At USA Translations, we often encounter questions from our international clients regarding the most up-to-date best practices for multilingual websites. When you have an audience from more than one country or language, there is the need to make sure that your website information serves this multilingual audience.
Often, this means that content in more than one language be localized by professionals to adapt it to the specific cultural environment of the target country. USA Translations has taken on this task for international companies as simple machine translations does consider context and does not meet the exacting standards that are required.
In addition to proper translation/localization, we offer two more tips for websites that seek to engage visitors in more than one language.
Best Practice 1: Pay Attention To Your Foreign Audience Preferences
Creating a website that works globally requires a template that will serve the specific habits and preferences of a local audience instead of merely rendering the same exact design in a different language.
The huge global platforms such as Amazon have discovered the subtle but important differences among their international audiences. Some website icons and navigation items do not carry over well in China, for example, as they would in the U.S. Also, if a website uses photographs of people, these photographs don't always travel well. The ethnicity of models, their poses, and their clothing can lead to unintended negative consequences in different countries.
If you have international offices, it would be advisable to get design input from your overseas staff. Otherwise, you may find good examples by performing a lookup for a top keyword in your niche at Google's country-specific search engine pages and check the advertiser websites listed at the top. Our experience indicates that these foreign advertiser sites are typically super-optimized for their local audience.
Best Practice 2: Navigation- don't use country flags!
Back in the 1990's there arose a website convention of using certain country flags to denote different language content on global websites. The Spanish flag on the navigation bar indicated Spanish language content, the British flag indicated an English section, the French flag signaled French content, etc.
This convention has now outlived its usefulness by 10 years and many of the top global web platforms have adopted a simple navigation drop-down (image below) to indicate multilingual content. At USA Translations, we've learned that if you don't want to look outdated, avoid country flags in the navigation bar.
Bonus: Need to double check how your website looks in foreign locations? We recommend using a free tool called Shot Sherpa. Simply go to http://shotsherpa.com/ and enter your url to see how your site renders globally.