Account services

Multilingual websites structures and definitions

Website main components A website, as any other software, can be seen as composed by three main components:

How a website looks like, including colour scheme used, page layout like one column or two column, centred design etc.
How the website behave. E.g. navigational schema, newsletter subscription, web forms, database logic, content publishing workflow, error handling etc.
What the visitor is actually looking for. It could be just information or a product to buy. It is presented to the visitor, usually in form of text, informative pictures and/or multimedia.

The above components will need a certain degree of localisation / internationalisation in a multilingual website. The degree of localisation depends on the structure the multilingual website is based on (described below).

Multilingual website structures

A multilingual website can be based on different structures. Every structure has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some are most suited for small organisations while other are suitable for medium or big organisations. In the following sections I will present some of the most common structures.

Fully parallel layout / logic / content

This is the perfect structure from a technical point of view. All content is available in all languages. All content is presented in the same way and stored with the same structure and logic independently of language. Most web developers and system administrators desire this solution due to the low redundancy in structure and logic, which leads to less technical maintenance. Unfortunately this is also the least common and achievable solution due to the lack of translated content and budget limitation. Another reason why this approach is less common is due to different clients needs and culture differences, which require a different approach for each language.

This structure is more suitable for small-size websites.

Semi-parallel layout / logic / content

This is the most common structure for a multilingual website. Some parts of the site are fully parallel while other show differences in content, layout or logic. The multilingual site is maintained centrally in the organisation. This happens when an organisation has a limited budget and only the most relevant content is translated in all languages while other content is translated in a few “more spoken” languages. Furthermore this solution helps the organisation to better target some products to specific client groups (which are language-dependent), for example a specific country in Europe.

This structure is more suitable for medium-size websites (EEA’s website).

Non-parallel layout / logic /content

This multilingual structure is less common. It gives the highest degree of localisation and independence for each language since there are no constraints and interdependencies between languages. Each site can have its own structure, layout, content and business logic. We could consider this multilingual site as a multilingual front page which links to a set of monolingual independent websites (a set of independent websites).

This approach is common among global big-size companies like Coca-Cola, Nike or Ikea. It allows a high degree of marketing segmentation and localisation of products. They also can afford such a multilingual structure since it requires much more resources then a semi-parallel centralised site. Often a local office in each country maintain the local website.

This structure is more suitable for very large companies.