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October 16, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 2:20pm

Top five tips for creating an international website

Translating your website when branching out from the UK can pose many challenges and pitfalls. Here are some top tips on how to do it right.

By Duncan Macrae

English is used by just 27% of Internet users. While this is higher than any other language used on the Internet, it still means that you are ignoring 73% of internet users when you write exclusively in English.

Many website owners have realised the importance of targeting users globally. However, taking your website to the international stage involves more than just translating the words.

CBR consulted Sarah Dawes, a writer at translation agency, to pinpoint the five most important technical matters to consider before translating your web pages into different languages.

1. International Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

You might appear on the first page of the search engines for your target keywords in English, but this doesn’t mean you can take for granted a high ranking all over the world.

Keyword research needs to be carried out for each language you translate into, as a simple translation of your current keywords might not be what people are searching for. Beware that literal translations might suggest something completely different than what you intend. For example, when talking about the ‘body’ of a car, a literal translation into Dutch or Flemish of ‘lijk’ would mean ‘corpse’. The correct term in the car body context is ‘carrosserie’, but Dutch also uses the English term ‘body’, so Dutch Internet users may search on the English term, or on a combination of English and Dutch.

Take into account common colloquialisms, and regional dialects if relevant. Target the keywords that people who speak your target language are searching for, taking care to place them in influential places such as title tags, alt tags and headings.

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2. Domains

Part of your international SEO efforts will be indicating to Google which country’s search results to serve your pages to. recognises that the same site in different languages will often require different domains, and perhaps even different hosts.

Google recommends not using cookies to offer translations of the same page, but having completely different top level domains for pages in different languages. For example, using a .de domain for Germany, and .cn for China, would help search engines to recognise that your pages are targeted at these countries.

If you will be translating into multiple languages targeted at residents within one country, a subdomain or subdirectory can clearly indicate the language of the content. For example, a Canadian .ca website could use .fr to specify that content is in French.

For a generic top level domain, such as .com, you can use geo-targeting in Webmaster Tools to indicate to Google which country your site is intended for. You should only use this if you are targeting a specific country, though, rather than a language spoken in multiple countries.



3. Layout

Something you might not have considered is that the page layout will need to be tailored to the country and language you’re targeting. Languages such as Hebrew and Arabic, as well as many others, use right-to-left writing systems.

This means creating right-to-left navigation in what will effectively be a mirror image of the English version. The direction of scan of a web page is also right to left, meaning that the opposite rules to English layout apply, e.g. putting engaging images on the left (rather than the right as on an English page) to draw the eye of the reader across.

Make sure that contact forms capture data correctly in different countries. If fields are set up to only accept certain formats, make sure they include the address/phone number formats used in the relevant country.



4. Devices used

When targeting different areas around the world, it is wise to consider the devices that are most likely to be used. For example, while mobile Internet usage accounts for less than 3% of browsing in South America, it is nearly 18% in Asia (Pingdom).

In some countries, mobile use has overtaken desktop surfing. In Chad, 77% of Internet use is conducted on a mobile phone, compared with the Czech Republic, where nearly 98% of internet pages are still accessed on desktops or laptops (StatCounter Global Stats).

When translating into languages where a large proportion of users will be using mobile devices, you should make sure you have mobile-friendly versions of pages in that language. While computer screens are over 19" in diagonal length, smartphones are about 4".

Imprecise tapping on a mobile screen, compared with precise mouse clicks, means having large menus, buttons and hyperlinks, as well as collapsible menu widgets instead of sidebars. Less screen room also means you can fit in fewer ads, and pictures should be comparatively small.


5. Cultural considerations

When writing pages in a different language, you need to do more than say exactly the same thing in different words. There are things that won’t apply to the people who will be reading your content in a particular language.

For example, when targeting consumers in the UK, VAT will apply, while other countries may have different taxation laws. The same will be true of delivery; costs and arrangements will probably differ depending on where in the world the customer lives, as will aftersales service and customer support.

Do your research first, so you have a clear understanding of the types of information your International customers need to see.



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