Mystery meat navigation – sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? I heard this term a couple years ago, and I’ve since enjoyed identifying websites that use it (because it’s utterly ridiculous). So what is it? MMN, for short, is “blind, unlabeled navigation you have to mouseover to get a clue, as opposed to navigation bars/buttons with symbols.” Building on this term, I think it’s time to coin a name for mystery meat-like language navigation. Something like, Greek-to-me navigation or what-the-heck navigation.
It’s not that unlabeled navigation for multilingual sites is being used to direct visitors to the appropriate language (at least, I hope not). It’s more that some websites are making it more difficult than it needs to be. Say you provide visitors with a handy language selector (like Smartling.com) but you translate the languages. So, on the Chinese website, all the languages are labeled in Chinese… which is very helpful for a German speaker, right? (Instead, you want to list each language in its local format – German is Deutsch, Italian is Italiano, etc. – no matter what language it’s viewed in.)
You need to consider language navigation the same way you consider navigation across your website or app: make it easy on the user.
Detect, Choose, Save
You can detect a user’s language or locale either through the browser – but that doesn’t guarantee it’s the language the user prefers. Or, you can also detect a user’s location (using IP address on the server or HTML5 geolocation in browser) but that can cause some confusion when, for example, a French speaker takes his laptop with him to Russia. Basically, even with language detection, you need to allow the user to choose a language or switch between languages with ease.
Smartling provides a language selector to our clients that detects the user’s language through the browser and redirects the user to the appropriate language. Plus, it lets the user choose a language or navigate to other languages with a simple drop-down menu. But the language selector also lets our clients do one more thing: save the user’s preference. If the user actively navigates to a particular language site, then that preference is saved and respected in the future. (You don’t want to force the user to go through the steps to select their language over and over again, do you?) Ah, 100% mystery meat-free language navigation!