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How to make your Web site literally worldwide

As the Internet grows in popularity worldwide, more overseas users will want to access Web sites in their native languages. According to a report by the World Intellectual Property Organization, two-thirds of all Internet users by 2003 will be non-English speakers.

As a small or midsize company, you might be considering how to attract overseas customers without having to set up an office overseas. One approach is to "localize" your Web site for a region or country. Localization is more than just translating the text on your Web site; it can include modifying the colors used to converting the prices into the appropriate currency.

Why undertake such a step? Studies indicate users are more likely to visit and make purchases from Web sites in their own languages. Adapting your Web site to the local language and culture can give you a leg up on the competition.

A number of steps, ranging from content development to programming issues, can be taken to be sure you're prepared to launch a Web site to target your overseas audience. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Are you prepared to provide multilingual support?

If you set up a site in another language, you can expect to receive email queries and possibly phone calls from prospects and customers in that language. Will you be ready to handle them? You would at least want in place internal staff or distributors, or possibly an arrangement with an outside agency, to provide that language support.

2. What language should you translate into?

That involves two factors -- what regions you are targeting and your own resources. Do you have multilingual employees who already have strong contacts overseas? That might be an opportunity worth pursuing. If you're unsure of an area to target, one approach is to review your Web site use reports to determine whether a particular country or region represents a high number of visitors to your site.

3. Multilingual sites might require specific programming requirements.

If you plan to support languages that don't use the Roman alphabet, such as Japanese or Chinese, program in Unicode at the outset. The Unicode standard can support the scripts used by all languages. An additional feature of Unicode is that it supports languages that read from right to left, such as Hebrew and Arabic.

4. If you offer several languages, permit users to select their language preference.

One approach for selecting a language on a Web site is to offer the user the option to select the language themselves -- for example, "English" or "Deutsch."

Another approach is to configure your site so that the Web browser automatically detects what users have set as the default language in their Web configurations. If the default language isn't available, the browser can display a message asking which other available language is preferred. Just remember that if your site automatically can determine the default language, you still should provide the user a way to switch to another language.

5. Page formats and content might vary from country to country.

How dates, time and numbers are displayed often varies from country to country. For example, the number 1,234.56 in the United States would be written as 1.234,56 in the Netherlands.

You can configure your Web site so that users can select their preferred settings. The other option is to enable these settings to be auto-selected by their browser based on which language is selected. The latter approach provides the user a smoother browsing experience.

6. Be willing to adapt the colors for your site.

Colors can take on a specific significance in different countries. For example, users in the Republic of Ireland might be more receptive to a Web site with a green background than with an orange one. In this case, it's best to get feedback from locals in such areas.

7. You might need to reformat your navigation bars.

Certain languages, such as Spanish, often have words that are longer than their English equivalent. Thus, the size of the navigation bars -- the row of buttons or text that enables users to select specific pages on a Web site -- might have to change significantly to accommodate the longer text. The formatting for your site needs to be able to support those changes.

8. Register with foreign search engines.

Sites such as Google and Yahoo offer search engines to seek out Internet pages or documents based on specified keywords. But if you want overseas customers to more readily find you Web site, then remember to register with local search engines, such as for Thailand. Research available search engines in your target countries, and register your translated site.

9. Test your Web site.

Test for usability before you launch your site, preferably working with locals in your targeted market. Brenda Hall, CEO of Austin Test Inc., recommends also testing your site on a non-U.S. operating system, such as the Microsoft Windows version for France.

"It doesn't matter if you are running Java, HTML or XML, you must test," Hall says.

Your Web site can be a cost-effective step for reaching out to international customers. To be successful in targeting your Web site to users in specific countries, you need to be willing to not only translate your text, but to modify and then test your Web site to meet local user requirements.

About KonLee Translation Company

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