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August 5, 2011

Bilingual Website Design – There Are Special Requirements

In many countries around the world, there is a high potential for you needing to produce a bilingual web design. This could be anywhere that the website owner is trying to reach a wider audience. Perhaps by catering for ex-pats or in fact where a country has more than one native language.

You may have to produce a combined English/French site but this could easily be English/Spanish, Portuguese/Spanish or any other combination for that matter. Also it does not necessarily follow that English will be the lead language e.g. you could be producing a French/English arrangement.

So now the question arises of how the site should be structured in order to be discovered by the search engines and in a way that gives the site proper recognition and appropriate ranking; so that it gets listed in relevant search engine results.

There are a few general rules of thumb to adhere to:

* try not to mix languages in side-by-side or above/below translations
* identify individual pages in the language they represent
* use the meta tag for language to tell the search engine what language is being presented
* provide links from one language to the other that are easy to follow
* for sites that are multiple language sites consider an entrance page as the ‘index’ page that offers all the available languages so that the visitor can decide which set of pages they would like to visit i.e. they select their language of choice

Expanding on the ‘linking from one language to another’ statement a little, there are a couple of options available. You could provide a link that takes the visitor from the page they are onto the replica page in the alternative language, or you could just take them to the ‘index’ page equivalent for the alternative language and let them navigate from there.

The latter is obviously easier and has some benefits in that it takes the visitor to the main welcome/landing page for the site so that they get the site message before moving onto the detail.

But this may not always suit the visitor who may see it as an unnecessary click. This is really a judgment call and probably a decision that needs to be made by the customer.

Either approach works for multilingual sites as well, although the navigation is a little more complex.

There are a couple of preferred ways of approaching how the language pages are collected together. Folders can be created for the alternative languages or alternatively sub domains can be created for the alternative languages e.g. fr.mydomain.com

This general approach to bilingual or multilingual sites does mean that the web designer needs to be fastidious in his site updates and to ensure that all pages where required get updated appropriately in all languages.

With respect to Google there are assumptions that are made on a sites geographic location based on the domain name that is used, what server the site is located on and to an extent the language used. To ensure that the site is targeted to the correct geographic location you can use Google’s webmaster tools to define a location. But this feature does need to be used with caution and this makes it worth searching their help files for information on how and when to do this.

So if you are planning a website design in France or any other country that is going to be bilingual or multilingual make sure that the design is being approached in the correct way.


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