E.g., 10/01/2014
E.g., 10/01/2014

Practitioner’s Corner: Top 10 Best Practices for Multilingual Websites

Practitioner’s Corner: Top 10 Best Practices for Multilingual Websites

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Lee Van’s Hispanic Online Best Practices.

The ability to communicate effectively with Limited English Proficient (LEP) audiences depends in part on having an effective web presence, whether through a website or social media platform such as Twitter or Facebook. Ensuring quality of translation, ease of use, and accessibility to diverse populations requires a considered approach. These 10 Best Practices have been developed by GobiernoUSA.gov and the Government Multilingual Websites Group to help language access program managers build more effective multilingual websites. 

1. Language: Online communications must address the language preferences of users. The use of machine or automatic translations is strongly discouraged even if a disclaimer is added. If government agencies decide to use software-assisted translation, they should have the translation reviewed by a qualified language professional before posting it to the website to ensure that the translation correctly communicates the message. GobiernoUSA.gov, the government’s official source for information in Spanish, offers users a complete experience in Spanish. Content, navigation, and all functionalities and features in GobiernoUSA.gov are presented in Spanish.

2. Culture: Conduct user research to understand the cultural considerations for your target audience. Regardless of language used, the online experience must be culturally relevant to achieve an emotional connection with the audience. Although GobiernoUSA.gov and USA.gov, its English-language counterpart, have the same structure and look and feel, the Spanish site offers content, images, and a color scheme that resonate with the Hispanic community.

3. Access: Enable users to find your multilingual website via prominent access on the English site. Access to multilingual websites should be made available on the global navigation on the top right of every English-language page. The Federal Trade Commission provides the "En español" link as part of global navigation on its site.

4. URL Strategy: Use a stand-alone, dedicated URL for marketing and search engine optimization purposes. That URL can then redirect to another one more in line with your agency URL convention. The Social Security Administration uses www.segurosocial.gov to market and drive traffic to its Spanish-language site.

5. Comparability and Maintenance: Ensure that your multilingual website provides a comparable user experience. Plan for regular updates and maintenance to ensure that your multilingual website remains comparable to the English-language site. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a comparable experience on the English and Spanish sites through consistent maintenance of site content and experience.

6. Users' expectations: Manage user expectations by providing notice when a user is going to navigate to an English-only area, external website, or require a special program or software to view an application. EPA.gov's Spanish site denotes English-only content by putting "en inglés" next to links only available in English.

7. Toggle: Enable users to toggle between comparable content or features on the English-language and multilingual websites if available. Users on MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en español can go back and forth between the English and Spanish sites on a page-by-page basis without having to go through the home page.

8. Online Features and Functionality: Provide interactive features and functionality on multilingual websites. The CDC site in Spanish offers basic features such as Print and Email This Page and gives users the ability to subscribe to email alerts, RSS feeds, podcasts, and more.

9. Integrated Operations and Marketing: Integrate your multilingual website initiatives with internal infrastructure and external consumer touch points, and into your overall online-offline strategy. GobiernoUSA.gov provides phone and email support in Spanish through 1-(800)-FED-INFO, as well as public service ads and other marketing materials in Spanish. In addition, GobiernoUSA.gov is an integral part of the overall online and offline strategy of the Office of Citizen Services in the General Services Administration (GSA). This was especially evident in 2007 when a name change and redesign were implemented at the same time for both USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov.

10. Online Marketing: Develop and execute a targeted multilingual online marketing program, including social media, and track results. Many agencies conduct dedicated online outreach for their multilingual sites, including GobiernoUSA.gov, MedlinePlus en español, CDC.gov, and EPA.gov, among others. In addition, many of these sites are using social media tools to reach out to Hispanics: EPA's blog Greenversations has regular bilingual entries; CDC.gov offers RSS and podcasts; and GobiernoUSA.gov has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

GobiernoUSA.gov is the official portal of the US government in Spanish. It was launched in 2003 as a result of Executive Order 13166 and provides easy access to information, programs, and services to Spanish-speaking audiences. The Government Multilingual Websites Group is a group of federal, state, and local government web managers who are working to expand and improve web content in languages other than English. For more information, contact Laura Godfrey, Manager, GobiernoUSA.gov, at laura.godfrey@gsa.gov