Website Language Select: BEST PRACTICE
Website Language Select: BEST PRACTICE
If your company’s website is available in multiple languages then one of the most pressing questions you and your team will have to answer is where and how to let the visitor choose their preferred language.
Quite a few factors, such as cultural psychology and color preference, come into play when you try to answer this question. It’s more complex and time-consuming than it might seem.
But don’t worry! You don’t have to spend any more time on this question. We did the investigative work for you and listed the best practices below for your reference.
Before we go any further, let me iterate the following.
This post is not about:
- The importance of translation quality
- The importance of culturally relevant visuals on your multilingual website
- The importance of a good design.
Needless to say, all 3 of the above are critically important to overall success of your localized website, but for the sake of this post, we are discussing about one thing and only one thing: Website Language Selection: BEST PRACTICE.
EPIC Translations analyzed 110 websites that were professionally translated and localized! If a website had the “Google Translate” dropdown menu then we did not take it into account for the purposes of this post. Why? Well, if you’re looking to localize your company’s website professionally then we want you to be able to generate the best possible solution so you can emotionally and psychologically connect with your target audience!
Moreover, the number of languages we counted per website excluded the default language of the company. Since all of the companies we evaluated were headquartered in the USA, we excluded ENGLISH-US from the count. But, if the website was localized for other English variants, such as English-Australia, English-UK, English-Hong Kong, English-India, English-Singapore, or English-UAE, then we considered these as localized languages.
With that being said, let’s get started!
All of the websites we used for this post are global brands that have professionally localized their multilingual websites.
The localized websites that we chose were representative of a few different industries, such as:
- Software Publishers
We chose a variety of industries because we wanted to see if there truly is one best practice for implementing “website language selection” that is applicable across different industries.
We use “localized/translated” interchangeably. In this post both of these words are meant to mean the same thing.
Global brands used different tactics based on a few factors, such as the number of languages supported and level of business activity in other countries.
All in all, it took us about 15 to 20 hours to do the research, analyze the results, and to write this post. But we feel quite strongly that the time we spent on this post is well worth it for our current and future clients!
Single language: We came across quite a few localized websites that were translated into just 1 language, such as Spanish. In this scenario, it made more sense to just put a link to the Spanish website either at the header menu or at the footer menu.
Here are some examples of this scenario:
Multiple Languages: When it comes to showcasing multiple languages, there are different approaches that companies have used. Some of the common ones that we’ve noticed time and again are:
- Most common first and then the rest: One of the intriguing examples we observed was how one of the websites listed most common languages for their company such as Chinese, French, Spanish, and German by displaying small flags at the top right and then displaying a “Select Language” dropdown list for all of their supported languages. The benefit of this approach is that it gives your visitors “instant” access to the languages that are most relevant to your company. The visitors do not need to browse thru the entire dropdown list of languages to access the most common ones. Here’s a screenshot of this approach:
- Change Your Location: Another approach we observed was “Change Your Location” dropdown list. It does not mean that the website is localized for that location’s language. For example, if you offer Europe as a location option, how will you display your website for the variety of languages that are common in Europe? Rather this tactic was used to provide additional information that is relevant to the selected locality. See below screenshot as an example.
- Choose a Country: This tactic uses a “pop out” window that pops out when you click on the language selection dropdown list. See below screenshot as an example.
Did you notice how the country is mentioned in parenthesis if the language is a dialect that is specific to that country? While English is the common language between USA, UK, and Australia, the dialect for each country is unique. True localization happens when you respect each country’s unique dialect and variant. Customers are able to see this level of attention on a website and the result is a greater deal of respect for your brand. This approach will yield the maximum long-term results for your brand.
- International: We came across one site that had a dropdown list labelled as “International”. We feel that this is a good enough approach as it tells the visitor that there are “International” choices available. But it is not as focused/sharp as “Select Language”.
- Nothing But Globe: The websites that just had an image of a globe that opens up a dropdown list of languages once you click on it is also not a user friendly approach. While it gets the job done, we don’t recommend this option.
- Flag Plus Language Name: The websites that displayed flag of the country plus the language name is one of the best approaches that we’ve seen. It speaks clearly to the visitor when it comes to selecting the desired language. See below screenshot for example.
- Country But No Language Indication: One of the least user friendly tactic we noticed was that a website lists countries, but does not indicate whether the website copy is localized for that country. It forces you to click on the country name to check. Here is the screenshot for this tactic.
- Translation: One of the most user friendly tactics we saw was the header “TRANSLATION” followed by dropdown list. This really leaves no room for any ambiguity whatsoever. This might be our favorite one! See below screenshot!
- Another example we came across that falls within this similar approach is a button called “Translate >>”. When you click on the button, pop-up windows show flags of the translated countries. While displaying just the flags is not necessarily the right tactic, it was very easy to use!
Quite a few sites had contact info for different countries for sales/marketing purposes, but the sites were not actually localized for the corresponding countries. Rather, selecting a certain region/country just displayed corresponding product related information. Needless to say, this approach is not recommended for certain countries that take great pride in their cultural history and language such as China and France. Our estimation is that this tactic was adopted by the companies due to business maturity reasons where the level of business activity might not be large enough for them to justify the the cost of translating/localizing their website. See the 2 example screenshots below.
One of the disappointing tactics we observed was where a website lists a host of countries, but yet the website is translated for just one of the countries. For example:
Our advice is to either not list so many countries without catering to their respective language(s), but if you must, then at least some parts of your website should be localized for the respective country.
Out of the 110 websites we researched and analyzed, the average number of supported languages was 6. Some have just 1 to 2 languages and some have as many as 99!
If you’re going to localize your website into just 1 or 2 languages, then you could just list the links to these languages. However, if your website is translated/localized into more than 2 languages, then you should definitely adopt one of the following tactics:
- Select Language or
- Other Languages or