6 Strategies for Designing for an International Audience
There’s a common mistake that many web designers make. They create with people just like themselves in mind. If you are guilty of this, you could be missing out on the rewards of building a loyal international readership. Today I’m going to take a look at six strategies you can use to make your site more user-friendly to global audiences.
Choose Your Domain Name Wisely
Optimizing a site for global users starts right from the moment you pick a domain name. Remember, this is one of the first things people see when looking at a search engine results page. If you want to appeal to international readers it’s wise to avoid a domain name that sounds too local. By this, I mean both geographical references such as having your hometown in the URL and also words that don’t translate well to other cultures. This second issue can be tricky and it’s wise to run a few potential URLs past your overseas contacts. Spellings that appear ‘odd’ in other parts of the world also risk sending your potential visitor off in search of another result. Think about replacing localized spellings in your all-important URL with a simpler form of the word (e.g. travel, rather than traveler or traveller) or use a synonym.
Keep Your English Simple
What holds true for the domain name can also be important for titles, menus and other key textual elements of the site. When it comes to the bulk of your content, having mirror pages or additional domains in different varieties of English may be overkill for many of us, though do consider it if it suits your business model. If instead you use one variety of English, such as US English, be consistent in your usage, avoiding too much slang or words that have different meanings in other parts of the world. Keeping your English simple will help your global readers for whom English is not a native language.
Track Your Readers
Visitors are often silent so use tracking software such as Google Analytics, StatCounter or another WordPress plugin to tell you where they are located in the world. If you notice you are building a following in Japan or have regular readers from Germany, you can adapt your site accordingly. If your traffic is significant from South America and negligible from Europe, or vice versa, that gives you information you can use in localizing your content.
Translate Key Content
Once you know where your overseas readers are, it’s a good idea to offer translated content to those who visit frequently and in significant numbers. It’s worth pointing out that providing foreign language content can itself be the key to attracting more overseas readers or customers. Don’t assume that because they are not reading your English language content, visitors from potential markets are not worth the effort. Consider instead whether there are markets or regions you’d like to reach out to and monitor the results of offering content in the relevant language. If you are going to the effort of translating your site, ensure you don’t let yourself down with low quality translations that have speakers of those languages hitting the back button.
Just as offering the same content in more than one language can give your site global appeal, so too can attention to the ‘look and feel’ of your site. CSS makes it easy to vary your style on a page-by-page basis, allowing you to change both structural aspects and color themes. When deciding whether it’s worth the effort to create a custom style sheet for a particular group of readers, ask yourself a few questions. Do visitors from this part of the world read from right to left? Could your images offend their cultural values? Are there any colors, numbers or motifs (such as animals) that should be avoided? For instance, in China certain colors are auspicious, such as red, and multiple instances of the number 6 would be seen as lucky but the number 4 is associated with death.
Watch Your Tone
Your commitment to overseas visitors doesn’t end with site design. We’ve discussed keeping your writing simple and avoiding too much detail that is irrelevant to global readers. At the same time, you will want to watch your tone in on-site communications, whether that’s heated debate in the comments on a blog or a customer Q&A section. Your responses will need to take cultural communication differences into consideration. For example, an Australian customer will expect a friendly and approachable manner but similar informality could offend a Japanese or Korean visitor. Take your cues from the customer and remember, if in doubt, you will rarely go wrong with polite and respectful.