How to Localize Your Website—and Why It Matters

Last Updated February 3, 2021

When you’re ready to expand into international markets, website localization is one of the most critical steps.

Your website is your company’s face and personality. If you want to connect with new audiences, your website’s content must be culturally relevant, relatable, and accessible.

Why Website Localization Matters

The most poignant reason to localize your website? Your sales depend on it.

Research shows that 72.4% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a website if it contains information in their native language. But true localization goes well beyond translating product information.

Website localization is about creating an online experience that’s designed to reach and appeal to audiences that differ by location, language, and culture. This means creating content and providing a user experience that’s equally impactful no matter who the end user is.

Localization has the power to grab the attention of new customers. If a website and its content are not relatable, it won’t be worth your customers’ time.

On the other hand, a website with local references and relevant visual elements will snag the attention of new audiences. Plus, adding new languages boosts your potential for organic traffic.

Website localization is also about reducing friction in the path to purchase. An e-commerce website, for example, with international currency issues only adds one more barrier for your customers to purchase your products. A more personalized experience for each audience member will dramatically improve your conversation rates.

Perhaps most importantly, website localization helps instill trust in your company. When a customer can truly understand what your company stands for, it helps build brand integrity. It will also give your customers confidence in your product or service.

The Three Stages of Website Localization: Internationalization, Translation, and Localization

When you’re ready to localize your website, keep in mind that there are several stages involved in successfully transforming your website: internationalization, translation, and localization.

Website Internationalization

Think of the internationalization stage as laying the groundwork. It takes place at the coding and development step of website creation and sets the stage for localization.

Website internationalization is about creating a website infrastructure—both on the front and backend—that can be easily adapted for others markets, languages, and cultures.

For example, website internationalization can help take care of common issues such as date formats, decimals, currency, or string character limits. It can also help avoid using hard-coded and concatenated strings, both of which can cause headaches for engineers trying to translate and localize website content later in the process.

Programmers can design a website to make translation faster and more seamless using encoding standards such as Unicode, which supports every language under the sun.

The upfront investment in internationalization will keep localization costs down—you’ll have less re-working of your website design in the long run.

Website Translation

Once you’ve internationalized your website, the next step is translation.

This step of the process should be done with the help of a translation management system (TMS). This is a software system that automates as much as possible of the translation process. For example, reusing previous translations for words or phrases you’ve already translated in the past.

A professional translation service can help you choose, install, and maintain a TMS and translation memory database setup that makes the most sense for your business.

For example, if you have thousands of product descriptions being uploaded in different languages every day, you’ll need a TMS that integrates with your CMS to automatically send product descriptions for machine translation followed by human review.

Aim to use software to make it easy for translators to work directly with the site’s content. Allowing translators to work directly with your programmers will make for a seamless and collaborative translation process.

Website Localization

Making a website multilingual is not enough to make an impact when expanding into a new market. A website needs to be localized to fully relate with each audience.

In a nutshell, localization is about making content appropriate for a given locale. When you localize website content, you make it culturally relatable and relevant to the right audience.

Localization extends far beyond getting inflection and terminology right: It also requires adapting all the visual components of your website. Photos, infographics, call-to-action icons, and videos should all be adjusted to meet cultural standards in each locale.

Localization is also about prioritizing the user experience. That goes beyond making it function and appear flawless in every language. The customer journey pathways may need to be modified to be accessible in a given culture and language.

For example, it’s wise to choose fonts that can support multiple languages with different characters and spacing requirements.

Website Localization Tips

Website localization is complex, so there are plenty of common issues that can befall your team. Here are some tips to keep in mind throughout the process.

1. Be thoughtful about your website layout

Different reading styles are yet another aspect of the importance of user experience. While English speakers read from left to right, the opposite is true for Arabic languages. Adjusting your website layout to adhere to localized reading styles will have more impact when breaking into new markets.

2. Anticipate text expansion and reduction

When translating content from English into another language, you can almost guarantee it will take up a different amount of space. Design your website to be flexible to changes in text allowance, and choose easily translatable fonts.

Great options for more straightforward translation include:

  • Arial Unicode MS (Sans Serif)
  • Myriad Pro (Sans Serif)
  • Times New Roman (Serif)

3. Localize all site elements, including multimedia

Along with all website copy, remember to translate and localize all multimedia elements, including videos and infographics. Video localization is a complex process, but it’s worth it: 72% of customers would rather learn about a product or service from a video.

Beyond translating text, run an audit on your website’s images. While a photo may seem innocent enough in one culture, it may create confusion or concern in another. Your team should closely review photo elements such as clothing styles and hand gestures. You may also want to translate alt tags to make images more accessible.

4. Avoid images with text

It’s much more difficult (and sometimes downright impossible) to change text embedded in an image. It’s good practice to avoid including photos that contain written messages.

If you want to have text in your images, create a translatable text layer. You can do that using code such as CSS to make image text localization far easier.

5. Reduce content load-time

Not all countries have warp-speed internet. Do some research to learn about connection speeds in the countries in which you plan to expand. Then, adjust your site’s content accordingly.

For example, if your website includes high-resolution images, it will significantly slow down your page-load times for users with slower connections. Mitigate this by reducing image sizes to shorten load-time.

6. Create a detailed style guide

Create a style guide for consistency in details such as date, type, currency, and punctuation formats to make localization more effective. When you lay out specific rules such as whether a given region uses a 12- or 24-hour time format, you help maintain uniformity in your multilingual website.

7. Provide context for your translators

To make your translations more effective, provide context to your translators. Sometimes it can be tempting to move quickly and assume your translators will understand the meaning behind each piece of content. Rather than cutting corners and leaving your translator in the dark, take screenshots, write notes, and provide support whenever questions pop up.

8. Don’t conflate language and country

Rather than hyper-focusing on language, broaden your localization tactics by considering the cultural impact of region and country. The term “locale” refers to both language and region, allowing your website to adapt in a more holistic, appropriate way.

For example, if you only specify English as a language code and forget about regional differences, your price units will be inaccurate for diverse English-speaking parts of the world. Coding by locale will make it easier for NZD prices to show up for New Zealanders and Euros for Irish users.

9. Make it easy to switch between languages

People visiting your website should be able to switch to different translations easily. Just be sure that your branding and design elements are maintained throughout each translation, and check that your links, titles, and all headings are consistent.

Many websites opt for a globe icon to direct users to various translations—this is a much better icon than flags, because one country could have many different languages. When listing languages, refer to different options in the native language. For example, use “日本語” instead of “Japanese.”

10. Automated translation integration

By integrating your CMS with a translation management system, you can automate translation for much of your website content. Automated translation is a fast and easy way to translate content such as product descriptions and services on a large scale.

While translation management systems can take hundreds or thousands of support articles and quickly translate them for review, copywriters could take care of main landing pages such as your homepage. This hybrid model will help ensure your website’s key areas are carefully localized while speeding up the long-tail of pages included in your site.

Website Localization: Take the Time to Get it Right

Localizing your website isn’t a simple exercise in translation: it involves research and local knowledge to connect with customers in your new markets. While it may be tempting to automate all translations and hope for the best, your performance in new markets will suffer.

If possible, start the website localization process during your website creation, and internationalize as many components of the site as possible. Your translations will benefit from a combination of automated adaptations and copywriters, and your localization efforts will help provide relevance and build trust in your brand.

Remember to consider every element of your site—text, graphics, and videos—and work with a translation company that can help you confidently connect with your new audience.

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