preparation, or without fully understanding the costs of managing those sites once they go live.

There are two terms you need to understand before you get started:
  • Internationalization
  • Localization

Internationalization is the process of designing a Web site so that it can be easily localized. Your site should be internationalized to handle multiple languages and cultural conventions, such as different time and date formats, double-byte characters, support for international currencies, etc. For example, German text is 20-25% larger horizontally than English text. This will mean that your menu system must be able to accommodate text expansion. Make sure your IT department is on board and that it understands the technical challenges involved.

Localiztion stage involves much more than translation. Localization adapts products to local markets by considering factors such as cultural and linguistic nuances, appearance of graphics, colors, icons and images, culturally relevant examples, etc.

Consider the following points while building a Multilingual web site.

  1. Web globalization requires a significant financial commitment. Those corporations that offer the most in-depth multilingual Web sites have investments of more than .1 percent of revenues on their sites, translating into between $1 million and $2 million in Web globalization spending for every $1 billion in company revenue. This expense should be seen as a way to deliver competitive advantage.
  2. If your company has a decentralized model for managing local web sites. Then make sure that there is a local QA process and personnel who follow the global quality standards.
  3. A multilingual web site must be supported locally by various divisions/groups who are benefited by having the local language website.
  4. A global co-ordination is necessary for local web pages to ensure that your web page looks, feels the same in all languages. Most importantly, all the local web pages must convey the same global message while it can vary in delivering the local messages.
  5. Web globalization planning should be done alongside product planning, so that all localized deliverables are budgeted for, such as documentation, marketing collateral and Web sites. Successful companies offer end-to-end localization; that is, marketing materials for a product should be localized along with their customer support and product support content.
  6. Marketing and sales drive Web globalization spending, which translates into what languages and locales are selected. The languages selected for localization tend to reflect the markets in which a company wants to succeed rather than markets in which the company is already successful.
  7. Multilingual content must be written for the local audience, but it must adhere to the global standards. Ideally one must use a global template to standardize the look & feel of the web site. A well designed global template will provide plenty of room for localization.
  8. Consider the quality of internet connection in that local country while designing local web pages. A "light" web page would be preferrable if the country lacks broadband Internet.
  9. Design your website such that people with disabilities can also access them (Adher to US 508 Compliance - even when the site is not for US audience)

Some of the best practices for a multilingual web site are:

  1. Develop a global template. The best sites apply a global template across countries and languages, thereby enhancing brand consistency and facilitating ease of update. For example see the similarity between www.monster.com, www.monster.co.in and www.monster.fr
  2. Assume that your multilingual visitors will be using a dial-up connection and build your home page accordingly; it should load within a few seconds.
  3. Build a global gateway. Most customers will enter through your ".com" front door. Make it easy to navigate to the local language websites. For example, the link to your German site should be labeled "Deutsch" not "German."
  4. Serve your international markets properly. Provide the same amount/level of information in local languages as your main web site.
  5. Learn from the best. Take a look at Intel, Google, microsoft, etc., and see how they have approached developing multilingual Web sites. You can learn a lot by taking a look at the industry leaders.
  6. Leverage any existing translations. If you have translated any material previously, translation memories will exist. Leverage these to cut your costs and speed up translation time.
  7. Translate your meta-data. Help your international audience to find you by translating the meta-data on each page of your multilingual site. If you're using paid-search engine marketing, create ads for each language your site is in.

If you are considering going global, here's what to avoid:

  • Choosing the wrong vendor. Be sure to find a localization vendor skilled at Web globalization. Ask to see its previous work and speak to its customers.
  • Difficult navigation. A first step is to ensure your customers can find your Web site in their language. You may have to go back to the drawing board and make some changes to your Web site layout.
  • Confusing brand image. If you don't have control of your global Web site at a central location, you may loose brand consistency. Watch for colors, numbers and names: colors and numbers can have different meanings in different countries.

Thousands of companies—from Amazon to Wal-Mart, Intel, Google, Microsoft, GM—are adapting their sites to communicate with multilingual customers both in the domestic market and across the globe. If you are selling internationally, then you must have a multilingual website.


IT Enabled outsourcing services said...

Dear Arun,
Nice blog...
You have mentioned all the points that have to be considered in a much better manner

Wappet said...

I have just (21.07.09) published a small freeware package to help developers make a multilingual website. http://yeti.yowsie.com

Kelly said...

Very interesting!!
I think multilingual customer support its pretty necessary nowadays for any bussiness.

Thanks for this info, nice blog! :)

cmsbuffet said...

If you integrate multilingual search engine optimization into your current online marketing campaign, you will become visible to all of the country specific search engines.

Multilingual web sites