Bilingual Equality with a Splash Page

I’ve worked on a few education sites in Wales and bilingualism is one of the major challenges for any public sector site.

A multilingual site isn’t so hard. Most content management systems offer language switching – being on a page in one language and hopping across to view the equivalent piece of content in another. The difficulty comes with entering the site or managing the landing page experience.

So, on your bilingual site, what do you put on your home page? Most content management systems are set up to use a default or primary language with others as secondary options. They’re not treated equally. In Wales we’re supposed to give both Welsh and English equal status.

At one point I toyed with the idea of having bilingual pages – a 2 column layout with the 2 versions side by side. This is common in print and it works pretty well. On web pages it’s not so easy. Space can be very limited, especially on mobile. Loading and displaying additional content that will not be consumed is not really practical. It halves the value of your site – that’s value in real monetary terms if you’re paying for data downloaded. The other main point is that web pages just don’t work that way. A page needs to have a language set so that it can be searched and indexed by search engines. As soon as we mix languages, we’re probably killing any potential search rankings.

I’ve come up with a possible solution. I’m not sure it would work in all cases but for the school website I’m working on now it seems to tick all the boxes. I use a Splash Page. It’s normal use would be for special promotions. It’s a screen which interrupts your browsing before allowing you to continue to your usual entry page. Rather than a static promotional message I’m reading in the title of the target page in both languages and presenting them as options. So, the user chooses whether to continue in Welsh or English. Now, here’s the clever bit. The user’s language preference is stored in the browser (localStorage) and is used on future visits. If a preference has been set then the Splash Page will not appear again on that browser, within a specified time frame.

Using this Splash Page means that the user is never presented with a monolingual page without having first made a choice. We have achieved equality for both languages whilst not harming our search engine rankings. :)

Content Management Systems explained

A different type of content managementYou’ve probably heard the phrase CMS or Content Management System. I’ll explain what it is and some of the benefits.

A CMS is a system which sits behind a website and allows you to edit a website easily. It’s called a content management system because it specifically allows changes to the content of the website – the text, images and links on pages – but not the layout or design, which stays fixed.

The usual method of changing web content is by logging in and gaining access to an admin or control panel. This gives options of creating, editing or deleting pages as well as setting up page order and hierarchy (which pages are sub-options of others).

When it comes to editing pages this is normally done through a visual or WYSIWYG editor, which is short for “What You See Is What You Get” so no knowledge of HTML or web page coding is required. It’s very easy to use, as easy as using Microsoft Word, probably easier. You write your page’s content in a large text area and have buttons to help with formatting – Bold, Italics, Underline, bullets, numbering, text alignment, indent, etc. You may be able to select from a limited range of fonts though this is usually controlled by the design template to ensure a consistent look and feel throughout the site. The best part is, you don’t even have to use the WYSIWYG editor – you can simply paste your content from another application, like Word.

As well as working with text you can insert various media – images, video clips, audio files, Flash.

So, what are the benefits? Well, the main benefit is that anyone can use it which means that your site can be managed by anyone. In a medium or large company that means anyone in a team, not just the IT person or contracted web design company. For a small private site it gives you full freedom to control your content and changes happen instantly – no more waiting for the web designer to make your changes.

If you’re still using a static website and relying on someone else to update it, it’s time to take control and manage your own content.