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Developing website content for an international audience

The Internet is a global medium, yet many websites are designed for an audience within a specific geographic region. In this article we look at some aspects to consider when designing websites that cater to an international audience.

Translating websites

Translating websites into multiple languages is an excellent way to reach new audiences. Try to use an accredited translator who has experience in the subject area to be translated (this is especially the case with websites containing technical content). Never use computer based translation software programs - they are seldom accurate and results are usually difficult to understand.

When making the decision about whether or not to have your website translated, be mindful of the fact that translating websites means more than just having the website's existing content reworded. Translating is an ongoing process and will need to be undertaken each time new content is added, existing content is updated and each time you communicate with and reply to website visitors by email.

Localising content

In addition to, or instead of, translating websites, you may decide to localise content. This means that although the website's underlying content will essentially be the same, the localised sites will have information of specific interest to different geographic regions and/or populations.

Country-specific domain names

Registering country-level domain names (these are domain names ending in a country code such as .au, .de, and .us) for your website in addition to your main website's domain name is a good way to localise sites to individual countries. Each country level domain name can then be either hosted as a separate website or redirected to sub-directories on your existing site containing localised content (the later being recommended so that your site benefits from higher search engine traffic ranks). Be mindful, however, that it is often a requirement that country-level domain name registrations are only authorised to entities with interests in that country (such as a registered business name, company or trade mark), which may limit the extent of your registration capabilities.

Legal Issues

Although your website may reside outside the legal jurisdiction of each country it is being catered to, be aware of relevant laws that may still impact upon you in some way, or that you should try to take into consideration nevertheless. Laws vary between countries, in particular with respect to intellectual property laws (such as copyright and trademark laws) as well as laws related to trading online and the sending of email.

Written Communication

Whilst the same language is often spoken in several countries, you should always take subtle language and cultural differences between these countries into account.

The spelling of some words may vary from one country to another, which may sometimes pose problems for important keywords in search engine results. If an important keyword for your site has multiple spelling variations (a website about art, for example, may rely on the keyword "colour", which can also be spelt as "color"), you may need to use both spelling methods in the same document to ensure you reach as many visitors as possible.

Avoid using idioms. An idiom is where an expression has a different meaning other than its literal meaning. An example of an idiom is "to be over the moon", which means to be excited or delighted. Many idioms are linguistically and geographically specific and can easily be misinterpreted.

Finally, regardless of whether your website is catered towards an international audience or a local audience, a general rule is to keep sentences as simple and as short as possible in order to help make documents easier and faster to read.

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