Global expansion is high on the business agenda from New York City to Beijing. CEOs are rubbing their hands with glee, while CMOs and product managers are tearing out their hair. Why? Because access to international customers may mean greater profits, but at the same time, a lot more work.
If you’re in the throes of rolling out your website to a global audience, you probably know a little (or a lot) about localization. And if you’re tasked with the job of making your site more appealing to customers around the world, lucky you! Yours is a job that requires skill, determination, and coordination – resisting ALL temptation to bang your head against the wall as often as possible.
Why? Because website localization is a complex, yet rewarding task if done properly. However, the right website localization doesn’t just involve adding a plugin to your site. Sorry if that bursts your bubble! If you want to communicate a valuable message that resonates with your customers, machine translation won’t suffice. 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 currency, offers, and user experience.
People don’t like being spoken to by robots, or as if they were robots – not at home, and not in overseas countries either. 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.
With so many different languages and buying preferences, website localization can seem overwhelming. The list of website localization failures and international marketing blunders is long, very long. If you don’t want to join the thousands of companies who have goofed internationally, you’ll need to get it right, but if you’re stopping before you start or buckling under the weight of the awesome task ahead, fear not.
Localization doesn’t have to be a headache! If you ask yourself what is the best way to localize a website, make sure you check out these 9 key steps.
1. Plan for Website Localization from the Start
Statistics show that more than 4.5 billion people use the Internet every day. Most of them are from Asia, America, and Europe. While that doesn’t guarantee that all of them will be candidates for what your business is selling, it highlights the great potential. And the fact that if you’re only selling in one market, you’re missing out on huge potential profits. So, you should always consider the potential of international sales from the start.
If you’re just setting out to design your website or updating an existing one, factoring in website localization will be easier for you. Think big and think global. Even if your initial market is local or small, that doesn’t mean it always will be. Having access to the Internet gives you a window on the world, and the world a window on your business. Whether you sell productivity software or clothing for premature babies, global tendencies are merging. So, if you have a successful product at home, it’s just as likely to be an overseas hit as well.
However, you’ll need to be able to communicate with your French-speaking customers in French. To your Spanish-speaking customers in Spanish, and so on. Not only communicate either but craft an attractive message in their local language. Use their everyday vocab that they can understand and identify with. If you’re thinking that most of the world speaks English these days, you need to get with the program. While many foreign-language speakers understand English or even speak it well, that doesn’t mean they’ll buy from an English language website.
A couple of stats by CSA Research speak for themselves:
- 65% prefer content in their language, even if it’s poor quality
- 40% won’t buy from websites in other languages
In a similar manner, 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. However, it’s more likely that complex cultural issues, protective legislation, or lack of local demand are to blame.
Considering this background, how do you keep one eye on your international future as you set out to design your site? The simplest way of factoring in localization from the start is by leaving a lot of space in your design. Why? Because all languages are different and they don’t take up the same amount of room. If you’re bound by the constraints of your cluttered design or hard-coded CTAs, you’re going to run into a handful of problems – broken design, collapsing strings, site speed, and a lot of going back and forth.
Space will make your website breathe anyway and good designers are already aware of its purpose. Remember that Internet speeds are not the same globally. The fewer images and videos you include, the faster your website will run. You’ll also have fewer images to replace and tailor to your local markets and fewer assets to translate. When it comes to website localization, less is more.
2. Identify Your Target Market
The cost of localization rises with the number of languages you want to work with and the countries you want to target. I made a compelling argument for localizing your website. Nevertheless, you don’t need to embark on a full-scale localization project into over 1,000 languages if your core customer base is in one or two countries. Identify your target market and where you think your product will be more successful.
Start with those areas first and remember that new markets may open up in the future. Analyze the countries carefully that are more likely to bring in a greater ROI for your website localization project. Even huge global players, like McDonald’s, had to close down stores in some countries. Or were unable to find sufficient market demand (or comply with legislation). Going global without proper research is cavalier and unadvisable.
Companies like McDonald’s can absorb the cost of localization blunders, but can yours? Try to identify your international buyer personas by conducting specific research in each geographic region you want to approach. Using generic data about an entire continent is not good enough. The French, for example, are different from the Spanish. The Spanish don’t share the same culture as the Germans. More importantly, they don’t share the same language.
So, you’ll need to analyze and assess the demand. If your product is partially popular in one region, start out there. Building a one-size-fits-all plan for Europe won’t be of any use to anyone. 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:
- Is there an interest in your product in a specific market?
- What is the 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?
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.
3. Put a Strong Localization Team Together
Website localization has many stakeholders. In fact, one of the reasons that localization is so dang hard is because there are a lot of people involved. The size of your team may be bound by your budget, but that doesn’t mean the efficiency or the quality has to drop. You may decide to carry out your market research first hand by visiting the countries in question. If you’re lucky enough to have the time and resources for this. Most likely, you’ll work with a local consultant. At the very least, check out Google Analytics.
However you choose to approach it, you’ll need people on board who understand what makes your target market customers tick. 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. This will be in addition to a stellar team of native translators in your target market countries.
First-class translators will be able to translate and localize your message in a way that makes local people identify with it right away. 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.
Finally, you’ll also need a reliable team of developers who understand how to work with different software and languages (both programming and human.) They’ll need to understand how translators work and the context needed to translate a full text. Above all, your team will need to be able to work well together and collaborate with each other. Especially considering they will likely be separated over different time zones and geographical regions.
4. Get Your Keyword Research Done
Once you’ve chosen your key markets and languages, you’ll need to get your lists of keywords prepared. This is important, as getting your international SEO right is essential for your SERP. Do you know how you optimize your website for search engines at home? Well, you’re going to have to do that for search engines abroad as well. Not everyone in the world’s go-to search engine is Google. In China, they’re fans of Baidu. In Russia, they mainly use Yandex. Not only do you need to know the terms your customers are searching for, but you’ll need to know the search engines they’re using as well.
Just as your content is optimized at home, your translators should make use of key search terms in all languages, on-page, and off-page. That includes metadata, keyword density in your site, and external link anchors you use to point to your company. There are often many ways of translating the same text, so it’s essential that you provide your translators with a list of essential keywords. Optimizing your content doesn’t just include markets that speak different languages. Remember that British and Americans speak don’t sound the same. Mexicans and Argentinians don’t use all the same vocabulary. If you’re optimizing your website for “vacations in Orlando” for a UK audience, you’re off to a bad start. Brits go on “holiday,” not “vacation,” and your lack of research will be reflected in your SERP.
5. Automate the Website Localization Process End to End
If you’re thinking about managing this project manually, I suggest you reconsider. There’s a reason that technology exists and that’s because (in most cases) it makes our lives easier. You wouldn’t punch out your thesis on a typewriter, or add up complex equations without a calculator.
So, if you’re thinking of using spreadsheets, emails, and Word documents for website localization – stop before you start. Spreadsheets suck for localization and I’m pretty sure I heard someone say that too much manual work can kill you!
There’s way too much room for error when localizing your website manually. You have global teams working in isolation, translators guessing at what’s coming next, and programmers unsure how to break up RTL or vertical languages. It takes forever, you go back and forth, and you’ll end up spending way too much on your project. And tearing your hair out at the same time! If you like your hair and want to maximize your ROI, use translation management software. This brings us to our next point…
6. Use the Right Translation Management Software
Using the right translation management software will take the headache out of your website localization project. Your translation management software should have several key features, including:
- An API – to make automation possible. Your programmers can then integrate all projects with ease, import locale files, and interact with the data. An API is essential for streamlining your workflow.
- Collaboration functions – to make sure that your project runs smoothly. You need to be able to communicate effectively with all team members. Leave feedback, notes, comments, screenshots, and tags, all in one place.
- Direct website translation – just as it sounds, this will speed up your website localization project. If your translation management software doesn’t allow your translators to type directly onto your website, you’re slowing down your workflow. Remember the point about lengthy emails and piles of spreadsheets? Just think how awesome it would be if all that work could go right onto the site! Your translators and programmers could collaborate over one software!
- Translation Memory – to speed up your projects and record any frequently used terms. Your translation memory will also save all changes and let you look up older versions with ease. Cut down repetitive manual tasks for all.
Your translation management software will act as a project manager and coordinator at once. When you have all your team members working in harmony, you’re far more likely to get your website localized faster and at lower cost.
7. Internationalize Your Website
Internationalizing your website for other languages will make adjusting for new markets much easier. Your programmers will know all about internationalization and Unicode (if they don’t, you might need to look for new ones!) Applying this is a lot easier when you plan for website localization from the beginning, but the main things to consider are:
- Making sure your programmers use Unicode (UTF-8). This is the industry standard when it comes to encoding systems. It supports all languages, from Greek to Russian and even Chinese. Unicode provides a unique symbol for each of the hundreds of thousands of characters found in languages.
- Having your developers ready to work with your translators. They’ll need to divide the source codes and separate the translatable strings to adapt all your data to the new language.
- Separating the content from the code and storing it. This way, the next time you need to translate into a new language, you won’t have to break the strings again.
- Enabling codes for local preferences. This includes specific forms of addresses, date and time formats, number formats, or local calendars. Currency and shipping address formats are also important. People are more willing to buy when they don’t have to do the math with currency rates.
8. Test before Launching
Always plan for localization and linguistic testing of your website. Linguistic testing is to ensure that all words are correctly translated, accurate, and understood. Localization testing is about making sure your different language site versions are functioning right. To be more specific…
Localization testing is about checking:
- Encryption algorithms,
- Hardware compatibility,
- Names, time, date, weights, measurements, etc.,
- Entry fields,
- Image appropriateness,
- Broken strings/design,
- Form functionality,
- Shopping Cart,
- Load time etc.
Linguistic testing includes but is not limited to inspecting:
- 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.
If your site’s still loading slowly in your target country, think about investing in a content delivery network (CDN). This will use local servers to speed up load time around the world. Ensure that all weights and measurements, dates, and currency are correctly localized and that all images are appropriate. Check everything on mobile devices as well and with different browsers. Ensure that you deliver an optimal user experience (UX) around the world and that all your hard work with your website localization pays off. Test everything once, twice, three times, and more. If you don’t find the issue, you can bet your customer will, and that could result in a lost sale.
9. Keep Calm and Carry On Localizing
If it seems like a lot of hard work and you keep putting it off, remember to keep calm and carry on localizing. Think about the success stories and the more than 5B internet users worldwide. Remember the potential goldmine your business is sitting on and that any technical issues can be fixed. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready to launch your products in a new country!
So, don’t wait too long to make the right decision. Every great journey begins with a single step. Yours will begin by designing your website with localization in mind, researching your target market, and assembling the right team. With a well-planned localization strategy, the right people, and modern translation management software, you can pull website localization off to perfection.