Building a website with an international slant is the secret goal of many webmasters nowadays. Apart from having good content, which is always the core of any website, there are other specific issues to take care of when you decide to go global.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT NAME

The choice of name of a website is always an important decision but when you want to address foreign countries it becomes crucial.

As many global brands have learned at their expense, embarrassing misunderstandings with other languages/cultures are always around the corner.

One famous example of a linguistic faux pas was when Coca Cola launched in China. The name was first rendered as Ke-ke-ken-la until the company discovered that it actually meant "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Of course the company had to change it and it became "ko-kou-ko-le,"which can be translated as "happiness in the mouth."

So, choosing a name which sounds good in different language - or at least is not an embarrassment - is always a very wise move.

BE INTERNATIONAL BUT LOOK LOCAL

Studies from the UK, Ireland or Germany, as well as Asian countries, have found that internet users are more likely to visit and trust national websites rather than international ones. Generally speaking, when it comes to big brands, users always choose the local version instead of the global “.com” one. So, when targeting a specific foreign country, it is advisable to register a local domain name for your website.

Another important part of this “glocal” strategy is to promote your site on social media in the country you are interested in. You’ll find that some of them are even more popular than the usual big shots like Facebook and Twitter. For a complete list of the world social media and their popularity, you can check here on the world map of Social Networks: vincos.it/world-map-of-social-networks.

TAKE CARE OF “CULTURAL DESIGN”

In spite of globalization, there are still big differences in culture and design preferences between countries. Apart from common sense recommendations, such as avoiding images of bikini-clad women in Saudi Arabia, there are other, more subtle differences which are interesting to analyse.

Colors, for example, have different connotations and meanings in different countries: one of the most striking contrasts regards the color white, which is a symbol of purity and marriage in the West and death and mourning in the Far East.

Also website designs often reflect cultural differences. To have some idea of that, it's enough to take a look at the national home pages of international brands such as Nokia or Philips. The sober colors and design of the German or Dutch website change into vivid colors and rich details in the Chinese version.

It’s interesting to look at the theories of “high” and “low context” cultures when considering differences in web design. The anthropologist Edward T. Hall, in his 1976 book Beyond Culture,categorized cultures according to the way in which they communicate. In brief, according to Hall's study, there are so called “low context' cultures, such as North European and North American, that communicate chiefly through clear, straightforward statements, whether verbal or written. On the other hand, in China, Japan and many Asian countries, more importance is given to body language, facial expressions or even silence. These are the so-called ‘high context’ cultures.

Recent studies have confirmed these studies, saying that the design of a website has an effect on the way it is perceived by people from different cultures.

USE A FLEXIBLE LAYOUT

When your website is targeted to different countries, it's very likely that, at some point, you'll have to provide your content in one or more additional languages. And it's not only a matter of translation. Different languages have very often different lengths: German, for example, usually requires 30/40% more space than English.

So, how can you fit the German version of an English text into the same section of your web page? And what if your additional language is Arabic or Hebrew, languages which are written from right to left?

The most practical solution to this problem is to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which allows the content to be kept separate from page design. In plain English, when you translate into another longer (or shorter) language, you don't have to redesign each page from scratch.

Also, another very useful tool for your multilingual website is definitely Unicode, the industry standard for encoding. The most common character encoding is UTF-8 which allows you to work with about eighty different languages.

MIND THE TIME ZONES

Most bloggers agree on the fact that the best moment to publish your new material is the morning, the moment when most people turn on their computer for the first time and check all their favourite websites. This becomes a little more complicated when your readers are scattered around the globe, but you can overcome this problem by setting different publishing times on your website, depending on which language they are written in. You can find a good tool to manage various time zones here: www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/.

Now, you are ready to take your baby abroad and go international!





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About the author

Alex Roman

Independent graphic artist and architect based in Bucharest. I really love what i do!

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