You know you need a multilingual Web site. But creating a translation-friendly site means proper preparation. Reading the following should save you time and money.

According to a recent IDC report “the globalization of the economy and the growing influence of the Internet underlines the importance of language in all its diversity.”

This study, which questioned 27,000 Internet users worldwide, shows that not only is the global economy a multilingual economy, but that a company which has developed a well thought out  ‘local’ strategy can tap into a potentially much larger market to sell its products or services.

Having a multi-language Web site is becoming more and more important. However, failure to properly assess the problems associated with multilingual Web sites can lead to increased expenditure and delay in its development. Such problems tend to be of two types:

  1. Problems of logical Web site construction,
  2. Problems in the adaptation and presentation of the website for your target audience.


One question worth asking is, will the Web site remain largely unchanged after its initial conception or will it be regularly changed or updated? If it is unlikely to be updated regularly it is worth staying with a relatively simple architecture, concentrating instead on appealing to search engines and directories.

If, however, it is likely to be regularly updated, the Web site should be constructed so that text in all languages can be updated at the same time. This is possible through PHP development, which at its best can allow you to update simultaneously all languages in your site and at worst allow your updated text to be restored with simplicity, saving time and money.

It is also worth noting that overly ‘dynamic’ sites can be practically impossible for a search engine to spot. Your Web site developer should be able to suggest alternative solutions which are equally effective.

Many robots and Web crawlers are rather ethnocentric. They start out by taking an interest in your site, and then discover a language they don’t recognize. Terrified, they scurry back to more familiar territory. To increase traffic to your Web site, you can register one domain name for each language and ask your service provider to simply create a mirror or clone for the different languages. If, for example, your initial Web site is, you can simply register,,, etc. You can also register a name translated into an Asian language without using Latin characters.

Building a “translation-friendly” Web site

Today, your Web site architecture needs to be designed (flags, as many subdirectories as needed) for localization. Make sure your localizer is familiar with compatibility issues and has access to the necessary tools (a version of DreamWeaver in each language, preferably running on a localized version of the operating system). Start planning the layout of your pages ahead of time to make sure the localization process goes smoothly and is based on the appropriate architecture.

Don’t use too many dropdown menus.

If you’re using CGI scripts, pay close attention to the new Web addresses, which could be a problem. When designing pages try to remember that some users are accustomed to different systems of measurement, time, and currency display.

The character encoding or charset enables the browser to recognize the language and automatically open the HTML page using the appropriate language code (ISO code). For European languages, there are relatively few problems.

For Asian languages, however, Unicode or double-byte characters are needed. For certain less common languages (Sanskrit, for example), graphics must be used to display characters (image maps are used for interactive sites).

If you decide to use a double-byte character set, the characters used for each language must be indicated in the HTML source code. For example, for sites that are going to be translated into simplified Chinese (for Mainland China), Big5 encoding is used, while for Japanese sites, Shift-JIS is used. In general it’s better to limit the encoding to a single format and create other local URLs to avoid confusing any search robots that scan your site.

Because the translator won’t be able to determine which text needs to be translated, all code should be separate from the text to be translated. The presence of tags will prevent the translator from concentrating on text content and will trip up any automated spell checkers.

Sites that use a lot of dynamic HTML often make use of databases whose content is constantly changing. These texts can be exported to HTML or Excel before being given to a translator. Bear in mind, however, that spreadsheets such as Excel and Quattro Pro can cause endless problems for translators and generally slow down the translation process. Similarly, ASP formats are difficult to manage for translation. If you must use ASP files, consider this beforehand when planning your budget since most translation companies charge extra for files in these formats. Remember that languages like Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left (although the latest versions of Internet Explorer can automatically display reverse text).

Place all graphics in a separate directory (make the site architecture as clear and consistent as possible). Indicate which graphics contain text for translation. And when you’re designing your site, place text next to graphics whenever possible.

GIFs and JPEGs that contain text are a problem. The graphic will need to be redone, which takes an enormous amount of time and often results in the degradation of the original image. It’s much more efficient to provide the translation company with graphics in PSD, Corel Draw, or Illustrator format, and archive the original images.

Leave enough space to accommodate expanded text (especially true for languages such as German). The degree of expansion depends on the specific language. Supply a list of all fonts or supply the fonts used in any graphics. Trying to find a font to match your design is very time consuming for the localizer.


Your site’s content and presentation must be adapted to the contemporary realities of your target markets. However, there are a number of important details that are frequently overlooked: culture-specific graphics, icons, local currency, date formats, units of measure, keywords, hot keys, etc.

If your text has been written clearly and simply, the translation process will be much more efficient. If, on the other hand, your Web site makes use of advertising slogans, puns, specific historical or cultural references, the process of adaptation will be more difficult-and more costly.

One way of making sure the translation process goes smoothly is to pay close attention to the consistency of your terminology. If you use “automobile” in one place in your text, don’t use “car” in other places, you risk slowing down the translation process. Try to limit the number of truly technical terms and use terminology that is easily understandable by your distributors.

Here too, a company that takes its work seriously knows how to organize your project to prevent such problems from occurring. Proper preparation will also simplify future updates of your Web site. Serious localizers use specialized software that creates personalized text databases in all the languages you work with. As your site is translated (or updated), the software suggests previously translated and approved expressions to the translator. This not only ensures greater consistency (no matter which translators work on the project) but your costs decrease: as the database gets larger, the number of previously translated terms or expressions increases.

Your Web site should be adapted to suit the particular market that you are aiming for, and beware of differences between countries which may seem linguistically similar. For example, Spanish can vary considerably according to the country where it is spoken. “Billete”, “boleto”, and “pasaje” are all Spanish for “ticket”, which one should be used depends upon the country where you are purchasing it. Likewise, “Seventy” translates as “septante” in Switzerland yet it is “soixante-dix” in France. If your text is destined for Mainland China, be careful to use simplified characters, traditional Chinese characters are however used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Chinese community in the United States.

It is essential that you rely on language specialists living in the local market or companies that make use of such specialists. A company that takes its work seriously doesn’t simply resell the work of translators scattered throughout the world. It provides editorial control, based on the same procedures used in the publishing industry.

Writing. Your text is written (or translated) by a professional with a background in your industry.

Editing. Your text is edited (or adapted) by a publicist or journalist (always local), who will rewrite the text to appeal to the target market.

Editorial oversight. Your text is checked by a competent professional, who will make sure that your text is complete and will harmonize the presentation among the various languages, which is crucial to ensuring the consistency of your Web site.

Online proofreading. Independent copy editors do this after the text is in place. This stage is important because the text will have been manipulated while being integrated into the software. Often software that works in only one language can incorrectly change text it fails to recognize. Additionally, the copy editor can proofread the text and suggest possible alterations (captions, subheadings, etc). The copy editor should be independent and be seeing the text for the first time (he is likely to see faults quicker than someone who has already read the text before).

This process can seem complicated but it is the only certain way to assure the success of your project. Think of the preparation that went into creating the original text. A good translation company will take the same effort over your new language text. Using a cheaper translation company that does not follow this fundamental procedure may unfortunately be to the detriment of your business.

To avoid any risk we strongly advise that you follow these recommendations. Remember, your corporate image and the quality of your Web site could depend on it. And the risks are considerable: even a small error can have a significant impact on your site (recall the notoriously misleading instructions that used to be included with Japanese watches). Visitors to your site will judge you by what they see. Your text may profess that it offers “Beste service we provide,”…it’s unlikely that you’ll convince your potential customers.

Hopefully this overview has shown that to properly prepare and adapt your site, it is necessary above all, to first find the right company who can help you in this process – a company, which, from the start, will share with your development team its extensive experience.