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Making a Web Site Available to the World

By Grant McNamara

You've a great web site and it's working well. Sales are good, the site is listed on search engines, and hits are great. What can you do now? Well you could sit back and do nothing. But just maybe you might want to expand your potential market. There's a big world out there and every day of every week, all over the world, thousands more people get connected to the Internet.

A relatively small effort would allow many of them to buy from your site.

I live in New Zealand; it's a small country in the South Pacific Ocean. Every day of the week I receive emails proposing great offers, products, competitions and services. Some of them I want to take advantage of. But time after time I can't. Why?

Because the web site from where these great offers originate aren't organised to support purchases from outside their own country. Now I know that Federal Express and UPS and countless other transport companies can deliver the goods to my front door (I see their adverts on CNN). I know that I can download software and ebooks from their web site. So what are the problems? Well, in developing their web site, no one has taken the trouble to look at how customers outside North America can buy.

The most obvious and first on the list are problems with the order form:

• Zip codes are often mandatory. Like many countries we don't use zip codes here.

• Price, always shown, but often without advising the currency in which it is charged.

• State is often mandatory and you pick it from a pull-down list, great, but no option for 'no state' offered.

• Only the tolls free number shown. 1-800 numbers can't be called from outside North America.

• Special offers only available to residents in the US, but only shown in tiny print and hidden away.

Email offers

It's pretty obvious from an email address, if it's not a .com, where the person is lives. And if someone has signed up to your email list you will have asked them for their address. So don't make special offers for Independence Day, Memorial Day and Thanks Giving to your subscribers living overseas. These holidays are only celebrated in the US. Special occasions such as Easter, Fathers and Mothers Days and the like are likely to be held on quite different dates outside the USA.

Most countries use the metric system for sizes.

Dates such as 12/7/2002 mean 12 July 2002 to most of the English speaking world.

Rather than using numerals for the month, use the word i.e. Dec 7, 2002 so that dates are clear to everyone.

Remember too that in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are opposite, your North American Summer is our Winter. So special seasonal offers and promotions tend to fall pretty flat. Not to mention that a third of the World's population live in the tropics where there are really only two seasons, the wet and the dry.

Language Skills

Did you know that in the 1990 United States Census (the last when language ability was included), nearly 32 million people (aged over 5 years of age) didn't speak English as their first language? And that of those 32 million people, nearly 14 million spoke almost no English.

Perhaps you should consider making your web site available in languages other than English. By far, the largest number of non-English speakers have Spanish as their first language. By offering Spanish, your web site can be viewed by nearly 17 million people living in the US who don't speak English well. And let's not forget the 332 million people with Spanish as their first language (source Ethnologue, 13th Edition) that live outside the USA.

Other languages, which you might consider, are Chinese, French, Italian and German. Each of these languages has over a million people, resident in the USA, who have poor or no English skills. And think of the millions and millions of people outside the USA who speak these languages. Chinese is the first language of 1,223 million people, (over a sixth of the World's population). 72 million people have French as their first language, Italian is spoken by over 37 million people, and German by 98 million people.

Is it difficult to make your web site available in more than one language? Well, no it's not difficult, is the answer for most web sites. And the cost of translation is relatively modest; particularly when compared with the huge increase in the potential market. Translation prices are usually based on the word count. And the number of words displayed on most web sites are actually quite small. Usually somewhere between 500 and 1,500 words, which roughly equates to about US$100 to US$300 per language.

The effort to take the resulting pages, written in another language, and display them on your site is usually no more difficult than adding new pages in English.

And there are a number of things that you can do to keep the cost and effort down:

• Check your site carefully for spelling errors. Especially watch out for horrid homonyms (those words which read the same, are spelt differently, but have very different meanings. You know them, words like;
     there, their, they're;
     its and it's;
     who's and whose;
     too, to and two;
     site, cite and sight to name a few.
• Keep your language simple, and avoid ambiguities.
• Check the grammar, and then check it again.
• Avoid the use of colloquialisms.
• Choose several professional translation companies and ask them for quotes. If there are large differences in their prices, ask why.

And if you make regular updates to your web site, most translation companies can offer a maintenance package.

I hope you've found this article useful.

Copyright (c) 2002 Grant McNamara, All Rights Reserved. This article may be freely distributed and published. If you wish to publish the article, out of courtesy, please email me and advise the url.
Author Information:
Grant McNamara - [email protected]
Grant McNamara manages The Translate Me Group at www.translateme.co.nz specializing in multilingual software and internet support.

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