Englishes, Websites, and Country TLDs

The issue of various Englishes is one that can help increase customers when targeting different native English speakers from different countries.

English as we know is not monolithic, but most sites have a single site per language. The complication there is of course flags are used, so either a British or American or some composite monstrosity of a Brit/Yankee flag is used.

Country Code TLDs vs. Language-specific Sites

This is confusing and potentially off-putting. The idea then would be to have websites that would be country-code-tld with natural geographic targeting. And so, a Canadian site with a Canadian TLD. Since Canada actually has two official languages, there needs to be a way of switching between them on that site. The best approach therefore is written text. In sum:

  • Flag for country (can also be used for favicon)
  • Text for language change in a given country

Language choice on Websites

Language is an issue for SEO and so it is likely the best approach to have separate sites with separate languages. That is, for a country like Canada (using ISO-3166 codes) as represented in browser language codes:

  • en-ca
  • en-fr

Note that in many cases people are not in charge of their browser language settings (borrowed or public computers, original configuration different than desired, etc.)

In this case, actual geographic location can be used to help determine country and language choice. Though always both country and language options should be selectable.

What Language and Words to Say Change Me?

It is always a bit odd. The main situation is when a potential customer is on a website that is in a language one wants to change (and especially for languages one does not understand). It is not helpful to hide language/country options somewhere in a settings menu (for that menu cannot be easily read by the visitor). Nor is it helpful to simply have that text in the same language as the site (again, it cannot be read). And so the following kinds of text are not helpful:

  • Settings
  • Change language
  • (Current language name)

Even a particular flag/icon for a country is not necessarily useful. A flag designates a country, but a language choice is needed. One prime example is the horrible decision to not support English on the Thai Apple website (yes, they used to and no, they do not any longer). A Thai flag doesn't help (as that represents for Apple both a location and a language now). What should be done?

We start in a given country. If there is a large enough minority population who know only a second language, then that language should be available, starting at the level of the country.

Language and Country Selectors

It is useful to have these as drop-down menus:

  • Change Country
  • Change Language

However, again, we have the problem of reading these in a language one does not know. So it may be useful to have a dedicated page with the various options. This is what Apple does, which is not a bad option (other than not having the correct language support available).

  • An icon of the Flag of the country.
  • The name of the country (in the predominant language)
  • A mouseover that says change country (in the predominant language)
  • A URL that includes /change-country/ (in English)

However, this could be improved as follows:

  • Icon of Flag of current country (same as cc-tld), no change
  • The name of the country in each of the languages supported on that country code, e.g., ไทย / Thailand
  • A mouseover in each of the supported languages (e.g., เลือกประเทศหรือภูมิภาค / Change country)
  • A URL that includes /change-country/ (in English), no change

Which languages to support

Apple is very confusing in terms of a language strategy. Their sites in Viet Nam, Malaysia, and Israel (just to pick three examples at random) are in English. Yet there is no option for English for Thailand (which has a much larger number of expatriates and tourists who could take advantage of such an option). I really think there is a huge failure here.

To be didactic, the languages to support are the languages of the customers and potential customers.

Which Englishes and which domains

There could be an initial, generic English site using a .com domain, and American English text. From there, especially targeting the various English-speaking countries (and with TLDs:

  • en-us .com
  • en-gb .uk
  • en-ca .ca
  • en-au .au
  • en-za .co.za
  • en-nz .nz
  • en-ie .ie

For countries like Canada, it would be effective to cover both languages with:

  • en-ca en.domain.ca
  • fr-ca fr.domain.ca

Note that if one does not want to pursue the cc-tld tactic (especially if geographic location is not important for servicing a country (e.g., a local location does not exist), then individual languages can be targeted using subdomains on a generic domain:

  • en.domain.com
  • fr.domain.com

etc.