User feedback is important, but only part of developing a Web site

GSA's GobiernoUSA.gov co-managers Laura Godfrey and Leilani respond to Larry Freed's commentary: Should best practices for building a Web site in other languages be solely based on customer satisfaction? Not necessarily. As in most cases, there is more to the story.

In his article, Larry Freed talks about hearing the voice of the customer to have a successful multilingual online presence. Larry is right on point. Customer feedback is an integral part of every phase of Web site development. But should best practices for building a Web site in other languages be solely based on customer satisfaction? Not necessarily. As in most cases, there is more to the story.

Laura Godfrey

To build a successful multilingual site, organizations need to commit to developing a multilingual strategy that is fully integrated into their overall online presence. That’s been our experience managing GobiernoUSA.gov, the Spanish counterpart to the General Services Administration’s people-centered Web site, USA.gov.

Success hinges on a single word: strategy. The same principles that apply to building a site in English apply to building sites in other languages. A well-thought-out information architecture, organization, and look and feel are keys to any site in any language. Web sites need to make sense to their users.

Counterpoint

Agencies too often overlook a key step to better multilingual sites

The users, no matter what language they speak, are the best resource for knowing what improvements to make to a Web site.

There are well-established best practices for driving traffic to multilingual sites and increasing the satisfaction of multilingual audiences. Whether your organization already maintains a multilingual site or has just been tasked with building an online presence in another language, consider the following guidelines.

Develop an overall strategy. Make your multilingual site an integral part of the overall online presence. Work in conjunction with the English site to ensure that both sites provide a comparable user experience and are part of the overall communications plan.

Create a presence. Start small and grow as resources allow. Determine what information is crucial to your visitors and begin there. It might not be necessary to create an entire site in other languages but rather to provide the information most needed. This can change depending on targeted geographical areas.

Understand the culture. Upfront audience research will save time, money and lead to the content users need. GobiernoUSA.gov serves a predominantly Hispanic audience that prefers information in Spanish. Although both sites have the same structure and look and feel, GobiernoUSA.gov has content, images and color schemes that resonate with Hispanics.

Maintain the Web site. Update content in other languages frequently, paying special attention to information that might be timely to the demographic the site serves.

Don’t keep it a secret. Make sure to have a marketing plan that is part of the overall strategy to market the English language sister site or counterpart. You spent resources and time creating this presence, now let people know that you are responding to their needs. Listen to their feedback, improve and market some more.

Think of the government as one entity. Users are not concerned with branches of government, or federal versus state and local government. When they need information from the government, they want to find it quickly, in one place, and in a way they can understand. Make the information available, easy to find and in plain language.

Learn from others. Look at sites that have successfully achieved a multilingual online presence and capitalize on their success. Adopt designs and content schemes that are proven to work. Check the Top 10 Best Practices for Multilingual Web sites published on Webcontent.gov, the federal government Web site for content managers.

Understanding the needs of your audience is probably the most important tool in building a successful multilingual site. Research, integrate, create, maintain, and market your site. Follow these simple steps, and you will be on your way to achieving customer satisfaction.

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