If you don’t already know, over 70% of internet users are searching the world wide web in another language to the one you’re reading now. A little surprised? Well, if you thought simply changing the language tab on your website was enough to satisfy your users, then it’s time to get a little more savvy about your website’s international appeal
Gone are the days when people will struggle to read global English websites, looking up the odd word in the dictionary. Users want culture specific pages, with everything particular to their requirements, and that includes social media and blog entries. Though it may seem a lot of work and a little daunting, it’s not and making the required differences can really expand appeal. Here are 6 top tips on how to maximize this cultural online opportunity and turn that 70% potential loss in users into a fantastic 70% boost.
Simple Navigation & Website Design does it!
The first thing you need to do is take a good, long look at the design of your website. Can it support users flicking between languages? Single-language websites can be relatively simple in their web-design, so you may have to make some fundamental changes before you can go global and expand linguistically. One great tool is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); it allows you to keep the same template for your website, but change the content as you expand into other sectors. If you’re not already familiar with CSS, check out the HTML.net tutorials that talk you through how to use CSS and its benefits for multi-website use.
You also need to make sure that your website is navigable for all language users. Western languages tend to read from left to right, so all of the important information on a webpage can usually be found in the top left hand side. However, Arabic or Hebrew, for example, reads from right to left, so a western design template would be ineffective. To keep things simple, choose a top-tab design to make it as universal as possible (see Apple’s websites below) and allow for easy language amends that won’t alter the design too dramatically.
Do you really know who your customers are?
As well as making sure your website is easy to use, it’s important to choose its content carefully. There are certain tabs that customers expect – for example Home, About Us, Contact Us – so make sure these are simple to find. Busy websites are hard to navigate and don’t encourage visitors to come back.
Populating it with other content is a more unique question. Cultural theorist, Edward Hall, created a High Context (HC) vs. Low Context (LC) theory to aid in understanding each culture’s requirements. Generally speaking, HC cultures, such as Asian countries, expect content to be interactive and more socially oriented, with videos and background information; whereas, LC cultures prevalent in Northern Europe, like the content to be simple, more individual focused. If you take a look at Coca-Cola, they are one leading brand that has successfully adapted their international websites to suit the cultural requirements of the country.
Here are the Coca-Cola Korea and Coca-Cola UK websites, for example:
What is clear even from the two top-sections of their landing pages is the dominance of the interactive content in the Korean website over the UK version. Competitions and interactive elements take center stage, with large Twitter, YouTube and a blog icons sitting much higher than on Western websites, encouraging interaction. The UK website, on the other hand, follows the top-tab pattern, with content focused on healthy lifestyles and the Olympic Games, important and topical issues for the UK audience.
Individuality Equals Loyalty
In a survey carried out by Experian (2010), 83% of customers ranked non-personalized information as a company’s worst habit. Generic information does not inspire customers to engage in the brand. Everybody wants to feel individual and it’s no different where websites are concerned. Translated websites can often lack the soul of their original counterpart – using local translators can provide the required flavor.
Where the website itself is concerned, using country code top level domains, for example www.example.de (Germany), for your websites gives them credibility and boosts your Google rankings. Having the option to choose the language of choice for the website for the first visit also individualizes the experience. A good example of this is Nike. Take a look at this English (UK) language choice sequence.
As well as choosing your language, you can choose by country – so, the Nike shop and content relates exactly to your location. Remembering a customer’s language preference for their next visit is time effective and prevents readers and customers from getting frustrated if they visit your website numerous times.
Try Big Brand Sites for Inspiration
Big brands have big marketing and web-design budgets. You may not have the same at your disposal, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t steal a few of their web-design tricks. LC cultures respond best to neutral colors, such as pale blue and grey, which allow the customers to read the content easily. But avoid culture-specific colors or themes for global websites. Although primary colors work well in HC cultures, they often give the impression that something is a scam or lacking in credibility in LC cultures, such as in America.
As you can see above with Nike and here with Apple, both have both chosen neutral grey (as well as white and black) as their base tone, choosing to neither appeal to any one culture specifically nor offend another.
The Korean and UK Apple websites below (used only as comparison to the Coca-Cola websites) are identical and extremely simple. After reading this article, you could assume that the lack of individualization (or rather non-Western culture specification) could be construed as arrogance. Yet, it is perhaps more a reflection of brand ethos and leading sector presence. But whatever you choose for your website, make sure you keep it consistent across all websites.
Professional Translators Are Essential
It may seem a given, but make sure you invest in translating your entire website content professionally. Not only will it ensure that everything makes sense, but translators or localization companies can offer vital advice on what content works well in each culture – this is especially important if you are looking to reflect the HC vs. LC culture content.
Don’t short-change your new customers
If they are able to see or find something on your English-language website that does not appear on theirs, it can frustrate them. It’s also worthwhile creating a social media presence in the country, through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts, to make sure that the multi-cultural conversation continues. WPML and Multisite Language Switcher are both great plug-ins that help you manage the relations of your site’s contents in a multilingual multisite-installation.
Finally, a quick note to think over…
This article has looked at the importance of reassessing a website when trying to break into other international markets, focusing on content and colors to make it as appealing to a different culture as possible. But when it comes to a brand’s logo the waters are a little muddy. Does changing the design and name create potential footfalls for a brand or does it help broaden that cultural awareness and attract more consumers? The Unilever brand Cif, for example, trades under the names Vim, Jif, Viss and Handy Andy in its 51 countries – does this make a difference to brand loyalty and if it doesn’t, does this set a benchmark for redesigning a brand’s logo per culture as well?
He is the founder of Lingo24, one of the world’s leading translation agencies and a top provider of localization services and multilingual SEO. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 150 employees worldwide and clients in over sixty countries. Follow Christian (@l24ca) and Lingo24 (@Lingo24) on Twitter.