Multilingual Design for Websites 

Multilingual design for websites
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There’s more to multilingual design for websites than meets the eye. Each element of the site, from typography to visual elements to the underlying code, must work together in harmony to serve visitors in all target languages. With that in mind, here are six secrets to successful multilingual website design.

Assess web browsing needs and habits for each language.

Changing the language will make your website accessible to foreign language speakers. However, it won’t make it easy to use or appealing. To do that, you must first understand how people in each of your target audiences prefer to browse the web, and design accordingly.

For example, browsing habits vary by country. If you’re targeting a region where most of the browsing is mobile, your mobile site needs to be top-notch.

Web browser popularity is another variable to consider. Chrome is the most popular browser in the UK (47.1% market share), followed by Safari for Mac devotees (36.04% market share. Only 3.43% of UK residents use Firefox. However, move on over to Germany, and you’ll find the share of Firefox users goes up to 13%.  Meanwhile, UC Browser, a mobile browser developed by UC web, has 13.64% market share in India.  Design for compatibility on all of the major browsers in your market, and test your site accordingly to ensure a consistent user experience.

Follow best practices for language selection.

One of the cardinal rules of website design is “Don’t make users hunt for what they need.”  So, you need to make it easy for visitors to select the language they prefer.  More specifically, make sure your language selection options are:

  • Easy to find – the top or bottom of the page is most common.
  • Available across the entire site.
  • Clear to users. Each language should be listed in its own language. Use “Español” instead of “Spanish,” for example.  Do not use country flags. Some countries share a language, other countries have more than one language, and you could easily end up offending minority language speakers.

Design your user interface to accommodate multiple languages.

Your website text will expand and contract as it moves from one language to the next.  Having a user interface that changes automatically to accommodate the translated text will save you money and time in the long run.

However, for some language pairs, automatically expanding text fields simply aren’t enough to accommodate differences in word length, spacing and formatting. In these cases, you may need to redesign some elements of your site completely to ensure that users get the best possible experience.

For more information, see 5 Reasons Multilingual Typesetting Is Harder Than You Think.

Tailor your content.

What do your visitors want out of your site?  The answer to that question may vary significantly between markets.  For example, we’re all familiar with the stereotypical small-time rock band that’s unknown in their home country but “really big in Japan.”

Just as certain bands have a larger following in some countries than in others, so do certain products or certain types of content. Tailor your content to reflect what that market wants.

 Tailor your multilingual website design to cultural preferences.

We like to think that great design is universal. Actually, aesthetic expectations and preferences can differ between cultures in ways that may surprise you. For example, while Westerners often think of Japan as being the epicenter of simple, beautiful design, those aesthetic preferences have not historically extended to websites.

Just the opposite, in fact.  Think lots of text- often at least 150% more than English-language websites. Japanese websites also tend to feature much less negative space than their Western counterparts, as well as smaller images.

These characteristics may seem surprising to Western consumers, but they reflect what Japanese consumers tend to want: more details, as much information as possible to base their purchasing decisions on, and not a lot of “wasted space.” Seen through this lens, a typical Western website might seem poorly designed and lacking in information to a Japanese visitor.

To learn more, see How Graphic Design Differs Around the World.

Colors, too, can have different meanings and connotations in different cultures. For example, red means good luck in most of Asia, but in the Middle East, it symbolizes danger and caution. It pays to do a bit of research before you settle on a colour scheme.  Our post on Colours and Their Meanings Around the World is a good place to start!

Use appropriate site architecture to improve multilingual SEO.

The way your website is structured helps search engine bots effectively navigate and index your multilingual site.  If the search engines can’t tell which pages belong to which language, your rankings will suffer. To prove this information to the search engines, you have three options:

  • ccTLDs, a domain reserved for a specific country or region, like “.cn” for China.
  • Subdomains: separate sites that are connected to your main URL.
  • Subdirectories: separate pages for each language, hosted on the same domain.

Which one should you use? The answer depends on several factors, including:

  • Your budget.
  • The country or countries you’re doing business in.
  • Whether you target users by country or by language.
  • The type content on your site.
  • Your ability to juggle separate sites, SEO strategies, etc.

Our experts can help you evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each.

HREFLang tags are another vital element of multilingual web design. By showing the right pages to the right people, these tags improve the user experience and reduce bounce rate- which can significantly improve your SEO rankings.

For more on the different aspects of multilingual SEO, see  How to Win at Multilingual SEO in 2020. 

Multilingual design for websites made easy.

If balancing all the different elements of multilingual website design sounds complicated, we’re here to help! Our team includes linguists, designers, developers and multilingual SEO specialists. We can help you design and implement multilingual websites that impress and engage your customers, wherever they are.

For more information or to discuss your multilingual web design project in more detail, contact us today!