About author Jon Ritzdorf: Jon serves as the Acclaro in-house globalization architect, regularly consulting with clients and presenting seminars for many of the world’s leading IT corporations on localization best practices, internationalization and testing products for global release.
Web developers and marketing managers often ask me for recommendations as to how they should configure their navigation system on their multilingual website. Ideally this is determined well before starting website localization, as this decision can really affect your overall global site architecture moving forward.
For multilingual site navigation, it’s good to familiarize yourself with all the different options available for navigation and how they will impact your site. In short, with global navigation it comes down to four major options, which can be combined or kept distinct within a site:
- Language toggle
- Gateway/splash page
- Automated (or semi-automated) redirection
Usually the first two options, language toggle and dropdown, work well for smaller sites.
For a small- to medium-sized site that is only going to be localized in a few languages, I would suggest the very simple toggle approach, like seen with Northeastern University.
Or, a language dropdown written in the native script for the language markets you are targeting, as seen with Vuze.
I don’t recommend having “Select language…” as the default text for a dropdown. Vuze has avoided this by combining automated redirection based on your browser language settings to give you the page it thinks you want, and if it is wrong, you can change it manually. I also like how the dropdown is prominently displayed on the top right of the page.
Major international brand sites that have many languages (and even multiple “flavors” for each language — such as French Canadian and European French), such as global giant Amway, often use geolocation to redirect based on an IP address. However, they back it up with a splash page of options in case you don’t like the automatic selection (this is a better idea when you have a lot of language properties on the web). IKEA also uses a country selection entry gateway on their home page when you first enter the site regardless of your settings, as does JBL.
One last suggestion for a smooth multilingual website launch: in addition to determining site navigation upfront, it’s also important to choose your URL/domain name at the beginning of the project. My suggestion is to choose one of these options:
- Build off your existing “.com” top level domain with ISO standardized language/locale codes, such as just the language code “fr” for a French site (www.mysite.com/fr). Or, more specifically “fr-FR” meaning “French (France)” vs. “fr-CA” meaning “French (Canada)”.
- Use fully-localized country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). If you want the best possible search engine rakings in the target market, I do suggest a localized domain. For example www.mysite.jp and/or www.mysite.co.jp for a Japanese site instead of using the domain option in #1 above. Of course this does mean you need to purchase the country domain for that site and, in addition to the cost, there are sometimes rules that restrict purchasing country domains unless you have a physical presence in that particular country. For example, here you can see that the requirements for a Japanese domain name are that you have both a Japan address and phone number in order to register for the .jp domain.
Image attribution: seb joguet