Global sites require culture, language

As its name suggests, the World Wide Web is inherently global. Perhaps the greatest business leveraging tool ever invented, the Web allows corporations, big or small, to do business on a global scale.

As its name suggests, the World Wide Web is inherently global. Perhaps the greatest business leveraging tool ever invented, the Web allows corporations, big or small, to do business on a global scale. As North American companies attempt to expand their global reach, many are realizing that it's important to translate corporate Web sites into other languages, but also to adapt them to other cultures.

Marketing strategies might be entirely different in other parts of the globe. Take the commonly used American term "open house," for example. Many people from other countries simply don't understand what this concept is.

Business etiquette also varies greatly among cultures. These differences are sometimes reflected in Web content. For example, North American culture is one of the most casual cultures in the world. Here, it is very common to address a customer or a colleague by his or her first name. However, it is considered rude to address Chinese customers by their first name because that term is reserved for the most inner family circles. In business settings, it is most common to address others by their full names. One's last name usually goes before the first name, in reverse order of what we are used to here in North America.

When an executive recruiting firm translated its Web site into Chinese, it did not realize that it was inappropriate to address its clients by their first names in its e-mail auto responder. The problem was only discovered and fixed after a much needed cultural auditing process.

Web site designers should particularly be prepared to avoid cultural missteps. Not too long ago, a Dell computer Web site included images of people placing their thumb and forefingers together in what is the American symbol for OK. However, in some countries, like Brazil, this is actually an obscene gesture.

One of the easiest mistakes when attempting to make a Web site truly global is not considering how your visitors are going to understand the site. Often, the title tag, meta keyword, and description tags are not translated because they are not part of the main, visible body text. However, the translation of such tags is important for Google to rank a Web site at the top of the search engine.

In short, to maximize the success of a truly global Web site, it is critical to consider some key factors: prepare the site for translation by checking design factors (whether it can accommodate translated content that can be 20% longer or more), identify analogies or colloquial expressions that only make sense to a domestic audience and reword them, find a professional translation service provider that has the subject expertise and technical competency, and consider optimizing multilingual sites for search engines to maximize referrals from sources such as Google.

Huiping Iler is CEO, president, and founder of language translation service provider Wintranslation.com.

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