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Ten Major Tips to Develop a Multilingual Web Site to Work

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If you are living in a country that its native language is something rather than English language, then you may like to develop your website to offer content in the language of your own country. There are millions of websites on the Internet that are all in English language but there are billions of people on the earth that speak in a different language and are not familiar with English language. However, most of the Internet users are basically familiar with English language and could use the Internet but there are many subjects that are hard to understand for those people whom their language is not English.

One example is websites related to pharmaceutics. There are tons of very difficult to understand phrases in the content. The other example is educational websites that basically should provide content in the local language not English language. You may have many clients and business partners that wish to read your sales copy and product information in their own language. So, having a website that provides the content in a language rather than English language is necessary for you. Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Dutch, France and many other languages are general samples of most used languages on the Internet.
For you to start a multilingual website, it is vital to consider some tips before starting to design and develop your websites:

1- The Code Page

The best code page that you should choose for your web pages is Unicode. Unicode is a kind of numeric presentation of characters that is two bytes and so can contain up to 65535 characters to show. Until now, there have been no human being languages in the universe that have had more than these much characters. So, by using Unicode, you are able to show all characters of your language. To represent your web page as a Unicode page, add below line of code in the head part of your page:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">

2- Tools For Development

For creating web pages in Unicode format, you should have a tool to be able to type in your language. One of the tools that are widely used by web developers is Microsoft Front Page. If this tool is installed on Windows XP then you have the most powerful set of software to create Unicode documents. FrontPage is a WISYWIG tool for creating web pages and you can easily choose the language of your web page in options of the page and appropriate HTML tags would be automatically inserted in the code.

3- Nature of the Language

If your language is Right-To-Left like many of Asian and Middle East languages, for example, Arabic, Persian and Hebrew, you should tune your operating system to be able to switch from Left-To-Right to Right-To-Left typing method to be able to type from Right and from Left. If you are a Microsoft Windows user, you can configure your system for multiple languages and keyboards, each of them having different kind of input methods. For example, you can add Farsi as the second language of your Windows and then switch from English to Farsi by pressing a combination of keys and start typing in Farsi. Also switching from RTL to LTR would be possible by another key combination.

4- Navigation and Design Considerations

Some languages force to apply some changes in the design and navigation of your website. For example, if you have a vertical menu bar, you may put it in the left of your pages for English pages and in the right for Arabic pages because Arabic is a RTL language and people are used to start reading pages from right to left. However this is not a rule, but it is better to consider it in designing pages. Other issue is the entrance page. If your website is in two languages, you may add an entrance page that makes client choose the navigation language of your website. This page could be a very nice graphical page with two options for choosing desired language and then enters the web site in that language.

In some cases, you may consider one language as the base and eliminate entrance page. In this case, you assume most of the visitors may use a language that is dominant and they enter automatically the web pages of your web site that are in that language. However, visitors would see a small icon in web pages that lets them switch to the other language. Other method is to use IP2Country services that can find the country of the visitor from its IP address and by adding some simple dynamic code to your pages, you would be able to switch to the language of the visitor. However, this method is not %100 accurate and you should consider some percent of fault in recognizing the country of the visitor.

5- Font Face Considerations

When you are creating your web pages in a language rather than English, you would be limited in using font faces. There are a few font faces in windows that are installed automatically and can show multilingual characters. If you like your visitors view your pages correct without any need to install fonts, you have to use those minor number of multilingual fonts. One of the best font faces is Tahoma that is somehow easy to read and contains all Unicode characters also is included in Windows.

6- Database Driven Web Sites

If your web site is a database driven and you have forms that clients may fill and be posted to database, there would be lots of very technical issues that you should consider to be able to collect and retrieve data in different languages. This part is beyond the aims of this article.

7- Search Engines

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a major issue for multilingual web sites and you should be aware that not necessarily all major search engines and directories handle multilingual web pages perfectly and your web site may not be listed in many of them. Google is a search engine that indexes multilingual web pages too. However there are some issues and difficulties but it works well enough for your web site to be indexed in your language.

8- Domain Name

No matter in which language is your web site, the domain name of your web site should be in English because at this time, having a domain name in other language is not a very easy thing to have and multilingual domain names are a new issue and is under development. There are some solutions but are not yet set perfectly. So, I suggest you forget those solutions and choose an English name for your web site.

9- Web Server And Hosting

However major web servers, like Microsoft IIS and Apache both support multilingual web pages, but I strongly recommend you to ask the hosting company for this issue and make yourself sure that there wont be problems for your web pages to be served by the hosting company.

10- Name Web Site Files

Never use Unicode characters in the name of your web pages. However your operating system, like Windows, lets your choose the file names in Unicode characters but be %100 sure that theses web pages would have serious difficulties both server side and client side. In many cases, you won’t be able even to upload your web pages to your host space and client’s browsers also won’t be able to recognize the name of page and would generate error. This is true for name of images, flash files, scripts and other pages. Just use English names. However I have tried to cover major issues in developing multilingual web sites but this issue is something that needs experience and you should yourself discover many of new issues that are not included in this article.

Mahmood Bashaash is the owner of SGNetway company in web address of www.sgnetway.com which is focused on developing web sites and web applications and is
the author of MahmoodB web site and newsletter that reveals hundreds of killer Internet marketing tips and tricks. To access his articles, visit: http://www.mahmoodb.com. His native language is Persian and his web site is totally in Persian language.

Ten Major Tips to Develop a Multilingual Web Site to Work
About Mahmood Bashaash
Mahmood Bashaash is the owner of SGNetway company in web address of www.sgnetway.com which is focused on developing web sites and web applications and is the author of MahmoodB web site and newsletter that reveals hundreds of killer Internet marketing tips and tricks. To access his articles, visit: http://www.mahmoodb.com. His native language is Persian and his web site is totally in Persian language. WebProNews Writer
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  • http://www.bijoux-piercing-france.com Guest

    I made a website in french, my domain is registered in the UK registrar with my french address and e-mail.The server host is in the UK. Does goolge recognise that it is in the UK and penalise my site on Google .fr for french searches ?

    Thanks for any clarification.

  • http://www.web247.net/home Web247

    You have written an interesting article here, you have made some good points for technical users. I have a web site that offers multilingual websites for those who do not know how to build a site.

  • Guest

    Thanks for such as wonderful articles. I’m designing a web site in local language. I was not know how to start but this article has provided me a lot of information.

  • http://www.gwsmedia.com David Graves

    This is an interesting overview of the issues that surround multilingual website design. It is surprising how few British businesses are taking advantage of the massive opportunities for selling overseas that a well-designed multilingual website can bring, particularly for those in the wholesale export business.

    For those interested in finding out more, we at GWS Media based in Bristol have ten years experience in building effective multi-lingual web sites for all sorts of UK based and international clients: visit us here www.gwsmedia.com to find our more. We’re based in Bristol, in the South West of the UK.

  • David Graves

    For anyone who wants to see a good example of a multilingual website, visit the new Mensa International page- designed by GWS Media (www.gwsmedia.com)- which has just gone live. http://www.mensa.org/

  • http://www.oshyn.com Kimberly

    Drupal is a great content management platform for Multilingual websites. Check out this white paper http://www.oshyn.com/landingpages/drupal-multilingual It covers:

    Management of Websites with multiple languages
    Management of a Website with one language different than the default English
    Management of multiple languages in one website
    Combining management of multiple websites and multiple languages
    Managing different languages with different databases
    Managing different languages with one database

  • http://www.domanique.com Domanique Alicia

    Hi, thanks for the post. I’m glad that you’re addressing the more UI aspects of multilingual sites, but I’m curious about the actual front-end mark-up.

    Is there a div/span type to give content in a different language as a tip-off to browsers?

    Thanks,
    Domanique

  • KevinT

    “One of the tools that are widely used by web developers is Microsoft Front Page”

    WTF? When the fuck did this article written?

    2004, oh ok…..

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