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How to handle space on multilingual websites

By Neil Gauld, 

Deciding your business needs its website to be translated can be an exciting time. Potential customers all over the world are just waiting to use your product or service.

But getting your text translated to a country’s native language isn’t all there is to it. You’re going to have to make sure that the space on your website is used in the most effective and engaging way in order to communicate well with your potential international customers. To localise your website in this way you’ll need to consider your website space and what impact different cultures and languages will have on this.

We explore some of the most important things that you need to think about when you’re looking at space on multilingual websites.

1) Layout and navigation

What your website will look like in one country can be very different to what it will look like in another. Although your brand will essentially be the same, when looking at how you’re going to use the space available to you, you’ll need to take notice of how businesses present visually in different cultures.

If, for example, we look at Japanese website ‘goo’ – a search engine based in Japan – we can see that, to the British eye, it looks extremely cluttered with large amounts of text. This website layout and its complex navigation would not be recommended in the UK, due to the high density of text and the arguably clashing colours. This is, however, the norm in Japan and indeed it would be ill advised not to follow this particular style of website layout if you want your business to stand a chance with Japanese customers.

Screen-Shot-Goo-Brightlines TranslationTo the British eye “Goo” can seem cluttered, busy and overly colourful.

Japanese websites are also known for their use of Flash (an old technology here in the UK) and their small, low-quality images.

Another example of differing layouts for different countries can be found across the McDonalds’ international websites. This is perhaps surprisingly so when comparing two international sites, the US site, and the UK site, where the languages used are very similar. But McDonald’s leads the way when it comes to localisation. While the McDonald’s UK site layout seems to be much more focused on food quality and nutrition (something which is very important to UK customers), the US website seems more focused on fast food deals – and the layouts reflect this cultural difference.
The McDonald’s UK website (above) shouts about clean eating, health and flavour. McDonald’s USA site (above) focuses more on fast food deals.

McDonald’s Japan (above), a nod to the busy, high density design that appeals to the Japanese consumer.

It’s also worth noting that some languages, such as Arabic and Urdu, read right to left rather than left to right and this alone can have a big impact on how you would set out a website aimed at readers of these languages. The direction people read in can heavily influence which areas of the website their eyes are drawn to first – and therefore should influence where you would put your most important content or buttons.

2) Language expansion or contraction

Different languages take up different amounts of space on web pages. For example, if you were translating from English to French, you could expect the French text to take between 15% to 20% more space than the similar English text. This needs to be considered, as a heavier word count could look squished or may not fit into the same neat looking paragraphs as the text on your company’s British website.

Some languages also have much longer words than English. German is one example of this, with some long words posing problems with layouts where there is limited space or, for example, within a button.

Japanese words can take up much more horizontal space and some languages can even take up more vertical space within a website. All of these factors need to be considered when looking at how space will be used in multilingual websites. Indeed, sometimes the layout of your website may have to change drastically, not just because of cultural differences, but also because the text in a different language takes up a significantly different amount of space.

3) Imagery

But surely we’ll just use the same images? This is a dangerous assumption and one that could cost your business dearly in certain markets. Colours, for example, that have connotations of happiness and prosperity in one culture could mean death and unhappiness in another. Certain gestures can mean very different things when used in different countries. For example, in Britain, the thumbs up is a good sign – everything is good, good job. However, in some cultures it can mean something totally different – in Germany it means the number ‘1’ and in Japan the number ‘5’!

Making sure your imagery takes into account these cultural differences and embraces them really can make the difference between business failure and success in different countries.

4) Dates and forms

To make sure your website is truly ‘localised’, it’s worth paying attention to things such as date and form layout in different cultures. For example, on UK websites it’s standard to have first name followed by surname on an online form. However in other cultures, such as France, your surname will always come first on a form.

Dates are also laid out differently, with America preferring the month/day/year format and the UK using the day/month/year format.

And don’t forget that national holidays vary across countries when laying out your website calendar. The little touches make a big difference.

All of these things can impact on how your website and, most importantly, your business, is perceived by customers around the world.

One final thought when you’re thinking about the best way to use your website space for different languages – don’t assume everything has to be translated. However do consider that the more translated content you have, the better your chances of optimising for ranking.

5) Currency and payment

It may sound obvious but don’t forget to show your prices in local currency. Customers won’t want to waste their time changing figures to their own currency – many a customer has been lost this way!

Not all countries want to pay in the same way – in China, customers prefer cash when the goods are delivered and in the Netherlands they like to use iDeal.

And finally…don’t worry

A good translation agency will be happy to help you every step of the way. They will be able to advise you of all the potential pitfalls your website could face and more importantly, how to avoid them. If you have any website translation queries, speak to a translation agency.

Would you like to chat to Brightlines Translation about how you can reach your global customers through professional website translation services? Please Call 01225 580770 or click here for a quote. We are happy to help, and advice is always free.

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