Marina Monzeglio has over eight years of experience in digital communications. She is currently a global communications consultant in Washington, DC. Prior to her consulting career in the States, Marina worked with the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition both based in Geneva, Switzerland. Follow Marina on Twitter @marinamonzeglio.
Like most internet users, I have visited multilingual websites before. It’s convenient to surf in your own language, and the uses go beyond. Where the translation on a website appears a bit “uneven”, I have sometimes compared language versions to better understand the content.
So, going multilingual must be simple, right? Just replicate content with translated materials? A successful multilingual website is dependent on a series of factors, and I will outline here what I have found to be the most important.
1. Use simple, powerful language
When writing content for a multilingual website, it is particularly important to use simple and effective language. Be consistent with your terminology, and avoid jargon. This will not only be appreciated by online readers, but it will also make the translators’ task easier.
The relationship with the translators is crucial: news announcements and other updates for the web are usually time-sensitive and a roster of reliable and fast translators is needed to keep a website relevant and up-to-date across languages. A good relationship with translators can also help improve the original content – translators will flag and ask clarifications if the original text is obscure or incoherent.
2. Adjust the layout to reflect the length of the text in translation
Always remember that a translation can be significantly longer or shorter than the original text, according to the pair of languages. Schedule time for adjustments to the web page layout if needed.
3. Adapt structure and content management
The structure of a multilingual website is more complex than the structure of a monolingual website, and requires a robust content management system that can be regularly updated.
To ensure better SEO results when using Google and other search engines, as well as maximum accessibility through assistive technologies such as screen readers, every web page should be properly labelled in the correct language.
Pay particular attention to URL syntax, so they follow a clear and logical structure in each language and across the site.
And your SEO strategy should include each language, allowing users to input keywords in their language and presenting results in their language only.
4. Monitor website usage by language
Analytics can give you good insight into how users navigate the site in each language. With this data, you can make improvements to the site to optimise their experience. The sites that are driving traffic to yours will often also vary by language. Your approach to outreach must be multilingual, too.
5. Be prepared to handle requests generated by the site
A successful website is a dynamic one, that does not only broadcast information but encourages reflection and reaction. Website users will likely be sending you requests in all languages, and a process for handling requests in all languages needs to be put in place.
Creating a multilingual website does have a price tag, from cost of translation to additional staff time. However, it may be better to see it as an investment with the potential to deliver returns that dramatically expand your global reach and engagement.