Website Localization - The Complete Guide

August 12, 2020
Website Localization - The Complete Guide

I’ve been working in the language services industry for over a decade and have the honour of working with many people around the world who have been doing so for even longer. In that time, I’ve come across plenty of interesting translation jobs, but I have always found website localization projects to be some of the most fascinating. 

You might be wondering why globalization and localization go hand in hand when it comes to website translation. Or whether it’s a marketing expert or a techie that you need to translate your website. Or perhaps what website localization actually is! I’ll run through all you need to know below, as we take an in-depth look at this complex but immensely worthwhile translation service. 

What Is Website Localization?

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of website localization before I began working in the translation industry. Indeed, it’s not something you would necessarily come across unless you were either a company that needed a localized website or a provider of localization services to such businesses! 

In a nutshell, website localization is the process of adapting a website to suit a specific audience – usually an audience that speaks a different language and holds different cultural values to your own. It’s a complex process as there are so many parts to it. 

First, there’s the tech side. This ranges from ensuring that the code the site uses can handle alphabets with different characters and symbols to making sure that the site’s payment processing system can handle transactions in the required territory and currency. Affiliate schemes also require careful attention to detail.  

Then there’s the language side. Web localization isn’t just about converting copy from one language to another. You need to ensure that the translation process takes account of local cultural sensitivities, doesn’t contain popular culture references that will be lost on the target audience, has the right tone, and doesn’t use idioms or phrases that won’t translate well. Such as ‘in a nutshell.’

Global website localization also means thinking about everything from colours to images. Are your infographics in colours that are considered unlucky by the target audience? Do your images feature individuals of your own nationality or of your intended readership? Are you using product explainer videos that will need voiceover artists? You get my point. 

Did you have a busy day and you prefer to watch a video instead? We got you covered.


Why Should You Localize Your Website?

I have long understood the core value or localizing your website to be the ability to connect with customers who speak other languages (and thus enable them to buy your products) but I wanted to find some statistics on user engagement for this article in order to more fully explore the point. There are certainly some persuasive figures out there! 

  • Nimdzi reports that nine out of ten international users will ignore your product if it’s not in their native language. 
  • Within Europe, data from the European Commission shows that just 18% of European internet users buy products in foreign languages. 
  • W3Techs’ latest figures list web content in 188 languages. They are dominated by English, which accounts for 60% of online content.
  • 44% of internet users in Europe feel they miss interesting information because webpages are in languages that they don’t understand, according to the European Commission. 

I think each of these figures feeds into the argument for website localization. Nimdzi’s findings come from an eight-month long research project, which covered 66 languages across 74 countries. The stark finding – that nine out of every ten people will ignore your product if it’s not in their own language – pretty much sums up the need for website localization on its own! 

The European Commission’s data is interesting too. It shows that, within Europe, individuals seem to be a little more willing to shop in other languages – but only a little! The Commission’s figures also show the value of localizing websites for reasons other than selling goods. If 44% of internet users feel that they are missing out on information as it’s not in their language, why not make your company the one that does reach out to them in their own tongue and thus stands out from the crowd? 

I’ve always found W3Tech’s figures to be a fascinating source of insights too. The company’s figures from 11 August 2020 show that 60% of all websites use English. The next closest language is Russian, at 8.6%, then Spanish at 4.0%. A further eight languages account for between 1.1% and 3.9% of web content each, while some 177 account for 1.0% or less. Chinese accounts for just 1.5% of total websites, despite Mandarin being the world’s most spoken language (by number of native speakers). 

Clearly, there are some opportunities nestled within those mismatches between lesser-used languages on the web and massive populations that speak them – Chinese and Spanish are two prime examples of this.  

When Is the Right Time to Localize Your Website?

It’s one thing to understand how to localize a website, which I’ll come onto shortly, but it’s just as important to know when to do so. This will depend to a certain extent on the company in question, its starting point in terms of international expansion, its longer-term aims and various other factors. 

Having said which, I do think there are various developments that make particularly good reasons for triggering the creation of localized websites. Here are some examples:

  • The launch of a new product or product line that is likely to be particularly well received overseas. 
  • The need to keep up with a close competitor who has just launched a localized website in multiple languages. 
  • A significant international expansion. 
  • The development of a franchise model that has the potential to take the company beyond national borders.
  • A change in legal or compliance requirements, such as the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 
  • A shift in your supply, manufacturing or other logistical arrangements. 

What Should You Know Before Going Through the Localization Process?

I’ve been impressed over the years with how much preparation goes into the localization process. Mind you, given the number of factors that feed into the creation of localized websites, it’s clear that businesses certainly need to be well prepared. 

In the interests of explaining this a little more thoroughly, I’ve included various factors here that need to be considered prior to the localization work taking place. 

Market Research

Before launching any new product or services, market research is essential. It provides invaluable insights into the target audience, whether that audience is domestic or international. In terms of localization, websites need to have a purpose in order to justify the expense. Market research can help to shape, define and evaluate that purpose. 

Regulatory Compliance

It’s important to understand the local operating environment before you commit to localizing your website. I’m writing this from a country that falls under the domain of the GDPR. That particular piece of legislation has created plenty of work for businesses with operations in the European Union. It’s also something that those looking to enter the EU marketplace have to consider as part of their plans to do so. 

The GDPR is just a single example of local regulatory requirements. Each country has its own requirements, so any business looking to expand internationally needs to understand these in full both from an operational perspective and in relation to how they will impact localization efforts. 

Platform Choice

I touched on the tech side of localization briefly above and this is certainly something that comes into play in terms of what you should know before going through the localization process. Platform choice is a prime example. Not every platform can be used in every country, so it’s essential to check that your technical setup will be sufficient in each new territory that you plan to localize for. If not, you’ll need a plan in place covering what needs to change and why, how and when it needs to do so.

Affiliate Schemes

Despite some rather seismic shifts from Amazon in terms of its commission structure in early 2020, there’s still plenty of money to be made from affiliate schemes. Each country has its own options in terms of affiliate schemes, so it’s essential to know what these are and how they work before you enter a new territory with your localized website. Assuming, that is, that the affiliate model forms part of your plans in that country! 

Marketing Channels

How will you promote your brand and market your products in your chosen location? Marketing, advertising and PR is an enormous subject area, so be sure that you are clear on your plans before proceeding with your website localization. 

Local Competition

One fundamental question is who your localized website will be competing with. What will stand out about your company compared to the local competition? What will give your products the edge? Knowledge like this will be key to how successful your venture is likely to be and thus how worthwhile localizing your website will be. 

The Website Localization Process

I’ve covered the whats, whens and whys, so let’s take a look at the actual building blocks of how to localize a website. If some of it sounds more technical than you’re comfortable with, don’t panic – your translation and localization company will be happy to walk you through the process at a suitable pace when it comes to localizing your own site. 

UI Content Extraction

Global website localization starts with content extraction. That means you’ll need 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. 

Linguistic and Functionality Quality Check

Quality assurance (QA) is a key component of website localization, particularly given the use of automated tools during the process. Human oversight can ensure the quality not just of the website’s language, but also of its functionality and of the user experience. 

Project Management

Any website localization job can be complex, but when large volumes of content are involved, it becomes particularly so. That’s why exceptional project management is required. 

A good project manager will supervise the website localization to ensure that every part of the process stays on track. Whether it’s budgetary control, the translation of video content (you can read more on that by clicking the link below), granular task assignment or compliance with the overall timeline, the project manager will tie everything together to ensure a successful outcome. 

Read more: Localization Challenges in Closed Captioning, Subtitling and Video Translation: Maximising Viewership in Key Languages 

Localization Engineering

This technical part of the localizing websites encompasses everything from correctly integrating files into the code stack to ensuring that all placeholders are located and formatted correctly before the language and data inputs go in. The complexity of your site in terms of its functionality in the original language will impact precisely what you need from the localization engineering process. 

Source Validation

Source validation is the process of ensuring that the localized website behaves as expected. It’s another technical part of the process that combines both automation and skilled human oversight. 

QA and Testing

The QA process ensures that all of the client’s requirements have been met and that the website functions perfectly from a user perspective. Rigorous testing should be undertaken to ensure this. 

LQA (Linguistic QA)

Linguistic quality assurance is the QA process that applies to the language used on the localized website. It considers correct and natural phrasing, domain-specific terminology, suitability of the language in the localized content and more. 

How to Find the Right Localization Company

I hope you’ve found plenty of useful information here to help with your web localization project. If you’re ready to move forward, then it’s time to find the right company to work with. 

Look for a localization company that can demonstrate experience both of the language pairing that you need and of website translation and localization work related to your particular business sector. 

Grill the company on details of their experience and be sure to read plenty of reviews of them, including any on sites such as the Better Business Bureau. Opt for a company with a project manager and ask for details of the other elements of human oversight that will form part of the localization process. 

Good luck with your global website localization plans!