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Is your website ready for translation?

By Josian Phillips, 

Imagine that you’ve created a website. The content fits on the page and aligns well with the images, the buttons are where they’re supposed to be and everything looks smooth and polished. But what happens when you need to translate your content for an international audience? Will all your hard work have been in vain?

Hopefully not, so long as you’ve prepared your website in advance and are aware of how translation can affect the layout of your website. To help you prepare for the change, we’ve outlined a few important areas for you to consider.

Your URL structure

Translating the content of your website is the perfect time to review your URL structure to ensure that you choose the best option for the layout of your site. Depending on which URL you use will affect the way that you alter the layout to prepare for translation. So what exactly are the different types of domain structures?

There are three types of URLs that you can use. These are:

  • In-country domains (www.yourbrand.fr) – This involves creating an entirely new domain in the country you are targeting.
  • Subdomains (www.fr.yourbrand.com) – A subdomain allows you to categorise areas of your website to create a separate site under the same domain
  • Sub-folders (www.yourbrand.com/fr/) – An option for the user to select another language on the same domain

Should you choose to adopt and in-country domain, you can focus solely on designing a website specifically for your target audience. This means you won’t have to worry about adapting your current website for a new audience, but it will require more of your time and ongoing maintenance.

If, however, you choose to use a subdomain or sub-folder, you’ll need to ensure that the layout of your original website is adaptable to other languages. The following points outline some of the areas you’ll need to consider to ensure that your website layout is ready for translation. For more information on the ins and outs of these structures, have a read through our translations and URLs blog. Or for more detailed advice and guidance, talk to an experienced professional translation agency like Brightlines.

Font and typeface

If your website is going to be multilingual, it’s important that the typeface you use is adaptable to each language – which, unfortunately, not all of them are. There are some fonts that are specifically designed to be used for certain languages, which can result in some messy looking translations.

If we look at most Eastern and Central European languages, you will undoubtedly come across accented letters. Should you decide to implement an English-only font on your website, the letters that are accented will automatically revert to the default font sent, meaning that the entire text will remain in your chosen font aside from the accented letters. As you can imagine, this looks less than professional. You need to select a variable typeface to make sure that your website matches aesthetically in every language – the last thing you want is for your website to have a different font depending on which language is being used. This can confuse customers and detract from the professionalism of your brand.

In addition to this, some languages – such as Arabic – need to be in a larger font simply so that they can easily be read, especially if diacritics are included. This can alter the layout of your content, so bear this in mind when you are looking at the layout of your site.

Imagery and media

When it comes to preparing your website for a new international audience, the correct use of visual content is vital. Failing to consider different cultural perceptions of your media could alienate your brand within the new market, which is not a good start!

Visual content is prevalent wherever you look online, whether that be images, infographics, animations, or video – it’s pretty much everywhere. To make sure that your visual content is suitable for more than one nationality, you need to ensure that everything is culturally sensitive and relevant. This means making sure that your visual content doesn’t represent any ideas that would be deemed unacceptable to a specific culture or nationality, which is referred to as localisation.

The Marie Claire website (which uses and in-country domain) perfectly illustrates the use of localisation with their imagery and content. Below you can see an image of their UK website and their Arabian website:

The images used on each website is representative of the culture it’s trying to target, ensuring that cultural sensitivities are taken into account.

An image that might be perfectly acceptable in the UK – such as a woman wearing a swimming costume – might be viewed as unfavourable or offensive in another country, so it’s vital that you research the culture of the country you’re expanding into and consider the cultural implications of the visual elements on your website. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words… so make sure all those words are positive.

Having to change or alter some of your visual content could potentially affect the layout of your website, so make sure you are aware of how these changes might alter the aesthetics if you have to make changes.

Colour scheme

Similarly to your use of visual content, the colour scheme of your website can impact the way your new audience perceive your brand. Certain colours have specific connotations for some cultures, such as the colour black being associated with mourning and grief for most Western countries; the colour white also represents the same perception of mourning in some Eastern countries.

To avoid dissuading your new audience from visiting your website, it’s vital that you choose a colour scheme that not only represents your brand, but that also resonates with the audience you’re trying to target. Take the time to familiarise yourself with any no-go colours in the countries you’re expanding into and understand the meaning behind certain colours that can be used in a positive and engaging way.

Direction of copy

The direction people read can heavily influence where their eyes are drawn to first, and therefore should influence where you would put the most important content or buttons on your website. For example, some languages – such as Arabic and Urdu – read right to left (RTL) rather than left to right (LTR). This alone can have a big impact on how you would set out a website aimed at readers of these languages.

Languages that read RTL are often the most difficult languages to design for digitally – your original web page essentially needs to be horizontally flipped, as you can see in the below image.


Although this may not be too much of an issue if designing a website purely in RTL fashion, it does mean that consideration should be given to ensure that the layout does not have any conflicts when switching from one language to the other (LTR to RTL).

Language expansion and contraction

The layout of your website may have to change not only because of cultural differences, but also because texts in various languages can take up a significantly different amount of space. The following image shows just how varied each language can be when it comes to taking up space:

As you can see, the Chinese text takes up far less space than the English text, yet the Greek and Tagalog take up more space than English. This can cause various problems to the layout of your website if you’re not prepared for it, so make sure you are aware of the differences that can occur when translating your copy.

For more information on website layout, have a look at our ultimate guide to website translation.

Talk to Brightlines

Translating the content of a website is more complicated than it first appears, especially when it comes to the layout. Not only must the intent of the text be preserved, cultural sensitivities and nuances accommodated, and lexical ambiguities properly localised – but the formatting must be adjusted to an exacting standard. Failure to do so could result in a wonky website, and no one wants that!

As a professional translation agency, we recognise the importance of multilingual website design and the impact it can have on the aesthetics of your website.  Contact us today to find out more about our translation services.

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