2021-02-15

Questions to ask before a global website launch? Part 2: Technical strategy

In the second instalment of this two-part series, we’re drilling down the technical challenges of consolidating multiple regional sites into one global site.
As Nadine covered in Part 1 of this series, often enterprises look to merge multiple sites to reduce their heavy workload and expense.
However, from a technical perspective, it’s not a straightforward decision.
While one global site might be easier and more cost-effective to manage centrally, a suite of local sites with localised content will generally offer better site performance and better search rankings.
In this article, I’ll take you through the trade-offs you’ll need to make and challenges that you’ll need to be aware of before you embark on a project like this.

Supporting multiple languages and translations

When a site is supporting multiple languages, the new site designs and the frontend development must be fluid.
This is because when you translate the content, you’ll have a different number of characters which can stretch the layout. Particularly when translating an English language site and design into something like German.
So you’ll need to consider how you’ll wrap text and make sure you stress-test your design in different languages to make sure it will work.
There’s also likely to be a big quality assurance (QA) overhead with multiple languages. Something you’ll need to factor into your decision on what content to translate, or not.

Choosing the right fonts

In addition to liquid layouts, it’s important that you choose the right font to support multiple languages.
Not all fonts will support all character sets. For instance, it's quite common to find fonts that don't work in Arabic. So you will need to consider font fallbacks.
You’ll therefore need to consider primary fonts and fallback fonts for different markets and languages.

Globally distributed editors and workflows

Most global enterprises have head offices in a certain country or a greater presence in one region. If the website is controlled from this central location, you’ll need to decide whether the local markets can edit and publish all content and what permission controls to allow in your workflows
If your content or editorial team are spread across the globe, you may need a globally distributed CMS, hosted on different servers in the relevant continents to make it easier and quicker to use.
In addition, it’s important to ensure the CMS editor experience provides support for the editors’ language.

Translating static and dynamic content

When you’re choosing your CMS, you have to consider the translation of static content and dynamic content.
Dynamic content is content that editors can change. If you have editors in different regions, you need to make sure that the CMS works in their local language, and they can edit this dynamic content in their own language.
Static content is that which you can't normally edit. For example, the text ‘search’ next to a search box, isn’t something an editor normally changes in CMS. However, many CMS systems can facilitate this for you without significant overhead.
This why I am a big fan of Umbraco; they have a separate translation interface where needing access to the CMS back office.

Network latency and globally distributed infrastructure

Along with a globally distributed CMS system, you may also need to think about a globally distributed infrastructure to make the site perform well for local users.
You may be in India and using a website that's served from Northern Europe. The time it takes for your request to go from India to Northern Europe is known as ‘network latency’.
If you want the site to perform well across all markets and be quick for local users to access, then you’ll need to host a version of the site in Europe, in America for the Americas and in APAC.

Globally distributed systems and data

Along with the global distribution of infrastructure, the global distribution of systems and local instances of applications can be tricky to navigate. The issue of data concurrency particularly causes a few grey hairs.
One of our clients has a globally distributed sales system, where each instance has locally stored price data. For performance reasons, this is all controlled from a central source.
When one of those systems makes a change to the sales data, all the other globally distributed instances must also receive that update. Likewise, if the centralized system updates pricing information, it needs to be consistent across all the globally distributed instances.
We can go about achieving this in a variety of different ways from database replication to notification subscriptions.

Domains and the risk of duplication

Choosing domains can be complex, particularly when it comes to your search engine optimisation strategy.
There’s a tradeoff between having one brand domain, with a forward slash for each local variant, e.g., www.yourbrand.com/de for Germany, or a unique localized domain name for each market e.g., www.yourbrand.de.
The ‘forward slash’ approach is something you can configure in the CMS. It comes with much less overhead and risk of duplicate content, which can be penalised by Google.
On the other hand, localised domain names for localised services means you're much likelier to appear in search results in the local market. Which can be a big plus point.
The best approach is something our SEO team advise upon, on a case-by-case basis.

The Great Firewall of China

As you may or may not be aware, the “Great Firewall of China” blocks all Google services, as well as a bunch more stuff, in China. This is a hot topic technically and quite a challenge to overcome.
It can impact your global site in several ways. If you’re using Google maps, you’ll need to replace this with something like Bing maps. If you’re using Google Analytics, you’ll need to look at fallbacks there as well like Omniture .
If you want to make sure your site is available at a good speed for users in China, you’ll need to host an instance of the system in somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong.

Browser, device and social usage

Another factor you’ll need to consider is how your site will support different browsers, devices and social channels, which vary in popularity from region to region.
It’s surprising just how many different social channels there are across the planet.
However, browser use is less of an issue than it used to be ten years ago.
Increasingly, most people are now using Google Chrome as their default browser. This has grown year on year and now makes up 65% of all usage. Despite Google being blocked, it’s even the most popular browser in China.

Conclusion

Consolidating multiple regional sites into one global site is a huge undertaking and not one to be taken lightly.
While you might be able to reduce your workload and expense, you need to balance this against the potential performance and SEO benefits of localised sites.
Like all technical decisions, you’ll need to make trade-offs.
However, if you have the right agency partner, well-thought-out architecture and a solid technical strategy, you’ll be able to mitigate most of the risk.
Luckily, this kind of global website transformation project is our bread and butter here at Tangent. With experience taking brands such as Taylor Wessing and REED global, get in touch to discuss your project.