Top 5 Tips for Successful Website Localization

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In today’s globalized world, it’s more important than ever for businesses to provide properly localized online content for consumers, no matter their location. International marketing is a key step for continuing business growth and for increasing stability. This is especially relevant  for those businesses hoping to effectively compete in a post-pandemic economy.  Yet too often, the localization conversation focuses only on globalization while largely ignoring the richly diverse internal markets we have here in the US. Connecting with your potential customers in every market is our first tip for effective localized marketing.

As mentioned in our recent blog Translating Sales Material to Spanish: 5 Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them, Spanish speakers account for more than than 43 million of our population. In the last decade alone, the buying power of the Hispanic community within the US has increased by an incredible 212%. To put this into perspective, the economic potential of this crucial demographic within our own nation is greater than the GDPs (gross domestic product) of Australia or Spain.

If that’s not reason enough to level up your localization game, consider that with middle class growth, rapid urbanization, and the always-advancing tech world, global retail commerce within the Asia-Pacific region will likely surpass that of the rest of the world combined by 2023. Not to mention, non-western B2B (business to business) sales are projected to achieve a whopping $1.4T (84%) market capitalization in that same short timeframe. With global projections like these, and a largely untapped internal multilingual market here at home, there has never been a better time to harness the potential of website localization. Let’s take a look at some points that will help achieve that all-important ROI when localizing a website.

1. UX is Crucial: Making Sure Website Layout Works for Target Markets

A great UX, or User Experience, starts with a great User Interface (UI). Successful localization is more than just word swapping. An obvious design tweak could be providing a right-to-left adaptation to cater for Arabic translations. It’s also important to note that in translated strings of text, the character or word count can dramatically increase or decrease depending on the target language. A good example of this is evidenced with English to  Spanish translations; the sentence size can increase anywhere from 20-25%. On the other hand, when translating from English into Finnish, the text can have a contraction rate of up to 30%. It’s important to consider this in the design and development stages of your website or software wherever possible. Ideally, localization experts should be included from the concept stages to help prepare your website to be adaptive to this process.

The “F” Pattern in the Global Market

In the western world, most users have become accustomed to a website flow known as the “F” pattern. This refers to the practice of  laying out your header, images, headers, and text blocks, etc. in an “F” shape throughout the page. By mimicking the reader’s natural sight pattern in this way, it allows skimming for keywords and promotes easier navigation through the website.

Although this is the traditional model, this doesn’t translate into a positive user experience in bidirectional languages like Hebrew, Kurdish or Arabic. American users prefer less options to click, so dropdown menus have become a best practice. While other cultures aren’t fond of having numerous links to follow, they prefer grouped content. Again, talking through these issues with a localization expert will help to ensure that all of these potential issues are addressed during the pre-project phase, rather than going back to fix issues later (which invariably will cost more money).

2. Don’t Take Shortcuts With Translations

Translations without cultural context are doomed to fail. Too often, companies try to use machine translation alone to translate their text.  While computers can be useful tools for translations, it takes a localization expert to captivate your audience.

For example, take the Spanish sentence “Tirar la casa por la ventana”. When translated word for word, this means “throw the house out the window”, which obviously wouldn’t resonate with an English-speaking audience in the same way as it’s intended meaning:  “No expense spared”. This is an excellent example of why localization is essential for connecting not only with new target audiences abroad, but also with many bilingual consumers here in the US. These potential customers are regularly expected to consume marketing content through their second language, and unfortunately, this language—when translated directly—can come up short.

3. Cultural Correctness

Many things affect how audiences interact with online content. Color Psychology suggests that colors play a huge role in our daily lives, invoking different emotions and feelings in individuals dependent on religion, culture, and even personal preference. In Western American culture, yellow can invoke feelings of happiness and warmth, yet in Latin America it can symbolize sorrow, mourning and even death. Moreover, in China, white represents the color of death, but red symbolizes good fortune and happiness.

Making sure that your content is culturally aware is paramount to achieving a successful multilingual website.  This includes considerations for all components, even graphics. For instance, trying to entice users with hunger-inducing graphics of bbq brisket wouldn’t go down well in India where 80% of the population doesn’t eat beef.

In China and Japan, the general audience preference is to receive formal business language, emanating a successful and professional tone. Meanwhile, in English speaking countries, online marketing has shifted towards a more colloquial, relaxed language, often used to engage with consumers on social media. The aim here is to come across as “real people” and less like impersonal “corporate businesses”. Researching culture and symbolism in your target demographic can go a long way to ensuring the success of your website localization..

4. Localize Your Meta

When localizing your website for each language or language variation, it is also necessary to think about what keywords and search terms you’re targeting in your original language. This might feel like common sense when you’re translating into something like French or Spanish, but what about when translating your website from American English to British English? When looking for legal counsel in the States, it would make sense to search for an “attorney,” but in the U.K.,  that same search would most likely be for a “solicitor.” Keywords can change from language to language, country to country and even city to city, so it’s vital to know what your target market is looking for.

Bonus Tip! Localizing a Pre-Existing Website

A lot of the points we’ve touched on are things to consider from the very beginning of the website development process. While many of these points still apply when localizing an existing website, there are additional things to consider to make supplementary website localization as smooth as possible.

Does your current Content Management System (CMS) have language support? All too often people overlook the current capability of their website’s CMS and forget to check if it can actually provide multilingual features. Luckily, for most WordPress websites, this can be achieved with third party plugins like WPML or PolyLang.

Ensure your website supports the Unicode Standard (UTF-8). This is designed for ease of use providing a way for your website to encode and display standard multilingual text characters. Although this is the standard encoding for most CMSs, it’s best to check this before beginning your localization project.

5. Get Social!

Wherever your target audience is based, adding share buttons to a website increases user engagement and encourages users to share content across social media platforms. While the most common buttons in the US might include Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, in China (where these services are unavailable), you might find WeChat and Sina Weibo. Similarly, Xing is a competitor for LinkedIn in Germany, while VK is massive in Russia. You must know where the conversation is happening to be part of it!