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  • Chris Gib

The minefield of multinational and multilingual websites: Part 2

“Going international” is an exciting time for a business! You’re established in your current location, and there’s demand for what you sell/do in other territories and languages too. Each new location you have a presence in will exponentially increase your brand equity and revenue. A no-brainer, right?

Hopefully you’ll already be aware that different languages and regions bring, amongst other things, different labour directives, different compliance regulations, different currencies and different cultural perspectives. One consideration with a huge impact will be your online presence, because your website(s) and associated digital ecosystem is your 24/7 sales & marketing resource, your shop window and a buyer’s first experience of your brand.

Following on from Part 1 of this series, let’s dive straight into the next set of challenges you might face when expanding your online environment into new languages, countries and markets.

S.E.Oh dear…

As is the case with your web copy, you can’t just directly translate your meta-data and expect the same SEO results around the world. Each page of web copy you create will need to be optimised for search in each specific language and each specific market. Potentially, this is the biggest thorn in the side of making websites truly international. Keyword research will need to be carried out for your specific market in each target language/region, and then the meta-data and copy will need to be re-optimised using the results. You’ll also want to think about domains and URLs, subfolders and subdomains, slugs and Hreflang tags, internal external links. The list goes on…

Who’s in charge here?

A small or medium sized business operating internationally is unlikely to have capability in each global office to develop and maintain their own local-language websites. Unless you are lucky enough to have a set of local language graphic designers, copywriters, translators, reviewers and website experts in the locations where you operate, you’ll need an alternative strategy. Will you train up existing resource in each location/language to help maintain and update local websites? Or will you feed global changes through a central team? Divesting access to your CMS internationally might bring extra challenges and risks in terms of compliance, security, technical processes and version control. And setting enthusiastic creative employees (or agencies) loose to enhance local-language sites with their own ideas can easily knock branding and messaging out of alignment with your other global presences. Yet relying on a central hub to be brand guardians across the entire international ecosystem sacrifices agility, resulting in a long queue of agitated overseas associates waiting for their local website updates, additions and amendments to be actioned from afar.

Local language lead magnets

If your sales and marketing functions utilise collateral such as downloads, e-books, white papers and online brochures – basically resources created outside the website ecosystem but are accessed through it – each one will need to also undergo a translation & review process before being uploaded to their respective local language site. A thorough audit should probably be carried out before embarking on an international website project because a lack of planning in this area will certainly impact your organisation’s demand generation and sales functions.

Graphics and logos and videos (oh my)

Your translators, designers, video producers and website maintainers are going to be working overtime when you decide to expand your web presence into other territories and languages. Every embedded bespoke or branded graphical element that contains text will need to first be translated, redesigned (especially if the text elements change the format/flow of the asset) and then re-embedded to the relevant local language site. A site with 20 graphical assets translated into 5 other languages = 100 new assets. Again, in depth pre-auditing all of your audio-visual elements will be necessary to assess the implications of the project.

Be wary of buzzwords

In Japanese, you can innocently insult someone quite badly just by using an inappropriate form of the word ‘you’. When the marketing team starts to generate unique tone-of-voice buzzwords, it’s easy to imagine that you might end up completely confusing somebody in a different language or – even worse – insulting them. An Italian would find it weird if your company’s tagline was “We’re a bunch of good eggs”, because the same sentiment in Italian would translate as “We’re all pieces of bread” (Un Siamo tutti pezzi di pane!). If a Norwegian marketing person came up with the slogan “Det er ingen ugler i myra vår”, their fellow Norsemen would know that the company in question is trustworthy. But translate that to English, and we’d be completely baffled by “There are no owls in our bog”. Creating clever impactful buzzwords & phrases in your marketing collateral and web copy might be more hassle than it’s worth because you also need to consider if/how they translate into other languages. Localisation matters if you don’t want to let a frog out of your mouth (Only Finnish people will get that one).

Mixed messages in your menus

Ugh this one is frustrating. Once you go multi-lingual, you’ll likely want a nice looking and functional language selector on your site. It might initially seem visually appealing to use images of flags, right? Well, no. Because which language will you attach to the Belgian flag? Belgium has 3 national languages. As does Switzerland. Canada speaks both English and French, so what happens if a visitor clicks on the little red maple leaf? Will the same German website appear if I click on both the German and Austrian flags? It’s typically accepted that flags denote nationalities not languages, which might suit some businesses, but only a minority.

Ok so just use the name of the language. Simple. And to be super clever about it, have the name of the language in their own language! Polski, Nederlands, Deutsch, Svenska and so on. Perfect.

But wait. What happens if your messaging, products or services differ across territories due to variations in market forces, economies, demand and buying habits? Then you’re wandering into a realm where your language selector menu starts to contain such items as Mexican-Spanish as well as Spanish, or Portuguese alongside Brazilian-Portuguese. French, French-Canadian, Cameroon-French and Belgian-French. So many French! And each of those options requires a separate localised version of your website to host all the different permutations of your propositions, along with all the associated technical, planning, budget and resource challenges. Crikey.

We promise we’re not trying to put you off. Far from it. As we said at the beginning of Part 1, an international presence rewards businesses with many more possibilities, more potential and more revenue. Yes, there will be challenges but with the right planning, the right resourcing and the right understanding it’s possible to do this well, even with a relatively small team. Just keep in mind that project management triangle, which feels very relevant right now.

If you’re about to start the exciting journey to cultivate your international presence, we wish you the best of luck. If you read this and are experiencing flashbacks and night terrors because you’ve already been through the process without the benefit of thorough planning, guidance and advice, tell your therapist we said Hi.

Did we miss anything? Have you had a similar experience? As always, we’d love to learn from your thoughts and opinions.

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