13 Things to Keep in Mind When Designing for a Global Audience

13 Things to Keep in Mind When Designing for a Global Audience

I once had a client who insisted that we drape his new business’s website in the colors of the rainbow. It was one of those things where I was grateful to have a client who had a clear vision for his brand and who was willing to provide feedback and guidance in order to shape that vision, but at the same time… he wanted a rainbow website.

There were three reasons why my web design team and I were opposed to the rainbow color palette:

  • It was way too much color to put on a small business website (we’re talking like five pages with minimal content).
  • The rainbow color palette has a special significance for different groups. In the case of my client, he was a Buddhist and assumed that everyone automatically associated the colors of the rainbow with Buddhism, too.
  • Colors stand for different ideas around the world. Seeing as how he wanted to reach a global audience, we didn’t believe that color palette would be a particularly smart choice.

Even after presenting him with lengthy research on rainbows and on how people from around the world perceived those colors, our client was insistent on using them. It was ultimately his call (since it was his site, after all), so, in the end, our designer infused his site with a very colorful palette.

Why do I bother telling this story? Because despite the client’s overwhelmingly positive response to his new WordPress site, the analytics told a very different story. Six months later, even after optimizing his site for search and with all our efforts to give his social media presence a boost, traffic to his site was low, the bounce rate was high, and there really was no organic search traffic to be found, either locally or internationally.

This is why it’s important to do your research before you begin any new web design project. All that stuff you hear about customer personas and the role they play in improving your site’s design and conversion pathways is totally valid. I’d argue they’re even more important when you decide to take your business global.

So, let’s focus today on how you can design websites for a global audience and why the approach should be different than the one you’d normally take.

Localization Tips for Designing a WordPress Site for a Global Audience

There are a number of reasons why you might be thinking about expanding your business’s website to a global market:

  • The Internet makes it really easy to do so.
  • There’s a potential to reach a market that is yet untapped by the competition.
  • Your product or service might be a really good fit for consumers in other countries.
  • You can now easily hire people to work for you around the globe to handle 24/7 support, customer service calls, and more.
  • It might be cheaper to conduct business overseas.
  • As a global business, you’re increasing your brand’s exposure.
  • Unless your business offers something so specific that only a local audience could benefit from it, online brand expansion is really just a natural part of the scaling process.

So, let’s talk about website localization.

According to the Globalization & Localization Association (GALA), this is what localization means:

“The aim of localization is to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location.”

This means that localization isn’t just about translating the words on a website (though that’s part of it, too). Localization needs to be seen as the process by which we optimize the entire user experience so that it won’t matter where they’re located.

If you’re trying to design your WordPress site for a global audience and don’t want to spend months trying to create 50 different sub-domains, each targeting users in a different country, then you’re going to need a little help.

Here are 12 considerations to keep in mind when you decide to localize your site.

Tip #1. Translate It

For the convenience of all your visitors, it would be great if you could provide translations of your content. Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money to hire native language translators to provide fully localized website texts, so your second best—and most affordable—bet is to use a WordPress plugin.

The Weglot Translate plugin is a good one to use as it does most everything you’d need. It automatically creates the international drop-down option at the top of your site, letting visitors know where to access the translated version. It’s SEO compatible. It provides translations into more than 60 languages. And you can also use the premium service if you want to procure personalized translations from Weglot. Another great premium option is WPML, which offers a similar service.

Tip #2. KISS

Global Audience-Kelly Johnson
Thank this badass for giving us this phrase. (By CIA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

In other words, keep it simple, stupid.

There’s absolutely no reason you need to overthink this. Just focus on the simplicity of your design. After all, the more content you put on there, the greater chance you’ll have to confuse, offend, or somehow disturb your visitors’ experience.

I’d also suggest you think about what the translations could do to your design. There are some languages that tend to run longer than others (I’m looking at you, German), so if you crowd your site with too many images and text and other cumbersome elements, that translated text could turn what looks like a beautifully designed site in English into something not so great in another language.

Tip #3. Think About Responsive

Global Audience-Google Analytics Technology
Don’t forget to check both the Technology and Mobile tabs in Google Analytics.

Responsive design is obviously a must for your site, globalized or not. However, if you’re planning to target users in other countries, it would be wise to do your research on the types of devices they most commonly use to access the Internet (since your optimization and testing process might not typically include them). You can use your own Google Analytics data to start this research.

Tip #4. Consider the Direction

When you’re designing a website, you’re probably used to working with a language like English that goes from left-to-right. That’s why research done on optimal placement for things like calls-to-action suggest that the right side of the page is the logical endpoint for visitors.

But what if you intend on targeting users in countries where languages like Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left? While you will find some languages like Japanese that have adapted their online writing orientation to what we consider the left-to-right norm, there are others that haven’t, so you need to think about how this will affect your design if you plan to include those translation options.

Here are some tips for using HTML for opposite-direction text.

Tip #5. Use HREFLANG Tags

If you are providing on-site translations (instead of using the plugin noted above), you’ll want to tell Google what the target language of the page is. You can do this by adding an hreflang tag to translated pages or posts. This way, if someone from Greece searches for something related to your site, the search engines will point that user to the correct version of your page.

Here is a quick and simple guide on how to add the hreflang tag to your WordPress site’s header.

Tip #6. Check Your Keywords

On a related note, you’ll need to use globally optimized keywords on your site. This doesn’t mean you need to use the translation of “freelance WordPress developer” every single time it appears. Instead, this is more about finding a term that’s globally acceptable since the word order or choice might be off in other countries. For instance, what if they use “programmer” instead of “developer” in the UK? You’d want to account for these slight variations in your site’s keywords.

My favorite research tool for this is KWFinder since you can enter the keyword you’re interested in using, and then set the location and language you want to target.

Gotta love this smart keyword finder and research tool.
Gotta love this smart keyword finder and research tool.

Tip #7. Look at Your Images

If you’ve already selected the images for your site, I’d suggest you take another look at them before trying to push your site to a global audience. Do your images look like they belong only in the U.S.? Are they lacking in diversity? Are there references within them your audience won’t understand? Would they be considered offensive elsewhere?

While images should be a reflection of your brand, they should also be a reflection of your audience is; not just in looks, but also in terms of values.

Tip #8. Be Careful with Color

The anecdote I shared earlier is obviously an extreme example of this, but color can be a sensitive issue when not handled appropriately for a global audience.

Think about the kinds of colors we have positive associations with here. White, for example, can be symbolic of purity and cleanliness (which is why we love it for minimal websites). But then you take a look at it from the point of view of other countries and white can stand for death.

That isn’t to say you can’t use white in the background of your site. I think it’s commonly understood at this point that white is the default backdrop for clean, minimal designs. However, there are other colors you’ll want to be careful about using, especially if you know which countries or cultures you want to specifically target. Do your research on color symbolism before committing to any major swatches of color to ensure you don’t rub anyone the wrong way with them.

Tip #9. Find Universally Friendly Typography

One of my favorite things to read about online is typography. Why? Because I love how something so small can have such a big impact on web design. Of course, now that I’m here talking about global audiences and their perception of web design, I realize that all those fonts I get excited about might not be as universally friendly as I would’ve originally thought.

Unlike many of the other considerations you have to take into account here, this one won’t necessarily come down to customer personas and their unique preferences. Instead, what you have to look for in typography is how well it will work for their browsers and devices. Whichever font face you do choose should come with complete alphabets for your target languages, too.

Tip #10. Use Correct Number Formats

Let’s say you’ve decided to launch your new product line over in Europe. You’re so excited about the release and you’ve let everyone know on the blog that it’s going to happen on 10/06/17. For you, that might mean October 6, 2017; for your UK visitors, however, that date probably means June 10, 2017.

Similar misunderstandings can occur with other numbers, like times (especially if you don’t indicate time zones) and phone numbers, so be mindful of this.

Tip #11. Provide Exchange Rates

For e-commerce sites, you’ll need a currency converter tool that calculates exchange rates and other taxes or fees for global visitors. The Booster for WooCommerce plugin will take care of this for you if you’re using WooCommerce. Other e-commerce platforms should have an equivalent plugin, so be sure to check for it before trying to sell anything on your site.

Tip #12. Use a CDN

It’s a fact that if you’re planning to serve a global audience, then you need to be prepared to handle a larger amount of web traffic. The reason is really two-fold: 1) so your site doesn’t slow down or crash due to the overwhelming amount of hits it receives, and 2) so that visitors from distant geographic regions don’t have to suffer with slower-than-normal load times.

One way to ensure your site doesn’t suffer from traffic overload is by using a CDN. If that doesn’t seem to be enough for users who live in areas with slower connections in general, you may just need to trim the fat off your site so it’s not bogged down with unnecessary images, videos, and animations that are making it sluggish.

Tip #13. Don’t Forget to Geotarget

Last, but not least, if you’re designing a WordPress site for a global audience, don’t forget to use geotargeting. With these sorts of plugins, you can more effectively target specific geographic regions or countries, deliver geo-specific content to visitors, and much more.

You can read more about geotargeting and how to implement it in your site in our post A Guide to Geotargeting and Geographic-Specific Content for WordPress.

Wrapping Up

Opening your business to a global audience is an awesome idea, but it’s important to first consider how your web design will affect that audience based on where they reside around the world. You don’t want to use a color palette or typography that’s going to alienate a good portion of your users nor do you want to use content or language that doesn’t make sense to them. I’d suggest you start with these 12 considerations, and then work on honing your site’s design based on what your own internal research reveals about your global audience.

Suzanne Scacca
If you work with clients who have a large customer base overseas, have you ever run into issues with localizing their site before? What happened?