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Localization in web design and development

With localization, a website is adapted to target audiences in different countries. This includes translation of the content to different languages, using images that fit the cultural context, making sure that information (such as dates, currency, and phone numbers) appear in the correct format, and using local integrations for social networks.



For multilingual countries, offer all languages on the homepage. For example, to target audiences in Malaysia, offer homepage content in Malay, English, Chinese, and Hindi with the content of rest of the site available in all languages. You can also use landing pages that offer the user the choice of language upfront, but this is not the best practice for SEO purposes.

Remember that there are differences even within languages. For example, in China, if you are targeting Shanghai visitors (i.e. a mainland audience), you should use simplified Chinese. But if you're targeting visitors in Taiwan or Hong Kong, you should use traditional Chinese. Detail-oriented readers may also notice the author's spelling as American English (e.g. localization, color) rather than British English (e.g. localization, colour).

Do not put your website text through a translation website. The best solution is to hire a human translator who will not only translate based on the appropriate context, but also translate using appropriate cultural references and sayings.

A challenge for web designers is that word lengths differ drastically between languages, e.g. between Chinese and German. So if you have a main menu bar with the main page categories that fits all the categories in Chinese, the same menu may not fit into the same space. For the Phileog site, for example, we had to design the Chinese menu bar to have more padding around each menu item than the English menu, and the slogan for the site had to have a larger font with added letter-spacing compared to English to make the design work.


Visual language:

Colors can carry completely different meanings for different cultures. While you need to adhere to your company's visual identity in your site's design, it's still important to be aware of what implications your company's colors may have in your target country. Here are two resources for learning about color in culture. Don't believe that a color choice can make or break your company when crossing cultural borders? Read about EuroDisney's failed use of purple in Western Europe here.

High Context vs Low Context cultures: This site compares the display of YouTube for low context cultures and Chinese video site Tudou for high context cultures. Also consider if members of your target culture tend to prefer a more minimalistic design with options accessible from menus, or if they prefer to have all options easily viewed and accessed with a single click. Compare bay's USA site to their Chinese site or China's Tao Bao to see the difference in how the target culture in general prefers to access their information.

Images: The people in your images should reflect the culture you're targeting, in appearance and standard of dress. If your site uses stock photography, Fotolia does an excellent job of tailoring search results to your location. (Read more here.)

Icons and other symbols do not always carry the same meaning in various cultures, and some symbols can be downright offensive. For example, the iPhone app PocketMoney is represented by an icon of a pig, but also created a separate launcher for the app that bypassed the pig imagery for "customers who have religious or cultural issues with pigs."


Information formatting:

For example, First Name and Last Name can get confusing since countries like China place family names first, and personal names last. Either adapt based on your targeted country (e.g. "First Name / Last Name" for the USA and "Given Name / Family Name" for China) or only use the most widely adaptable terms (Given Name / Family Name).

Dates, Currency, and Time also vary. Dates can come in order of month/day/year or day/month/year. Time can either be based on a 12-hour display or a 24-hour display. Currency obviously also differs based on location. This is especially important if you are a retailer looking to develop an ecommerce site. Customers will not want to shop in a currency foreign to them. Give them the path of least resistance (i.e. shopping in their home currency) to purchase products from your ecommerce site.

Local web services: While you shouldn't necessarily remove links to Facebook and Twitter on a site that is localized for China since many residents (e.g. expats) use VPNs and can access these sites, you should definitely include links to RenRen, Weibo, and other Chinese social media and web service sites such as Kaixin, Douban, and QQ. More Chinese web services are listed here.


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Don't forget, we can help you bring your multilingual, localized site to life! Contact us and we'll get started designing and building your site immediately.


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