Recently, a client came to us and asked us to design a multilingual gateway to several language specific sub-domains. We immediately thought of several solutions to this problem that included:
- Geographical targeting based on IP lookup,
- A splash page that saved user's language selection in a cookie,
- A splash page without the cookie.
Geographic Targeting We originally thought the most elegant user experience would be to use geographic targeting based on IP address lookup where the web site would be redirected to the default language for that host requester IP. We would also include the ability to switch your default location or language after the fact. This technique is used by Going.com, Samsung.com. Motorola.com and a bunch of other web sites.
We questioned whether geographic location was the best predictor of particular user's native language. How does geographic targeting work for countries such as Canada that have more than one natural language? Our research also suggested that although in theory the IP address was assigned to a particular country, in actuality the IP was sold to users in another country [Note: we can only speculate on how often this occurs]. The conversation continually came back to how would users be able to recover if the system [behind the scenes] redirected them to a language that they did not speak.
Splash Page with Cookie We also thought that we could have the user select a language on a splash page (brand.org) and then be redirected to the appropriate sub-domain (ex. Espanol.brand.org). This is similar to what Nike.com, Rolex.comand ralphlauren.com have implemented. We questioned whether setting the cookie was appropriate for our target audience because many of the users accessed this particular web site through shared computer. We also considered my experience on Rolex.com when I clicked En Espanol and had to clear my cookies to figure out how to get back to the English site (I am not fluent in Spanish and could not find the change language link in the footer).
Splash Page We decided to implement a splash page that the asked the user to select a language each time the returned to the site. We did consider including a Remember this selection checkbox; however it seemed in appropriate to display that in each language because it may clutter the primary action of choosing a language. Including a Remember this selection as selection dependent input (ajax call) or pop-up confirmation also seemed inappropriate because both would interrupt the primary task of accessing information. Note: In my quick review of other web sites, I noticed the following trends:
- Many of the sites were Flash sites
- Electronic products seemed to favor the geographic targeting
- Non-electronic products seemed to favor user selection