Looking to increase your visibility globally? Then it might make sense for your company to increase the number of languages your website supports. But first you should determine whether it's worth your time and resources to make an international website.
Here are some questions to help determine whether or not you should make an international website.
- Is your business operating in different countries?
- Does your web traffic include a lot of international traffic?
- Do you want to expand your presence in other countries?
If you answer yes to at least one of the questions above, then an international website might make sense for your business.
But before you get too far in the planning stages, you want to make sure that your business has adequate time and resources to create a useful international website. Creating this new asset might take considerable time and effort.
Knowing your existing geographic traffic data is helpful because it can help you determine a goal for your international traffic. I'll get to how to find that data in a little bit. But for now, there are essentially two options for international targeting: a specific language and a country or region.
You'd target a country or region if you want to improve your physical presence or if you are targeting a certain geographic area. This is challenging, however, because most countries typically don't only speak one language. Take the United States, for example. The most recent U.S. Census data from 2011 tells us that there are over 300 languages spoken within the country.
If you're going to make an international website, I'd recommend targeting by language instead of location. This allows you to focus on a few of key languages of people already using your website (or potential visitors who you would like to target). Giving your visitors a broad range of languages to pick from helps ensure that you'll be able to support as many international site visitors as possible.
Now, How to Actually Make an International Website
Here is where the rubber hits the road. If you're looking for a more technical and in-depth guide on how to make an international website, there are many helpful guides online. But in the meantime, here are the basic steps involved in adding languages to your website.
1. Pick a site segmentation strategy.
Now that you've decided on a internationalization targeting strategy, you'll need to make some technical decisions. There are currently three different methods for segmenting your site for internationalization:
- International domain (i.e. yourcompany.fr)
- Subodomain (i.e. fr.yourcompany.com)
- Subfolder (i.e. yourcompany.com/fr/)
My preference is to use the subfolder method because it's usually the easiest to implement from a technical standpoint, and doesn't require buying a lot of domains.
2. Pick languages.
Next you can pick the languages you'll want to translate at first. (It's OK if you want to start out with just one, too.)
There's a good chance that your business already receives a significant amount of international traffic to your website. If your business website uses Google Analytics, the tool can help you pick the initial language (or languages) you want to start with. In Google Analytics you can find this information by navigating to the “Geo" tab and then clicking either “Language" or “Location." But nearly every basic site analytics software can give you this information in a similar manner.
3. Translate your content.
Translating your website is where you should put the bulk of your efforts and resources. If a customer is going to purchase your product or service, there shouldn't be any confusion about what your product or service offers.
You can use paid services like Bablic or Smartling to translate your website. While there are free solutions like Google or Bing Translate, it may be hard to create a fluid, 100 percent accurate translation based off of these free services. You'll want the site to read naturally to the person of that language, which can be achieved by using a fluent and competent translator.
4. Redirect your visitors
Now that you've finished the hard part of translating your website, you'll need to make sure that the right person sees the right language.
Step 1: Add a link element. Specify the language in the <head> of your website with a HTML link element pointing to the different language versions of your website.
Example: <link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="http://yoursite.com/es" />
You could add a link element like the one above for every language translation your website has. This tells search engines to index those pages as well.
Step 2: Give link options to visitors. You can add a series of manual links on your website that points international visitors to the proper language version of your website.
4. Submit to search engines.
Now that your translations are in place and people are able to use the different localized versions of your website, it's time to start submitting to search engines.
You'll obviously want to make Google and Bing aware, but consider researching some of the top search engines in the countries you've translated.
StatCounter is a global statistics company that uses data collected from over 2 million websites globally. As of the time of this writing, StatCounter calculates that nearly 60 percent of all the Internet users in China use Baidu as their search engine last month. So if you have a Chinese translation, you'd want to submit your website to Baidu.
You can find the top search engines in many countries with StatCounter's global search engine market share page.
A Word About International Sites and E-commerce
Money and payment providers often add complexity to international websites. While your site might be translated in French, it's possible your payment provider isn't available for people in France, or your payment provider might not accept the currency of the country. Be up front by letting your international visitors know right away if your payment processor accepts their country's currency.
The resources and time needed to make an international website can vary greatly based on the size of your online business. But the potential to reach a larger market could outweigh the cost and time.
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