Non-U.S.-centric web content and design
June 23, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Non-U.S. residents: Aside from language issues, what issues can U.S. web designers keep in mind to make their sites ideally usable for you?

I'm U.S. born/based and I'm working on a new version of my website. For the moment, it will be English-language-only (when I can afford it, my first priority is to get my short-form bio and a little practical info translated into as many languages as possible). I'm a classical composer and my non-U.S. projects & performances so far have mostly involved people in Europe and Australia/NZ. I want my site to welcome all users as much as possible, especially from regions I haven't dealt with much yet (Asia, Africa, South America).

This is oddly hard to Google (because in most cases, web internationalization = language encoding issues), but below are some things I've thought of so far. Please add your ideas. Thank you!


• make any downloadable PDFs available in both A4 and Letter;

• be sure I'm not embedding (or linking to) media from any sites that only work for U.S.-based users;

• when offering anything for sale, use a payment/shipping method that excludes as few countries as possible (and on my site, mention the approximate prices in at least USD, EUR and UKP).


• use words, not numbers, for the month in all dates (10/11/2009 is bad notation -- is that in Oct or Nov?);

• in any random list of cities (e.g., when listing my upcoming events), name the country in every case so USA doesn't feel like the default assumption ("Lisbon, Portugal" / "Chicago, USA" / "Tokyo, Japan" );

• include free alternatives to phone numbers (email, Skype, etc.) wherever possible;

• express U.S. phone numbers without default-USA assumption (start with +1, not just the 3-digit area code).

[• this is just symbolic welcoming, but the front page will include a decorative list of non-English words for composer, with as many non-European words as possible.]
posted by kalapierson to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Include metric for any measurements.

Include time zone with any times, preferably with a +/- GMT, not just the American name for the time zone.
posted by teg at 11:59 AM on June 23, 2009

Every time I have been overseas, I have been reminded of the fact that international connections can be less than pleasant to deal with. The less bandwidth intensive your front page is, the better. You could use a splash page with a choice between high and low bandwidth as well. Even many parts of the US are still stuck on dial-up or barely broadband bottom tier DSL, this is even worse for an overseas audience.

Lists of cities- The US is notorious for having duplicate city names in different states. Some cities are fairly unambiguous (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), and some are not (Springfield, Colombus, Portland).

Currency exchange- You could offer a link to a currency exchange tracker/calculator to make things easy. Keep exchange fees in mind, you may need to charge a bit extra even without considering shipping.
posted by Saydur at 12:03 PM on June 23, 2009

Put a note somewhere obvious on the opening page that you ship almost everywhere. A lot of times, there is no mention of where people ship to until you hit the shopping cart.

I like your list of things to include a lot. As for shipping, being in Canada, I have a problem with sites that only ship UPS or Fedex as neither is, in my experience, more reliable than USPS or Canada Post, and the border broker fees UPS charges are excessive. My DH is still fuming over the UPS fees that doubled the cost of the stereo cables he bought from the US. I don't buy things that only ship UPS or Fedex.
posted by x46 at 12:10 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding shipping: make sure you can use full utf-8, or at least the full iso-8859-1. Some shipping companies have trouble with 8-bit chars, making it quite difficult for the postman to deliver to e.g. Ærøvej (Ærø = name of Island, vej = street). Some shipping companies drops 8-bit chars ("rvej") while other companies garbles it by using the utf-8 bytes as if it was iso-8859-1 ("Ærøvej").

If shipping to (northern) Europe, consider using plain postal post (e.g. USPS) as it's cheaper and much accessible to non-company recipients than UPS/FedEx. The latter requires recipients to be at the delivery address for the full day, whereas postal enables picking up packages at the local postoffice.

Watch out for alphabetical lists with words that start with non-English letters. E.g. "öre" is sorted at the end in Swedish, but next to "o" in German.
posted by flif at 12:37 PM on June 23, 2009

You want to google for localization. This covers topics about writing for international audiences. Good on you for concentrating on this!
posted by wingless_angel at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2009

Input form issues abound on US web sites. For example, assuming that everyone has a numeric zip code, whereas many countries have alphanumeric postal codes (e.g. V0N 2J0 in Canada). Allow addresses to be fairly free-form, because every country has its own nuances. Phone numbers outside of US and Canada don't don't follow the NNN-NNN-NNNN format.

Thirding support for regular post (USPS) for shipping.
posted by Emanuel at 2:25 PM on June 23, 2009

To add to Saydur's comment about lists of cities, if you're going to include US states also include Canadian provinces. We also have overlapping city names, and our provinces are huge.
posted by Emanuel at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2009

Use geolocation to try to appropriately serve up pages with global English spelling such as internationaliSation, localiSation, coloUr. And the ZIP thing is probably the single most annoying assumption I've found that's endemic to US forms.
posted by meehawl at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2009

This is just a little thing, but... if your site has an alphabetized drop-down list of countries, please put "Canada" as the first "C" nation. That way, a user can tab to the drop-down, hit "C" and be done with it. I am fairly confident that, unless you're selling something highly-specialized, you will be accommodating lots of Canadians more than you will be inconveniencing lots of Cambodians and Cameroonians. (C*ians, please don't get mad at me.)
posted by (alice) at 5:21 PM on June 23, 2009

This is just a little thing, but... if your site has an alphabetized drop-down list of countries, please put "Canada" as the first "C" nation.

Well, if you're going to do that, how about a priority list at the top of the drop-down? Maybe your five largest traffic sources or so, then have a blank line or "-----" and the rest of the countries.

Even as an American, I'm always pleasantly surprised to see US/Canada/UK/Etc. at the top of the list, so I don't have to go hunting. (Especially since I don't know whether to go to USA or United States.)
posted by Garak at 6:07 PM on June 23, 2009

This is a minor issue, but if you need to mention the seasons, be specific about which hemisphere you mean. For those of us shivering through a Southern hemisphere winter, phrases like "Summer's here at last..." or "Now that the weather's warming up..." can ring hollow when read on supposedly international sites. It's more inclusive to write about the 'northern summer' or 'As the northern hemisphere warms up...'.

If you're listing US locations but want them to be understood internationally, don't abbreviate the name of the states. As a non-USian, I know the obvious ones like NY and DC, but there's no way I could recognise the abbreviations for all 50.

Seconding the zip code thing. Do provide space for them in forms, but don't make them compulsory for non-US residents, and remember that many countries use more or fewer than six digits.
posted by embrangled at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

> "Summer's here at last..." or "Now that the weather's warming up..."

Oh god yes.

Facebook just did this to me for the second year in a row.

The one thing Facebook has going for it, the fact that it "knows" its members and can market directly to them, and it gets it wrong. Again.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:33 PM on June 23, 2009

I'll third the zip-code issue. Not all countries have post codes, so please don't make post code fields compulsory. Also keep in mind that not all countries have states/provinces, so please don't make those fields compulsory, plus remember that not everyone lives in a city.

As already mentioned, phone numbering differs from country to country, so rejecting phone numbers that don't match the US pattern is a pain. Also when providing phone numbers, keep in mind that 0800 numbers are not accessible from all countries, so displaying a non-0800 version is a good idea.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:30 PM on June 23, 2009

Make your language navigation easy to find. That means in the top navigation section, or at the very least above the fold & prominent. I can't stand having to peck & hunt for the correct language version.

Corollary: there's debate over using flag icons vs. pure text links (ie English, Italiano, Deutch), mainly to do with the fact that a country flag doesn't/shouldn't represent a language. However, icons do tend to pop out more than text (at least for me) in the vast majority of web site designs. YMMV

If at all possible, changing the language of the page one is on should lead to it's language appropriate equivalent. For example: I'm on your 'About' page in English and decide I want to click over into Italian. Clicking the Italian language link should take me to the Italian 'About' page, and not just back to the Italian home page. Yet another peeve of mine, because being taken back to the Italian home page means that I have to re-navigate back to find the content I wanted. Gah.

And the localization last peeve of mine is serving up content based on GeoIP or Browser Agent string. In short, this means that a web site looks at my IP address or the fact that I'm surfing in an Italian language browser & says "Ok, she's in Italy give 'er the Italian version". And then 50% of the time makes it a total pain in the ass to change to the language I want.

You default site language should be based on the largest percent of your (desired) audience. Then let the user decide if/when they want to switch.

/American in Italy, web geekess
posted by romakimmy at 1:02 AM on June 24, 2009

Arg. Not enough coffee. I meant to add that, if you do use plain text language links, use the localized name for the language, like I've listed above (English, Italiano, Deutch and and not English, Italian, German).
posted by romakimmy at 1:08 AM on June 24, 2009

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