Do you need a marketing expert, a translator, or a techie to localize your website? If you’re just starting out on your website localization journey, there’s plenty to think about. Don’t worry though, we’ll run through everything you need to know below. Let’s start with the basics.
Website localization is the process of adapting a website to suit a specific audience. That audience may speak a different language to that used for the original site and use a different script for writing that language. They may also hold different cultural values to your website’s original audience. This means that localizing a website can be a complex process, incorporating translation, technical elements, and much more.
Translation is the process of converting text (or video or audio) from one language to another. This means it is part of the localization process. However, localization goes much further than language alone. It considers the overall user experience and how the audience will interact with and respond to the finished website.
In terms of language, this means ensuring the translation takes account of local cultural sensitivities and doesn’t contain popular culture references that won’t mean anything to the target audience. The language used on the localized site must also have the right tone and not use idioms or phrases that the new audience won’t understand.
Localization also requires plenty of technical input. This ranges from ensuring that the code the site uses can handle alphabets with different characters and symbols, to making sure that its payment processing system can handle transactions in the required territory and currency. Affiliate schemes also require careful attention to detail.
Website localization also means thinking about everything from colors to images. Different colors are considered unlucky in different countries. If your infographics, site design, logo and other elements use such colors, it may not position you well for success with the target audience. Images can also be tricky. For example, do your images feature individuals showing their hair or skin in a way that could be offensive to your intended readership?
You need to put every element of your website under the microscope when undertaking localization work. For example, if you use explainer videos, you will need subtitles in the new language and potentially new recordings of the audio for them, meaning transcription and voiceover artist services may also come into play. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty to think about when it comes to preparing your website for success in new countries and regions.
Website internationalization and website localization are both used to prepare sites for consumption by foreign audiences. However, the two approaches are fundamentally different. As discussed above, localization services focus on molding a product – in this case, a website – around the expectations and requirements of a particular audience. Internationalization, on the other hand, is about creating a more culturally neutral site.
The idea of internationalization is that your website should be as adaptable as possible, so that diverse audiences can view, use, and enjoy it, no matter where in the world they may be.
Internationalization can be a highly complicated process from a technical and marketing perspective. From data encoding to imagery, it can be tough to create a single site that is both usable and appealing to a global audience.
That said, internationalization can have a useful role to play in the website localization process. Internationalizing a website provides those working on it with a neutral template that they can then adapt to local audiences
Website localization is important because it means that you can better connect with audiences who speak other languages. As such, it maximizes your chances of success when launching in new territories.
This is not just a “nice to have.” According to Nimdzi, nine out of ten international users will ignore your product if it’s not in their native language. This is one reason why the share of websites that use English is diminishing. According to W3Techs, just 56.1% of websites use English as at March 2023, compared to 60% back in 2020. Figures from the European Commission, meanwhile, show that just 18% of European internet users buy products in foreign languages. In short, if you’re not serving customers in their native tongue, you’re missing out on potential revenue.
Of course, the importance of website content localization doesn’t just come down to money. Some firms localize website content in order to share research or other information. Others do it to raise awareness of issues. Regardless of the reason for the localization, at its core is a drive to make content available to a wider audience – and language accessibility is just the right thing to do!
The benefits of website localization are:
Increased international traffic, helping you to grow your brand in new locations.
Better conversion rates, as your site resonates better with local audiences.
Enhanced customer experience and satisfaction, as your website is tailored to their particular expectations and needs.
Increased engagement and loyalty, driven by a superior website experience.
Avoidance of reputational damage, fines, and other penalties due to non-compliance with local regulations (see below for more on this).
It can feel like you have a mountain in front of you when you first start thinking about localizing a website. However, you can break them down into chunks to make it manageable. The first step is to undertake a feasibility study.
You can use a localization feasibility study to identify key issues, such as culture-specific challenges, technological capability of the target market, local regulations, and more. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Data protection and data privacy regulations can have a major impact on your site if you process or collect personal information. Pay careful attention to ensure that you comply with all relevant obligations.
Anti-money laundering regulations may impact your website if you use it to onboard customers.
Accessibility requirements may oblige you to provide your website in a range of formats to make it accessible to as many people as possible, including those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, and other disabilities, impairments, and long-term illnesses.
Content restrictions may govern what you can and cannot say on your site, with some countries having strict requirements in place around this.
Understanding the marketing strategy of your local competitors can help you see what works in terms of engaging with local audiences successfully.
Likewise, understanding the website localization strategy of your international competitors can help to shape your own approach to localization.
If you use pay-per-click advertising and/or multilingual search engine optimization to grow your web traffic on Google, Bing, and other channels, you will need to factor this into your localization feasibility study and strategy.
With social media platforms playing such a big role in marketing these days, you’ll also need to think about which platforms your target audience is using and their preferred methods of engagement, to ensure you maximize how much traffic you funnel to your website.
Technological capability and habits
Check the internet penetration rate for your target country or area as part of your website localization considerations.
Think about device preference as well, to ensure your localization plans will best meet your target users’ habits.
Other culture-specific adjustments and restrictions
Map out what is and isn’t acceptable in the cultures you are targeting, from images to written content. Failing to do this could result in a major localization fail if your website ends up offending those you want to connect with.
It’s also worth researching cultural, sporting, and socio-political events that you could use to your advantage when localizing your website.
Research into symbols and colors is also important, to ensure that your brand appeals to your target audience and doesn’t inadvertently offend.
The website localization process has several distinct stages. Once you’ve completed your feasibility study and decided to proceed, it’s time to implement the following.
Content extraction involves undertaking a detailed content inventory and process mapping, including creating a glossary or lexicon of text strings and data points to be translated. Automated methods with human oversight tend to provide the most efficient approach and can accommodate everything from language direction to functionality. Examples of content to be extracted can include whole web pages, PDFs, infographics, and more.
Managing your project successfully means mapping out timelines, required outcomes, resources, ang budget. You can work with a localization company to help achieve this, as well as to undertake the localization work itself. As an example, most localization companies will offer a start-to-finish service that includes managing the project as well as undertaking the translation and localization work.
Pre-engineering means getting the website ready for localization. You do this by marking the parts you need to translate, along with any that should not be translated, making clear anything that should be protected or preserved during localization, and preparing a translation glossary. For example, you may wish for certain elements, such as your logo or strapline, to remain in the original language.
This is the part of the localization process that involves the conversion of your website from one language to another. Translation should always be undertaken by suitable qualified and experienced professionals who are native speakers of your target language. If, for example, you are launching your website in Latin America, you should use a Latin American Spanish translator, rather than a translator who speaks Castilian Spanish (as spoken in Spain).
Post-engineering is essentially the reverse of pre-engineering. You need to ensure the localized site contains all the elements it should, including all elements that you preserved from the original site, and that it displays correctly. An example is infographics that didn’t require translation but that need to display correctly once you apply a different script to your site.
This involves dropping the translated copy and other elements into your website. You import the translated text strings and data points, then manually check them. For example, by working with your localization company to automatically implement the translated copy on the site, then reviewing it using human oversight.
Source validation is when you check that the website behaves as you expect it to. You can use automation for this aspect too, but again with human review. You can undertake automated testing, for example, but also use the localized website yourself to experience it as your target audience would.
Language quality assurance (LQA) and testing refers to the final checks that you undertake to ensure your localization has been successful. You do this by reviewing the linguistic quality of the translated content and flagging up any errors or discrepancies. For example, you could produce a report detailing any final snags to be addressed.
The wealth of website localization technology currently available means that you can automate many parts of the process. Indeed, doing so is best practice in terms of efficiency and budgetary control – provided you are using industry-leading website localization tools and services that will deliver the localization properly.
Undertaking a feasibility study and mapping out your website localization workflow at the beginning of the project is also best practice. Doing so means you will have a clear plan, with timescales and resource allocation that ensure you complete your project in line with your operational needs.
Finally, never skip the final quality assurance and testing stage of your web page localization. It might be tempting to do so, in your eagerness to push the site live, but these final checks are crucial to ensuring the success of your localized site launch.
There are plenty of website localization examples out there to inspire you for your own project. Many major international brands have put plenty of time into perfecting their localization strategies. Their work covers not just the client-facing elements, but backend functions such as image descriptions and currency availability, all focused on using localization to deliver an outstanding user experience. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Airbnb changes everything from its layout to its visuals and color scheme when adapting its website to different audiences around the world. The company also localizes its user-generated content so that audiences can read reviews and recommendations in their own language.
McDonald’s has a massive global presence, with over 37,000 outlets, in around 120 countries. The firm offers a menu that caters to local tastes and preferences in each country, with a website that does the same, from currency values to the way it promotes Happy Meal toys and different menu items. Despite this, the look and feel of the site remain largely the same the world over.
Website localization projects may seem daunting at first. However, by taking the approach described above, you should be able to undertake your website localization project efficiently and successfully.