I wrote my first HTML homepage back in 1994. Back then, we were just starting with Internet based chat (IRC), conversing to people in other countries using my old Amiga home computer in University Halls of Residence. Building a homepage seemed like the next logical next step so I ‘borrowed’ some HTML from a member of my class and the rest is history. ‘Shady’s Pages’ was a combination of restaurant reviews, photos, downloadable DOOM levels I’d made and all variety of other bits and pieces. I really wish I still had a copy of it on a floppy disk somewhere!
I found it completely fascinating that people as far away as Chicago and California were reading this stuff and even sometimes emailing me to tell me they liked it. Fast forward to the future and I still find it incredible that the media we create is consumed by an increasing global audience creating a worldwide conversation.
I’ve had the pleasure to work on several international web projects over the years including for the British Council, who have offices and learners in every corner of the globe. More recently, I’m involved with the Passport to Trade 2.0 project which spreads the word about doing business in other countries.
I’m devoting this post to a few ideas about getting your message out to all the relevant parts of the world.
- Country specific websites – If you are serious about your website working in other countries, you can consider purchasing the relevant domain names for the countries that you are targeting. The domain names may contain a country specific site, or point to pages on your website devoted to that country in the correct language. This method is often employed by international companies, but can get to be an expensive and complex business though.
A more cost effective option would be to set up sub domains within your main website domain, e.g. countryname.yourbus.com or sub-folders, yourbus.com/countryname. With Passport to Trade 2.0 we set up Multi-User WordPress which enables us to create new sites for each relevant country in a sub folder style. Sub-folders can also help visibility in the search engines. Each country site has flags to the relevant countries, so for example, we have the following addresses:
- http://businessculture.org – English
- http://businessculture.org/fr – France
- http://businessculture.org/it – Italy
- http://businessculture.org/gr – Greece
- http://businessculture.org/cz – Czech Republic
- http://businessculture.org/bu – Bulgaria
- http://businessculture.org/ro – Romania
- http://businessculture.org/fi – Finland
- http://businessculture.org/de – Germany
Each country lead person has the ability to login to their own website and make alterations to it using WordPress. The decision about how you approach country specific sites will depend on the time and budget available and how important these are to your organisation strategically.
- Speed – Don’t be tempted to test your website on your desktop computer only and think it’s all loading quickly. If you are using a superfast broadband connection, you may be deceiving yourself. Remember that connection speeds can differ around the world and of course, many people may be accessing your website on their smart phones on a slower connection. Make sure your images and other media are optimised and are downloading quickly with not too many large items on one page. You can search Google for ‘website speed tester’, or take a look at http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ – your website pages should load within a couple of seconds. The less graphics, photographs, embeds and scripts you have, the faster your site will load and the less likely someone will leave your site before it has even loaded. Make sure your target audience can access your information quickly and easily. If your website is too slow, people will switch off quickly and the search engines will also downgrade your website, reducing the global reach of your wesite.
- Standards –Make sure your website works in all of the latest browsers and a few older ones. That includes Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari on the Mac, Android and Iphones. There are several excellent mobile testers, standards and accessibility compliancy testers. Making sure your website is accessible to people with disabilities. This can also help your global reach and also help your website to be found in the search engines.
- Language – Again, this one will depend on your budget. Ideally, you would get professional translation of your content. In the age of ever changing content, this can of course be difficult and expensive. Perhaps you need to think about employing multi-lingual staff in your communications team, or translating the key pages.
Auto-translation is another option. The biggest one of these is of course Google Translate. This comes with a handy widget to add to your website to enable people to translate your whole site into whichever languages you specify. This is very handy as it means you don’t have to re-translate your website every time the content changes. Great, job completed! A word of warning though – whilst auto-translation is improving year on year, it is still no replacement for professional translation. You should also consider using clear language; this will help more people to understand it. Consider using for example, Simplified English.
With Passport to Trade we also created a series of animations, using visuals that would be recognised and understood in our target countries. Using animation in this way can help to deliver key messages to your target audience whatever their language.
If your website calls for people to contact you around the world – make sure you have the appropriate staff and strategy so that your target audience can communicate with your organisation in their chosen language.
- Template – Try and avoid text embedded as a graphic. Web fonts services such as Google font replacement offer a simple way to use a range of fonts without embedding text as a graphic. Similarly, be aware that translating your site into other languages may make pages and boxes longer or shorter depending on the language. Your website template needs to be flexible enough so that it looks presentable no matter which language it is in.
- Access – You can use your website stats to see which countries are accessing your website and how people are interacting with it. How does your site look in other countries, is it accessible? Can it be found in local search engines? Does it load quickly? Clearly the best way to test these things would be to test it from that country or ask someone to test it for you. You can also use tools such as http://cloudmonitor.ca.com/en/checkit.php to gauge loading speed of your website around the world. If it is important that your website is accessible in countries like China, you will have to choose your hosting company carefully. This is due to certain providers and servers being blocked by The Great Firewall of China. There are websites available to allow you to check which websites are blocked such as: http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org. Check with your hosting company and use real and automated testers to verify that it works.
- Search and Social Media – In order to effectively communicate with your target audience, you will need to undertake some research to discover which social media networks are being used by your audience in different countries. The Passport to Trade project can help your research. The use of different networks varies significantly from country to country and group to group. For example, in some countries, Twitter and Facebook are not the biggest networks and in others, YouTube may be blocked.With the search engines, Google is often the most popular search engine, but this varies from country to country. Research into your target audience will help you to understand where you should be placing your time and budget in order to adequately spread your message from your website to the search engines and relevant social media networks.
So that’s it, just a few things that I have picked up about going global since my first homepage graced the world. Remember to keep things simple, test and tweak responding to new information and reaching new audiences.
The slides from the presentation to accompany this post are below.
By Alex Fenton