When you’re designing websites for a global audience, you need to be aware of cultural differences that will affect the way they are viewed in different parts of the world. You cannot expect the exact same website to be well-received around the globe. You need to adapt your websites to allow for cultural differences and make sure they are equally effective in whichever region you are targeting.

Take your web content global

Content is the most important part of any website. The old saying ‘content is king’ still rings true. There are three main factors you need to consider with regards to your content:

It must be relevant and useful to your target audience. By ensuring that your content is well-written and relevant, you will not only be maintaining quality, but you will also ensure that it can be more effectively translated into other languages.

You need to make sure it is as universally understandable as possible. With 79% of web users not speaking English as their native language, at some point you are going to have to get your content translated if you want your websites to be truly accessible across different cultures. The best way of achieving this is to use a professional translator, but if your budget is tight, you may also consider an online machine translation tool, like Google Translate.

It should be appropriate across many cultures. This applies especially to visual content – you should be aware that some images may be perfectly acceptable in western cultures, but could be offensive in other parts of the world. For example, pictures of scantily-clad models may cause offence in some countries. Even a simple image of someone relaxing with their feet up, which is perfectly OK in most parts of the world, may cause offence in Thailand, where it is unacceptable to show the soles of the feet.

Keywords in a Foreign Language

Even if you decide to use an online translation service to translate the bulk of your website’s content, you should not rely on this method of translation for your keywords. Nor should you use direct dictionary translations. Your keywords are too important to entrust them to these methods of translation – they are just not accurate enough.

To ensure your search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are successful in other languages, you need to work with a professional translator to develop a good list of foreign-language keywords. This will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run, because you can be sure that you are targeting the keywords that people are using to search for your product in any market – there’s no point in building a great website if no one can find it.

CSS spans language barriers

Make sure to use CSS as your design tool when building your website, because by doing so, you are keeping the content separate from the design. This makes it far easier to develop versions of your website in different languages – it’s a simple matter of substituting the different translated text into your pre-existing CSS templates. You should also use Unicode UTF-8 character encoding because it is compatible with the widest range of language scripts.

Planning the layout for a global design

You can improve the cross-cultural accessibility of your website by carefully considering its design and layout. One of the main issues here is the fact that not all languages are read from left-to-right. This can impact on the usability of side navigation and sidebar content. For example, a left-hand navigation structure may not be very convenient for someone who reads from right-to-left.

The same principle applies to the theory that the eye is naturally drawn to the top-left area of a web page. For an Arabic reader, it may be the top-right. You can avoid usability issues with your navigation structure by employing a horizontal top navigation, which will be more universally usable.

Choosing colours for a cross-cultural audience

Colour is a very important part of web design, as it can affect the way your websites are perceived by different cultures. Most designers are aware of colour theory, which tells us that different colours can have different psychological effects on the people viewing them, and that the psychological impact of colour is strongly influenced by cultural factors. Put simply, colours mean different things to different people depending on their cultural viewpoint.

For example, in Islamic countries green usually has an important religious significance, whereas in Western cultures it may be more suggestive of environmental issues. In Korea, a name written in red indicates that the person is dead. You should examine your use of colour carefully to ensure you don’t make any cultural faux pas.

Put simply, cross-cultural web design is about being aware of the possible pitfalls highlighted here, and ensuring your websites are accessible to as many cultures as possible, a sensible move to take considering the increased internationalisation of the internet.

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