Edinburgh Web Development

Multi-language web sites for wider marketing reach

by Iain Wilson

25 April 2007

If your website is available in foreign languages, it gives your company a wider marketing reach and can generate more revenues for you.

"Sure", you say, "but we only operate in the local marketplace".

Well, that might true but the fact is that multiculturalism has come to the UK and Scotland in particular, and you might be missing out on business if you ignore it.

Recent reports estimate that there are now 20,000 Polish people living in Edinburgh - a rise of 400% in the last 10 months. Now, while most will be able to speak English/Scottish, information in their native language will be a big help when they are making decisions about work, buying property and goods etc

That's why some smart businesses like Edinburgh accountants, Facts & Figures, have decided to have their website built with both English and Polish versions. They know that many Polish people will need help with their financial affairs in the UK and are ideally placed to help them.

From a marketing perspective, they've widened their reach, increasing their potential market. So, is it something that your business should be considering?

If you operate or aim to operate internationally, then yes, absolutely. But it's a great way to target local niches, too. So, how is it done?

Multi-language web design

There are a few online services such as Google Translate and Babelfish that can translate your pages 'on the fly' - so not much needs to be done at all to your site. However, the downsides of this are that the translation can never be perfect, technical/business specific language is virtually un-translatable and some languages can't be supported.

Other language pages To do it properly, your site pretty much needs to be duplicated in the new language. Every page you have in English needs to exist in the other language.

Translations To have a page in every language, someone needs to do the translation. The ideal situation is that you have staff that are fluent in the language - how are you going to deal with enquiries if you don't have on-site language skills. However, this may be impractical, so there are plenty of translation services available. They will be able to give you a price to translate based on words. Remember though, the reality is that you will have corrections you need to make and additions later - so budget for these.

Web tag translations The text on your pages is the major part of the translation effort, but not the only one. You should also translate title tags, meta tags, image alt tags, thank you messages, error messages etc.

Technical web design aspects If you are designing the site you need to understand the concept of page encodings, so the web browsers will display the characters correctly. Encodings translate a character's numeric value into a language character and if this is not properly coded into the web page, it will not work correctly.

You may also need to create CSS code for each language so that appropriate fonts are used - the encoding you are using may restrict availablility of fonts.

If the language is read right to left, you will need to declare that in the CSS and may also need to think about changing the design to suit that method of reading.

Use subdomains for your translated versions. That way they take on a life of there own and are indexed by the search engines independent of the original site.

All in all, there are quite a few things to think of before going multi-language, but if you know there is a market out there waiting for you, it can be very worthwhile - after all, it is the World Wide Web!

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