There’s more to website translation than simply replacing the text with other languages. In fact, you’ll probably be surprised how technical the process for creating a multilingual website is. Not only do you have to create a single site that pleases audiences around the world; you have to create one that pleases search engines, servers and internet connections as well.
Here are five things you need to consider with every website translation project.
#1: Language, location or both?
The first thing to think about with website translation is to determine which languages and locations you’re catering for. Translating your website into Spanish doesn’t cater for the differences between the language in Spain and various countries in South America. Nor does it cater for the multiple languages widely spoken across Spain itself.
You need to consider locations, languages and language variations across the audiences you want to satisfy.
#2: Multilingual SEO
There’s not much point in website translation if people are never going to find/use it. Multilingual SEO is an essential part of website translation and the entire structure of your website comes into question here.
The first thing to think about is your domain structure because each version of your site needs a unique URL. There are various approaches, each with their own pros and cons:
- ccTVDs:yoursite.com; www.yoursite.fr; www.yoursite.es
- gTLD subdomains:yoursite.com; fe.yoursite.com; es.yoursite.com
- gTLD subdirectories:yoursite.com; www.yoursite.com/fr/; www.yoursite.com/es/
For the pros and cons of each, you can get more information from Google Webmasters. Google isn’t the only search engine you have to think about. In fairness, it is the number one search engine in most countries – but not all.
Baidu is the most popular engine in China, Yandex rules in Russia and South Koreans prefer Naver and Daum ahead of Google in their hyper-connected country. Meanwhile, Japan favours Google but it only just has the edge on Yahoo, which is also very popular.
We should also mention keywords while we’re at it. Of course, these are going to change as you switch languages but you can’t expect to translate your keywords and get the same results – it doesn’t work like that. Keyword choice and search habits vary between languages, which means you need to start from the beginning for each audience.
We can’t cover all of the multilingual SEO essentials in this article – there’s way too much. For more information, get in touch with our team of specialists.
#3: Language selection
For good website translation, language selection is the most important UX feature of a multilingual website. Your aim is to deliver content in the right language for every user while providing an intuitive system for changing languages for those times you don’t get it right.
You won’t get it right every time, either.
The best place to start is by using geo-targeting to determine where each user is. So when a user in Germany types in www.yoursite.com, they’re redirected to the German version. This will work out pretty nicely in the majority of situations.
What about those American tourists who are paying a visit to their German cousins when they try to visit your site? Geo-targeting will deliver German content to English-speaking users in this case, which isn’t ideal. Likewise, Geo-targeting can be problematic for countries like Canada where there are two national languages.
This is where your website translation needs an intuitive language selection system on your site – one that stands out and is easy to use.
#4: Localisation at the code level
There are two main types of localisation when it comes to translating a website. First, you have localisation at the code level and this is about making your site as easy to translate as possible.
If you decide to add another language in five year’s time, you don’t want to be pulling apart your entire site again. Instead, you want a setup that allows you to create new language files and your site automatically pulls them in. This works by creating variables in your site’s core files that pull in the language files based on a user’s geo-location or language selection choice.
#5: Localisation at the design level
We have to be careful here that we don’t mix up localisation and culturalisation. When you make design changes purely for cultural reasons, that’s culturalisation or internationalisation (both also important).
However, localisation focuses on languages specifically. The thing is your translated content will have a direct impact on the design of your site. Longer text means bigger navigation buttons or taller sections on your site, for example. You may find your layout falls apart when you translate your content into certain languages. You also want to think about fonts – especially for non-Romanic languages – and how these impact your design.
Going back to cuturalisation, you may decide some of your visual content should be adapted for each audience. There’s also the matter of device use and internet connections to think about. While South Korea has the fastest internet connections in the world, the UK lags far behind and many connections in developing regions struggle to load code-heavy websites. This is something you’ll have to consider at the design level of your site.
As you can see, the process of translating a website goes far beyond the text that shows up on-screen. We’ve only touched on the basic notions of technical website translation and software in this article – there’s simply too much to cover – but this is important stuff.
Getting your multilingual site setup correctly is vital for people to find and use your site. It also makes future website translation projects on your site far easier if you get started on the right track.