Although the fact is clearly stated in its name, many site builders forget that the World Wide Web is globally accessible. In fact, market research firm Computer Economics predicts that the number of non-English speakers using the Web will surpass English speakers sometime in 2002.
But language isn't the only barrier to making your site accessible worldwide. There are also technical issues to consider--such as making sure the pages are coded to display languages properly--as well as logistical and cultural hurdles to pass. Here are some suggestions that will help you give your site international appeal.
Translate Your Content
Making your site available in a variety of languages is a great way to welcome international visitors. Automated language-translation software is getting better all the time, and there are a number of sites on the Web that offer this service for free. For a quick and dirty translation, check out the free services from FreeTranslation.com and AltaVista, both of which translate individual phrases and entire Web pages into a variety of languages.
Translation software is good enough to give you a general meaning, but human translation is still the most accurate method. For help in finding competent translations, look to the Aquarius Directory, a huge database of translators and interpreters, or Glenn's Guide to Translation Agencies, which offers useful advice for acquiring translation services. If you have a large site to translate, you may want to start at the Internet Society's Babel--Internationalization of the Internet pages, which offer numerous tips for creating multilingual sites. You may also find WebBudget helpful for estimating translation costs.
Create Multilingual Pages
Now that your content has been translated, you need to make sure your Web pages are coded with the proper character sets to display the particular language. For an overview of how to specify languages in your Web pages, see the chapter on internationalization in the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) HTML 4.01 Specification site. The Unicode Standard enables Web browsers to encode all of the characters used for the written languages of the world, and the site contains handy character code charts for each language.
Additional technical issues for multilingual sites are addressed on the W3C's Internationalization and Localization site. Microsoft's white paper, "The Localization Process: Globalizing Your Code and Localizing Your Site", offers a step-by-step guide.
Get an International Address
Most people are used to URLs that end in .com, but if you maintain multiple sites in different languages, you may want to register additional country-specific, top-level domains--such as .fr for France or .jp for Japan. You can register your site for these international domains through Network Solutions' idNames service, or you can go directly to the specific registrar for the domain you choose.
Lists of country codes and links to their specific registrars can be found at both the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA),and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Deliver the Goods
Both United Parcel Service and Federal Express offer extensive service guides for shipping goods overseas. Look to either site for export documentation requirements, lists of prohibited articles for most countries, handy cost calculators, and package-tracking services. For more information on shipping overseas, including links to numerous foreign customs agencies and official foreign postal code search engines, check out the U.S. Postal Service's Global Delivery Services site.
While it's best to leave currency conversion up to your bank or credit card company, you may want to give international visitors converted prices for information purposes. There are several handy currency-exchange calculators on the Web, but Oanda's Currency Site offers a customizable calculator you can even include in your own Web pages.
Localize Your Site
It may sound like the opposite of globalization, but localization really takes things a step further. Instead of just translating the language, a localized site is adapted to specific local cultures. This means adapting things like times and dates, units of measurements, and more complicated items like cultural symbols that don't translate well.
Localization demands a certain amount of research, and sites like the Global Information Network and Global Business Centre can help. You may also want to consider joining the Localisation Industry Standards Association for access to a network of specialist companies.