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Multilingual Web Sites: Reaching International Clients

by Peggy McClure

Ben Sargent enlightened members of the STC Boston Chapter International SIG about yet another aspect of communicating over the Web -- reaching multilingual audiences. Mr. Sargent is director for Internet Business Development at International Communications (IC), located in Framingham, Massachusetts. IC provides localization and related services, including translation of Web sites, for the information technology industry.

Mr. Sargent talked about general trends and statistics on international usage of the Web, listed the benefits of a localized Web site, and provided some guidelines for implementing a Web translation project.

General Online Trends

According to surveys cited by Mr. Sargent, traffic on the Internet is changing in two major ways: the number of non-English-speaking users is increasing rapidly, and the type of user is changing from technically savvy academics and engineers to include more home and business users. These new users are less likely to be fluent in English. IC recommends making Web content available to international customers in the language in which they feel most comfortable -- their own.

Benefits of Localization

Should your company have a multilingual Web site? If you answer yes to the following questions, your company could benefit from localizing.

  • Are you selling your product or services overseas?
  • Can international customers access your Web site? (The answer is yes, unless your site is password protected.)
  • Are you seeking to increase your market share?

You can gain marketing advantages by increasing your company's visibility in regional markets: your information is available 24 hours a day and can include detailed product specifications. You can add to customer satisfaction by letting customers know you are committed to the market in their country, when you provide information in their own language. You can increase sales because buyers can find your company Web site; learn about your products in their own language, get connected to the nearest outlet, or place orders online.

Project Planning and Implementation

Companies should not underestimate the benefits of a multilingual site, nor underestimate the effort to effectively plan and manage localization. During project planning a company should:

  • Determine what they hope to achieve with localized Web information.
  • Select a competent translation vendor and get them involved early in the planning stages. Possible localization resources range from internal staff who know the product, but have other responsibilities and who are not professional linguists, to multilingual localization vendors, who offer quality control, technical services, and international project management. Using professional vendors is recommended.
  • Manage the development, localization, and review phases of the site as three distinct, but not isolated, functions. Take into account any internationalization issues. For example, if you are translating into Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, ensure that your mail server handles double-byte characters. Does the local market have technological "bandwidth" issues, such as unreliable telecommunications and slow modems? When internationalizing your site, minimize the amount of text in graphics, and verify the appropriateness of images to ensure they are not offensive, or simply meaningless.
  • Prepare a clean hand-off of materials at the beginning of the project. Prepare the files using the directory structure that will be used for final publishing. Ensure that the files are complete, with no extraneous material. Use FTP to deliver files to the vendor, so you can receive the final translated files back with the same directory structure, ready for production.
  • Get a clear commitment from all review cycle participants early in the project, and communicate expectations. Have the development staff review localization for visual consistency, and have in-country staff review linguistic quality, and coordinate the reviews yourself. When performing quality assurance on the translated Web site, check the links and the layout.
  • Think of both the development and localization of a Web site as an ongoing project. Translated content must be kept up-to-date to remain effective.

A well-executed multilingual Web site is simple and well organized, and translated information should not have links to information that is still in English. Finally, you will want to promote your Web site to ensure that users in the target market visit it. IC offers a service to submit information about your Web site to the appropriate search engines and directories in the target languages after you have translated.

For more information on the International SIG of the Boston Chapter STC, contact Ami Wright at:

Peggy McClure is manager of Technical Communications at Sensormatic Access Control Division in Lexington, MA.


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This article originally appeared in the September/October 1997 issue of the Boston Broadside


© 1997 by STC Boston, Peabody, Massachusetts, USA