How to design a website for international audiences

A website should always be designed with its audience in mind. Who are they? Why are they on your website? Where are they from? Various audience research methods can give you a firm grasp of your target audiences. This is a key factor in delivering the right products to users and creating a positive digital experience. And sometimes, this requires you to design a website for international audiences

As of 2023, more than 5 billion people worldwide use the Internet, and almost 4 billion of them aren’t English speakers. So, unless your business is intrinsically local, ignoring global online audiences could alienate potential customers by unintentionally creating a user experience that doesn’t cater to their needs. This is why your website should appeal to an international target audience. But how can you do that?

Simply making an international version of your site that uses quick translation plug-ins isn’t enough. You need to consider cross-cultural design elements that differ from country to country. This can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are localisation practices that ensure digital products appeal to every audience segment, regardless of cultural context.

But first… what is localisation?

Localisation is the process of adapting a website to meet the language, culture, and other specific needs of a particular country or region, by modifying its content and design elements to make it appropriate and easily understood by the target audience. This involves more than just translating the text into a variety of languages – it also takes into consideration cultural factors, such as date and time formats, currency, measurement systems, and colours, which may differ from one country to another. By implementing localisation in design practices, content optimisation, and content presentation, you can create a cross-cultural product that passes international usability testing. Next, we’ll discuss some things to keep in mind when localising your website.

How do I create an international website?

Colour and imagery

Colour can carry unique cultural connotations when you design a website for international audiences. For example, a Japanese audience will rejoice at the sight of red, but the same hue carries a negative connotation for South African users. There’s no correct version, which is why a rule of thumb is creating responsive designs that adapt to your target users. The same goes for pictures. One featured image can change the entire user experience. To avoid misunderstanding, some designers opt for a minimal design more likely to appeal to a culturally homogeneous user.

More than translation: language, text and typography

Some developers think making an English version of a website and installing a plug-in to automatically translate into other popular languages is enough. While dominant users should dictate the primary language of your website, more localisation efforts should be devoted to adapting for international audiences. Some tools like Weglot are useful to simplify the translation process – our client, Dormakaba, successfully implemented it on their website. But sometimes, automatic translation is clunky, which can potentially alienate or even offend users from your target market. So, human oversight of translation is necessary to ensure a positive user experience in your target languages.

Tip: WordPress offers several plug-ins that allow you to manually enter translations in other language options so you can appeal to target users in their original language. We recommend Polylang Pro or WPML. At Dusted, we also work with translation companies to ensure the text is adapted to different cultural contexts.

Furthermore, things like text and type are important components of cross-cultural design. For example, did you know that every language requires different amounts of space to say the same thing? Languages like French, German, and Portuguese usually take up 30% more space than English. As such, French versions of the same sentence will be longer than American versions.

Alternatively, typography can also be an issue, as some languages contain diacritical marks that don’t translate from one font to another. To ensure that their pages are compatible with most languages, many content writers opt for Unicode characters.
Lastly, if you want to encourage international audiences to reach out, make sure your website contact forms can support an unlimited number of characters, as some international visitors might have longer names or phone numbers than domestic users.

Don’t forget about speed!

Search engines take into account loading times when ranking sites in organic search listings. But when connection speeds vary so much depending on geographical location, this can be a daunting undertaking. However, there’s a way to diminish load times across borders by using a CDN (Content Delivery Network). CDN refers to a distributed network of servers or nodes strategically placed in different geographic locations to improve the delivery of digital content or services to end users. CDNs can be integrated into almost any platform for building websites. This not only helps avoid fundamental usability issues but also feeds into digital marketing efforts through search engine optimisation. While CDNs can be costly, they are worth the investment if you’re trying to reach the global market.

Tip: At Dusted, we usually opt for CloudFlare CDN for our WordPress websites to deliver the right content to users, depending on their location, as it carries fast load times to a massive network of regions and countries. Alternatively, when developing a headless CMS, as we recently did for Prima, our preferred choice is the Vercel Edge Network, which is both a CDN and a globally distributed platform for running computers at the edge.

Be Search Engine-friendly: international SEO and hreflang tags

Speed is not the only SEO practice that can boost your website internationally. Even though you might have already mastered the art of SEO in your primary language, if you want to expand into the global market, you need to consider adapting your search strategy to your target markets, through either multiregional or multilingual SEO. Through international SEO, you signal to the search engine that your website caters to visitors from certain regions/countries looking for your services/products in different language options. Some benefits of international SEO are increasing conversions through the expansion of your customer base, finding unexplored niches and populating them with content, and boosting brand recognition in the international market.

To create an international SEO strategy, you need to create content relevant to your target markets, as well as develop a website structure that makes it easy for search engines to retrieve the right products for users. So, you have to conduct keyword and topic research by comparing yourself against international competitors and creating content based on your findings.

  • Tip: SEMRush offers tools like the Organic Competitors report or Domain vs. Domain report to help you analyse the international landscape and conduct relevant research.

On the technical side, we advise using hreflang tags to deliver the right pages to the right users. Hreflang tags are a way of marking up different versions of pages depending on the language and/or region of the searcher. They help reduce bounce rates and prevent duplicate content, boosting your website’s SEO.

For example, through audience research methods, Dusted helped our clients at Atlantic Technologies decide on their website’s primary language. Then, through an international SEO strategy, we optimised their pages to rank on both and, catering to two different audience segments based on geographical location.

In conclusion

Designing a website with its audience in mind is crucial for delivering the right products and creating a positive digital experience. With over 5 billion internet users worldwide, ignoring global online audiences could alienate potential customers. So, you might need to design a website for international audiences. When doing so, localisation practices such as adapting content and design elements to meet the cultural and specific needs of a particular country or region are necessary to create a cross-cultural product that passes international usability testing. Taking into consideration factors such as colour and imagery, language, text and typography, and website speed can help businesses reach and engage with international audiences. By implementing these practices, businesses can expand their reach, increase their customer base, and ultimately achieve success in the global market.

Work with us

Dusted is a specialist strategic branding and digital agency. We work with some of the most ambitious, innovative and game-changing businesses and brands in the world, blending strategy, creativity and technology to solve their branding and multi-channel activation challenges. Here is a project we delivered for one of our international clients:

If you need help with adapting your website for international audiences, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!