A Five Step Guide to Cross-cultural Web Design
One of the most exciting aspects of the Internet, particularly for business owners, is that the World Wide Web is exactly that – we can now target customers in Lahore as easily as London, Moscow as easily as Miami.
But just because users all over the world are now linked, does not make them the same. Different cultures have distinct habits and preferences so you will need to think carefully about what each of your target markets will respond to before you begin to design your website.
Looking at the websites of successful companies in each country will give you some indication as to what your audience find appealing. There are also certain steps which can be taken to aid your search engine optimisation (SEO) in each region.
To help you out, here are a few of the aspects you should consider when localising your website:
Invest in an in-country domain name for each of your target markets. While it may be cheaper and more convenient to have one domain name which covers all of your target countries, having dedicated in-country domains helps Google to rank each site on its country-specific search engines, and will therefore boost your rankings.
2. Server Location
Check with your chosen web service providers that their server is actually held in your target country. Again this will help with your SEO, as search engines favour sites which are hosted in their ‘home’ country.
3. Meta Keywords
Ensure that you are including the best possible keywords in your copy, and if possible in your URL.
It isn’t enough to simply translate the keywords that you use on your English site on a word-for-word basis; different nationalities use different phrases in their searching habits, including synonyms, acronyms, colloquialisms and abbreviations, and you will need to adapt your keywords accordingly. Google’s keyword tool can help you with this.
While you will want to create cohesive and consistent branding across all of your sites, the design of each site should allow for that country’s cultural preferences.
Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allows for table-less design and separates content from design, meaning that you won’t have to re-design each page from scratch.
Elements to consider in your design include:
Colour can be very culturally significant, with the same colour having vastly different connotations around the world. For example red, in the West, signifies danger, while in China it suggests celebration and in India, purity. Take some time to investigate what your colour scheme may mean to your consumers. A green or blue background with white or black text tends to be the most universally accepted.
Adjust your images for each site, and ensure that you are culturally aware. For example, a Western travel website may show holidaymakers in bikinis, but this could be considered inappropriate and even offensive in more conservative Eastern cultures.
Not all languages read from left to right – Arabic for instance, the world’s fifth most influential language, reads from right to left. Choosing a horizontal navigation bar instead of a vertical one will help to combat this issue.
It is important to use a common font, so that the text is displayed correctly on most screens. Sans serif fonts such as Arial or Verdana are easy on the eye.
- Use Unicode
Unicode UTF-8 is a flexible character encoding tool which is compatible with over 90 written languages. Using this will make it easier to switch between languages.
Bear in mind that different character sets mean changing line heights and widths. Also, certain languages use more characters to express the same ideas, for example German words tend to be longer than English words. So be sure to factor this into your page design.
- Avoid Flash
The text embedded in Flash is not easily read by engine bots, which will impede your SEO progress. Also, not all countries have high speed Internet access so a Flash site may take too much time to load.
The fundamental point here is to make sure that your content is translated correctly. To gain the trust of your potential customers, you will need to ensure that the nuances of the local language and culture are observed.
Tempting though it may be to use an automatic translation program, there is really no substitute for using a professional translator working in their native tongue. Text converted by a machine translation tool rarely reads naturally, and you will run the risk of confusing, or even offending, your target audience.
With these points in mind, the world is your oyster, and your website will be sure to attract new customers across the cosmos.
Credits: Vector tech map by Chadlonius
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