There are a number of reasons why you may need to design a bilingual website but it is usually when the website owner is trying to reach a wider audience that consists of more than one language base. For example a website being designed in France may be trying to reach a French audience but might also be trying to reach an English expat community at the same time.
So there may be a need for a combined English/French site but this could just as easily be English/Spanish, Portuguese/Spanish or any other combination for that matter; there are many countries and places in the world where it makes sense to have a website with more than one language.
So now the question arises of how the site should be structured in order to be discovered by the search engines in a way that gives the site proper recognition and appropriate ranking so that it gets listed appropriately in search engine results.
There are a few general rules of thumb to adhere to:
- try not to mix languages in side by side or above below translations
- identify individual pages in the language they represent i.e. their file names
- use the ‘metatag’ for language to tell the search engine what language is being presented
- provide links from one language to the other that are easy to follow
- for sites that are multiple language sites consider an entrance page as the ‘index’ page that offers all the available languages so that the visitor can decide which set of pages they would like to visit i.e. they select their language of choice
Expanding on the ‘linking from one language to another’ statement a little, there are a couple of options available. You could provide a link that takes the visitor from the page they are on to the replica page in the alternative language, or you could just take them to the ‘index’ page equivalent for the alternative language and let them navigate from there.
The latter is obviously easier and has some benefits in that it takes the visitor to the main welcome page for the site so that they get the site message before moving on to the detail. But this may not always suit the visitor who may see it as an unnecessary click.
This is really a judgment call and probably a decision that needs to made by the customer through discussion. Either approach works for multilingual sites as well, although the navigation is a little more complex.
There are a couple of preferred ways of approaching how the language pages are collected together. Folders can be created for the alternative languages or alternatively sub domains can be created for the alternative languages e.g. ‘mydomain.com/uk/file.html’ or ‘uk.mydomain.com’ respectively
The creation of bilingual or multilingual sites also means that the web designer needs to be even more fastidious in his site updates than usual to ensure that all pages where required get updated appropriately in all languages.
With respect to Google there are assumptions that are made on a sites geographic location based on the domain name that is used (.fr,.de etc.), what server the site is located on and to an extent the language used.
To ensure that the site is targeted to the correct geographic location you can use Google’s webmaster tools to define a location. But this feature does need to be used appropriately and this makes it worth searching their help files for information on how and when to do this.
So if you are planning a website design in France or any other country that is going to be bilingual or multilingual make sure that the design is being approached in the correct way.