Thanks to the Internet, businesses now have access to an almost unlimited market. With more than 3.5 billion Internet users every day, companies can find customers everywhere. CEOs from Bristol to Beijing are rubbing their hands with glee! And CMOs and product managers are tearing out their hair! Why? Because access to international customers may mean greater profits, but it’s also a lot more work.
Just because users from Japan, Italy and Venezuela are only a click away, doesn’t mean they understand your English language site. Or that it meets their needs with format, currency, offers and user experience. So, if you want to capitalize on this goldmine of potential profit, you’ll need to invest in website localization. You’ll need different language and regional versions of your website that walk and talk like a native, in a local and appealing way.
According to a Common Sense Advisory study, if your website users can’t read your site, they’ll exit out of it faster than you can say “page loading.” And they won’t come back. They’ll buy from your competitors offering inferior products and services. Why? Because trust is higher in their native language. They feel more comfortable navigating and buying from sites that offer products in their own language and currency.
Website Localization is Essential
More and more businesses are going global and boosting their sales through website localization. Getting the right message to the right people, no matter what language they speak, or purchasing habits they have. But managing a full-scale website localization project is a big deal. Localizing your website requires market research, an excellent team and a lot of coordination. As well as a sizeable investment.
It’s hard to calculate the exact formula for website localization ROI. But if you want access to global buyers, the only thing certain is that you will lose out on business by not localizing. There are plenty of apps and online sites that will translate your message for you, but that doesn’t mean they’ll do it well. Machine translation still can’t speak and sound like a human being – let alone one that’s fluent in local dialects. So, you’ll need to find the right words and images to adapt to local buyers, while keeping a consistent company voice in all markets.
Sounds hard? That’s because it is – dang hard, in fact. With so many different languages and buying preferences, website localization can seem overwhelming. But, before you stop in your tracks, check out our essential guide to website localization, step by step.
Step 1: Perform an investment analysis
The first step towards website localization is knowing who you’re going to sell to. You need to analyze which markets are likely to bring in more revenue from your products. Going global without proper research won’t bring you the revenue you’re expecting. You’ll need to comply with local legislation, avoid cultural taboos and – above all – make sure there’s a demand for what you’re selling.
Identify your international buyer personas by conducting specific research. Using generic data about an entire continent is not good enough. Most of South America might share the same language, but they don’t use it in the same way.
Their vocabulary, tone of voice and tastes vary greatly from Bogota to Buenos Aires. They don’t share the same climate, seasons, fashion or food preferences. If you want to launch a line of winter clothing in Argentina in December, you’ll need to know that the people are in the middle of a heatwave. Clamoring to buy swimsuits, rather than scarves.
Your website localization ROI will depend on how well you manage the process in all its stages. So, it’s essential to start out right with every country you approach. Try asking a few simple, but essential questions like:
- Is there an interest for your product in a specific market?
- What is that market’s growth rate?
- How much competition is there?
- Can local buyers afford your products?
- What are their buying preferences?
- How much will transportation and customer support cost you?
- How high is the cost of website localization compared with the potential market?
According to the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), in China, 95% of Chinese online shoppers prefer using websites in their own language. But only one percent of US-based online retailers offer sites specific to China. Why is that?
It could be an epic oversight by US multinationals and service providers. But, it’s more likely that complex cultural issues, protective legislation or lack of local demand are to blame.
It’s important to reach the highest number of potential customers without spending more than your company can afford. But consider all marketing and financial indicators when deciding what markets to approach. China clearly has huge potential if you look at the number of internet users. But plain numbers may not be relevant if you don’t have a chance of selling your product.
Step 2: Define the dimensions of your project
Localization is about much more than plain translation of your content into another language. Different countries come with many localization challenges. So, you’ll have to tailor your website to meet expectations in each one of them. Adapting to local customs and complying with legislation is essential. Careful planning will avoid being forced out by governing bodies or laughed out for your international marketing blunders.
Understanding technologies when going through the localization process is essential. Not all countries use the same programs, software, search engines or devices. Just as your translators need to know your target spoken languages, your developers must understand different programming languages.
Once you have selected the regions you want to target, set the scope of your project for all parties. Let your translators know how many words they have to translate. Tell your developers how many pages they have to code. Having a clear to-do list helps you evaluate costs and set realistic deadlines for your website localization project.
Step 3: Internationalize your website
One you’ve defined the size and scope of your potential markets, the next step in website localization is to internationalize your website. Localization (l10n) and internationalization (i18n) are terms that you’re going to hear a lot throughout your project, so you’ll need to get comfortable using them.
Internationalization is the process of preparing your original website for other languages. By internationalizing, you can easily make changes when you localize into a new language. This way, you won’t have to start the process from zero each time.
Internationalization of your website should be considered from the start. Simple things, like leaving space in your website design and using fewer images, can smooth the localization process.
In website internationalization, your programmers will come into their own. They will carry out behind the scenes work coding and making your website suitable for each country. They will apply Hreflang tags to let Google know what language a certain page is in.
The most important aspect of internationalization, is making sure that your programmers use Unicode (UTF-8). Unicode has become the industry standard for supporting different languages, when it comes to encoding systems. Unicode supports almost all languages by assigning a unique symbol to the immense amount of characters found, from French to Arabic, and even Chinese.
Using UTF-8 will fix compatibility issues in 99% of cases, as it standardizes encodings across server and browser. There are only a few cases where UTF-16 may need to be applied, and that’s if you’re working with a lot of specific Asian languages.
Apart from Unicode, your programmers should work harmoniously with your translators. They’ll need to be able to divide the source code to be translated into separate strings. Your translators will need to see the strings in context so that they can provide an accurate translation. The content will then need separating from the code and storing. This is so that you won’t have to break your strings each time you translate into a new language. Internationalizing your website might seem like a lot of hard work, but it will pay off in the long run.
Step 4: Design for various audiences
Setting the right technical foundations is crucial to support a wide variety of languages and characters. In Arabic, for example, you read from right to left, while Chinese, Japanese and Korean scripts are written vertically. So, you need to consider all these aspects when designing your website.
Leave space for extra words, especially in your menus, download and CTA buttons. Expressions in English using just three words can be a lot longer in French or Italian. Sometimes, a short word in one language is significantly longer in another. So, having a flexible layout is essential when working with various languages.
If you want to create a consistent global presence for your brand, try using a global template. Louis Vuitton, for example, uses the same template for all sites, whether they sell in Italy, Hong Kong, or China. They have a simple, but modern design, with enough space to support all language changes and specific calls to action for each country. The images remain the same, but the language changes according to the region you select.
You can also use global gateways to give immediate access to any version of your website. This is especially effective if you’re planning to launch in a country with multiple languages. Sites like Amazon or YouTube use simple dropdowns. Users can select countries and languages to make access easier for all potential customers.
Regardless of the template you decide to use, make sure that all versions of your website are optimized for mobile access. The number of cell phone users worldwide is set to reach 4.77 billion by 2017. So, not having a mobile version for your website is almost like not having a website at all.
Step 5: Translate your content
This step is the most important in the entire process. Selecting the right images, code and devices to reach your customers on will mean nothing if they don’t identify with your message. To ensure that your message appeals to local people, be sure to use native translators, who understand their audience.
You need to deliver the same amount of wit, wisdom and charisma that your original message contains. This means you may need to look for translators who can work with a list of keywords and apply techniques of transcreation. They will be less bound by the original text and given more freedom to localize your message.
Customers today are overwhelmed with options when it comes to buying online. If you want to stand out from the crowd and boost your sales, don’t cut corners when it comes to translating your content. Even the smallest of translation errors can cause serious damage to your global image.
What may be funny in your language could be insulting for people from a different culture. Even universally accepted icons and gestures, such as the thumbs up sign, can get you in trouble in some parts of the Middle East. Think about a country like Spain with cultural differences within the same region. Dialects, languages, colloquial phrases and jargon should all be considered, as this is what speaking like a native means.
Using a translation management software will be invaluable for keeping you website localization project on track. You will have a lot of assets to translate, from menus and error messages, to image captions and product pages. So, you’ll need this tool to help organize your tasks and keep track of what has been done and what is still awaiting.
With the right translation management software, such as PhraseApp, you’ll get awesome collaboration features. Your team will be able to leave comments and feedback. Translators can understand the context of what they need to translate, as you can upload screenshots, notes and requests.
They can ask questions and discuss possible meanings of words in a simplified manner. Your translation management software will greatly speed up your website localization project. Saving you time and money of going through long emails threads or never-ending Skype chats.
Step 6: Implement Your SEO Strategy
Just as you have an SEO strategy for your English website, you’ll need to come up with one for your localized versions. It’s not as simple as translating your list of keywords, though. Different countries use different search terms. Working with a native SEO specialist or a local marketing consultant may be helpful. They can perform an ‘in-country review’ to ensure that your site is optimized for keywords and locally used expressions.
Your translators should have a list of keywords that they need to include from the beginning. This way, they can make the translation appealing to both people and search engines. You can’t rely your old external links, either. Each new version of your website should include its own links, generated in the local area.
So, encourage your local teams to create relevant content that can be linked to from other relevant sites. Optimize your website for different search engines, depending on the country you’re localizing for. In most regions, Google still holds the lion’s share on the search engine market. But in some countries, people have preferences for Bing and Yahoo. Two particular cases are Russia and China, where locals don’t go to Google when they need information, but to Yandex and Baidu.
Step 7: Select the right images
When it comes to images for your website, there are two main aspects to consider:
- Choosing the right elements that don’t cross cultural limits
- Adapting any included texts
When choosing visuals, you need to consider the cultural impact they will have on your potential buyers. In your logo and icons, avoid symbols with any religious symbolism, hands, or animals. Even Coca Cola changed their logo for China to make their product more attractive for locals. So, don’t be afraid of trying new things if your traditional image or colors don’t fit the target market.
If you use people in your photos, you may need to adapt the images. A US family going Christmas shopping in the snow is not something Brazilians can identify with in the middle of summer. Colors are important too, as they have different meanings around the world. Even blue, which is often used for website templates and illustration (Facebook, PayPal), is the color for mourning in Iran.
Whether you prefer photos or graphics, make sure that you use SVG (scalable vector graphics), instead of embedding text. This way, translating any captions included in your original illustrations will be easier. SVGs are easier for translators and programmers to work with. They’re also SEO-friendly and visible to search engines.
Step 8: Check all local laws and regulations
Most countries have different laws when it comes to business and online activity. Make sure that you research well before entering new markets. Knowing the local regulations can keep you out of legal issues, as well as helping you save money and time. Comparative advertising, where one company highlights their advantages over another, is commonplace in the USA. But, in some parts of Europe it is considered tasteless and can even be illegal.
There can be complications with data protection wherever you decide to operate. If you plan on operating in Russia, for example, the local law dictates that all personal data of Russian individuals must be processed and stored in databases located within the country. Otherwise, authorities can ban your website and you’ll lose your investment. China, on the other hand, doesn’t have clear regulations. Just another element that makes doing business with this Asian tiger more difficult.
Besides data protection, you should also check regulations surrounding marketing campaigns and agreements. Some countries, including Canada, have anti-spam laws in place to protect consumers. Which means you’ll need their consent before sending a commercial email. Sending companies or customers unsolicited emails could land you with a fine, or even ban. So, make sure you put in your legal research before coming up with clever promotions.
Step 9: Optimize site speed
Internet providers have different standards for each country. So, what might seem like good speed in Italy is average for Norway. No one likes a website that takes forever to load, so make sure you consider the internet speeds in the country you’re targeting.
If you’re planning to expand your business in places with slow internet, you’d better quit on large files, images and graphics. Come up with a simplified version of your website that is light and loads quickly, to avoid losing customers.
Videos are the Sumo wrestlers of the content marketing world. Big and heavy and take up a lot of space. While they can be great to share on social media, leave videos off your website. Host them on YouTube or Vimeo instead.
Step 10: Test before launching
You already know by now that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make sure you get it right! Run extensive tests before revealing your new website to the public. Work with native specialists when going through the testing process and check all aspects, including:
- Encryption algorithms
- Hardware compatibility
- Names, time, date, weights, measurements, etc.
- Entry fields
- Image appropriateness
- Broken strings / design
- Form functionality
- Shopping Cart
- Load tim
- Spelling errors, wrong use of words, punctuation errors
- Grammatical mistakes
- Presence of cultural taboos
- Inappropriate or offensive texts
- Misuse of keywords
- Readability and appeal of message
- Untranslated strings
Wrapping it Up
You can’t fix something unless you know it’s broken, so it’s always wiser to ask a second opinion. Working with a UX consultant is helpful, as you can see how your site is interacted with by users. Running A/B testing is also a great idea, so that you can gauge user behavior and reactions to content presented in different ways. Sometimes the smallest changes can improve your conversion rate. A simple tweak here and there can turn your website localization investment into profit faster. So, don’t be afraid to experiment – and don’t be afraid to start.
Also published on Medium.