Thinking aloud about website management

One page, one language

I have been dabbling in creating and maintaining bilingual websites and blogs for some time now. This site for example has two versions, one in English and another in Japanese, separated into two subdomains, and Sometimes I answer questions about creating or managing bilingual or multilingual websites and blogs, and my general advice has been to keep them separate, create distinct sections for different languages, such as in subdomains and subdirectories. Naturally, there are occasions where side-by-side translation is appropriate for specific purposes, as I do on this site when I translate historical sources, but in most cases, the maxim is one page, one language.

Mixing different languages can represent a less-than-perfect visitor experience, especially when the visitor does not understand one of the languages. Take for example a web page, where the main content of the page is in a language that I understand, yet the navigation menu is in a language that I do not understand. I may want to read more materials on the site in the language I understand, but I would certainly feel uncomfortable about clicking on things written in a language I do not understand, because I have no idea what happens if I were to do so: whither will I be taken?

Using more than a single language on a page can also confuse search engines. For instance, Google currently states in its documentation titled Multi-regional and multilingual sites at as follows. You can help Google determine the language correctly by using a single language for content and navigation on each page, and by avoiding side-by-side translations. There are often explicit options to show only materials in a certain language when using a search engine, and I would have thought that search engines would everything else being equal prefer to show the searchers monolingual web pages in the language of the searcher and the query.

In addition, there are different conventions in how websites are designed, or how visitors react to websites in different places: in other words, it may not simply about translating the materials, but making sure that they are localized to the particular market. Visitors will have certain expectations as to how things normally work, and would be confused or annoyed if something happens contrary to their perceived norms. Naturally, designing and managing bilingual or multilingual sites must be seen from the perspective of the whole flow of visitor engagement: from visitors landing on the page, and ending with the aims of the site, such as sales. Sometimes, one-to-one transposition of something expressed in language to another is not sufficient for achieving the target.

In essence, it is about putting visitor experience first, and making sure that the goals are completed. For a short period of time, I used to mix languages on the same page, and that did not go well, in terms of visitor engagement, measured by metrics such as the bounce rate or the number of page views per visit, and in term of search engine rankings. So, to repeat, one page, one language.