Translation is only one piece of the puzzle of adapting your corporate website to new language markets. The functionality, layout, imagery and color palette are other crucial elements to create a relevant experience for your users abroad.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the major multilingual websites and discuss how they are handling requirements in international markets. We’ll consider the following:
- Functional adaptations
Google.com: Functional Adaptations
The most complex piece of website translation is often functional adaptation. It is also a determining factor in a website’s success or failure, especially for online services such as financial transaction websites, ecommerce/shopping sites, flight booking websites, and more.
Google.com is an example of well-executed functional adaptation. It’s no wonder this company wins first place in The Top 25 Global Websites each year. Many users don’t even realize that Google’s functionality is adapting to their language preferences, location, local culture, and even personal relevancy factors. Here are some highlights:
Local Search Results
Perform any search on Google and search results are passed through ranking mechanisms for relevance, prominence, and distance. Google.com also uses your IP address, location history, and Google toolbar information to determine which results are most relevant to you. For searches on mobile devices, Google will ask permission to use your precise location.
Google.com adapts to the user’s language and assumed domain preferences. If your browser indicates a French language preference, it will offer translation for sites in different languages to help you understand the content. Google.com will also take into account the domain locale you are using (e.g., if you search on google.fr instead of google.com). In addition, users are offered manual settings to specify what’s most relevant to them.
The more languages a multilingual site offers, the better. Again Google is a leader in the international digital space with 123 languages and counting.
Even if your website doesn’t rely as heavily on pure function as Google.com, it’s a good exercise to slip your “Google” hat on and review functional aspects from the perspective of your local audiences. Strive to make each site element as relevant as possible, from top-level navigation to inquiry forms. Your customers will thank you!
Nivea.com and Toysrus.com: Imagery
The recipient of a prestigious Webby Award, the multilingual Nivea website ranked #10 on the Top 25 Global Websites list this year. Credit goes to the large number of local versions as well as successful adaptation of imagery to each country. If you flip through some of the international homepages, you’ll notice that Nivea.com uses different graphics and photography to make each page appear more native.
Photos of people, mainly women, play a central role in Nivea’s branding. From a marketing and branding perspective, it makes sense that the Kenyan, Japanese and Indian homepages have unique models and scenery that appeal to their respective audiences. Increased relevancy and enhanced familiarity work together to deliver better brand exposure, product sales, and an overall experience catered to target markets.
You can go even further to adapt the aesthetics of your site to cultural preferences, as Toys ‘R’ Us did for Asian markets. When you compare the USA website to the Japanese version, in a glance you can take in the contrast between high-context and low-context cultural preferences. Japanese web users tend to prefer a high use of animation, sidebars, menus, and images of the merchandise in action. What may seem busy or crowded to an American can be familiar and appealing to a Japanese consumer. Consider the cultural context when deciding what visuals will best speak to your target consumers in each language market.
Microsoft.com and IBM.com: Layout
Take a brief look at the international versions of Microsoft.com and you’ll quickly notice the overall visual impression remains largely the same throughout. Also note that Microsoft.com is one of the only top multilingual sites using responsive design. Test it out: resize your browser window to the dimensions of a phone viewport, and you’ll see the page layout scales nicely to support the resolution. Adapting to the user’s viewing device is another way to offer a relevant experience to your target audience.
We can also look to Microsoft’s model for switching between left-to-right and right-to-left languages (bidirectional languages). To see it in action, simply compare the USA website to the Saudi Arabian version.
IBM achieves the same thing in the Israeli homepage. The search bar that is traditionally in the top-right corner is moved to the left and the icons are reversed for right-to-left readability. Arrows that typically point right are also switched.
One final layout feature to pay attention to on Microsoft.com is the position of the language selector. Microsoft.com originally followed the convention of putting this gateway at the top-right of the page. That link has now been relocated to the footer. This is not surprising as more and more sites are putting language switches at the bottom for increased usability. After all, why would you reserve such a prominent piece of real estate for functionality that will only be used once?