Launching multilingual websites: 5 key considerations

When Manchester City Football club announced the launch of 10 new international Twitter accounts just months after they unveiled a multilingual website rollout, the club was quoted as saying: “It’s important to find new ways to connect and engage with them fans in order to build deeper relationships.”

But, what logistical implications should brands take into account when considering building such sites? If you are considering launching a multilingual site, we set out five initial considerations:

1. Plan, plan and plan a bit more

Don’t underestimate the work involved in rolling out your site in multiple languages or in multiple regions, particularly post-implementation. Before you do anything else, plan your strategy in detail, as you’ll need to consider:

• Who is going to manage the content for each site? Is it done in a central location, using a central CMS? Do you have native speakers to manage each site?

• If you don’t have native speakers, how will you respond to enquiries from another region (both by phone and email), in a different language?

• What content do you translate? For instance, do you have the resource to translate a regularly updated blog or news section? If not, it might make sense to remove these sections from your translated sites.

• How will you deal with future developments to your site? Regular updates could hugely increase maintenance and translation costs.

 

2. Consider your site URL structure

There are three popular approaches to structuring multilingual and multi-regional sites:

•             ccTLDs (county-code top-level domains) e.g. https://www.google.es/

•             Subdomain e.g. http://espanol.mcfc.com/

•             Subdirectory e.g. http://www.apple.com/es/

Each has its pros and cons and so the approach you choose is down to your preferred server setup, marketing strategy and available resource. If most of your content is focused on a single territory (e.g. .com) and you want to drive SEO authority to that domain, subdirectories are preferable (search engines treat subdomains as separate entities). This is relatively easy to setup and host on a single server and can usually be managed from a single CMS. Whilst ccTLDs have advantages such as clearer geotargeting, Google recommends using subdirectories or subdomains if time and resources are limited.

 

3. Ensure your existing design is up to the job

Consider what effects adding multiple languages are going to have on the design of your site. Some languages are going to end up with content that is shorter or longer than English, and so may ‘break’ page components when inserted into the existing design. It’s important to set aside development time to thoroughly test and remedy issues once new sites have been implemented.

 

4. Make sure you do the prep work

How are you going to get translated content into your sites? Manually editing dynamic and hard-coded content for each site can be laborious. The best method depends on your site’s setup.

Snippets of content embedded within a site’s templates can utilise an internationalisation system such as gettext. Gettext utilises dictionary files to define translations of all components in a site, which can be managed like a spreadsheet. This allows the translator to edit a single file with English copy in one column, and the associated translation in another.

Whatever method you choose, it will inevitably require some initial development to setup your existing site to support multiple languages – such as the import of gettext dictionary files – so again, it’s important to plan this into your schedule.

 

5. Consider the logistics of translating your content

If you don’t have native speakers available internally, you may have to outsource to a specialist translation agency. When choosing an agency, you should check that they’re happy to work with your preferred implementation method. For instance, they need to understand the format of the dictionary files defined by your site’s developer. If you’re happy to hand your entire website over, there are translation agencies that are able to take care of both the translation and development components.

But that’s not all…

Of course, there are many more considerations than those above including:

• ensuring it’s clear to search engines what version of your site they are looking at, utilising Google Webmaster Tools and Hreflang attributes;

• using IP and User Agent detection to inform users of the correct site for them; and

• designing a clear and intuitive site switcher which allows users to easily switch between languages and/or regions.

 

As you can see, there’s a lot to translating a website; so much more than just changing the words into those of another language. PUSH will take you through the above steps and more to give you guideance through every step of the process. More website localization information is here

 

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