Beyond Translationthe Feng Shui of Global Websites

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Are you planning on translating your website to describe your company to people outside your home market or sell your products internationally?

Language is just one step in the march to global markets. This tip sheet helps you with another aspect of international websites – how to let visitors know where to find the information they need.

Searching for web design best practices, we reviewed the corporate sites of the 25 biggest companies in each of 16 countries to see what they offered to visitors from outside their own markets (see “Design Practices for Global Gateways,” Sep03). Our visits to 400 websites extended the typical sample on three axes: We looked at more countries, reviewed firms with a global presence (or a reason to have one), and considered a wider variety of market sectors. Our visits to these 400 firms sought both common traits and deltas.

Based on this research, Common Sense Advisory offers the following tips for letting your multilingual website visitors know where to find the information they need.

1. Use navigation bars to direct visitors to local content. Most designers plant their pointers to international content in standard navigation bars at the top of the screen. Because these navbars direct visitors to the location of company information, contact details, product descriptions, and other requisite pieces of a website, it’s only natural that designers use these same structures to guide international visitors.

2. Plant pointers to global content in the upper right. Most of these 400 companies place the pointer to their international sites in the upper right corner of the screen. So once again, follow the leaders and position the navbar so visitors can easily find their preferred language.

3. Use words instead of flags. Global websites’ stylists and engineers typically direct visitors to their preferred national or language site with menus or iconic maps and flags. When they used menus, over half listed available languages using that language’s name for itself (for example, česky for Czech). Twenty-two percent of the companies worldwide chose pull-down menus in the language of the company’s headquarters – for example, U.S. sites offered English-language menus. With the exception of Canada, nearly half of the Anglophone companies favored English for menus.

Thinking of flags? Forget it. National flags were a distant third choice across all markets, although about a quarter of French firms preferred them.

4. Target languages rather than countries. Should you tailor your international sites to a language or country? Our answer has always been that “it depends – on whether you’re marketing yourself or actually selling something.” More than half our respondents opted for language over nation. Regions had a low showing because, except for South America, there are few multinational areas that share a language across borders.

For corporate positioning – what these sites do – language is often enough. For example, Spanish will get you into the U.S. Latino community, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain. It is only when firms start selling online that dialectal nuance, currency, logistics, taxes, and other nation-specific issues become important.

Donald A. DePalma, Ph.D., President and Chief Research Officer, Common Sense Advisory

For additional information, visit www.commonsenseadvisory.com or e-mail Melissa@commonsenseadvisory.com.

Beyond Translationthe Feng Shui of Global Websites
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