Localization strategy

Localization: All the Stats, Facts, and Data You’ll Ever Need to Know

If you’re just starting to dip your toe into international waters, this guide will help you understand the ins and outs of localization.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

Chances are good that by reading this you already know quite a bit about localization (l10n). Still, many people, all too often, fail to realize and appreciate what makes localization different from translation.

The difference between translation and localization is that translation renders a message from one language into another, while localization adapts the translated message to the local context of the recipient. This makes translation a key part of localization, which has risen to a whole industry.

If you’re just starting to dip your toe into international waters, you may want to get equipped with as much localization stats and facts as possible to make the most of taking your product global.

Localization is a big business

Language-related services make up a massive industry that is growing at an incredibly fast pace. Despite technology merging global tastes and giving companies low barriers to market, the language barrier still exists. According to the Centre for Next Generation Localization, the language service industry is the 4th fastest growing one in the United States. Whether you spell it with a “z” or an “s,” by the way, is the very essence of localization. Tailoring your texts to suit your audience at all times. The total size of the global language industry was estimated to climb to more than $57B by 2022. So, if you’re wondering whether you’re in the right industry, that should answer the question for you.

Localization employs a lot of people

It’s not easy to get an exact count, seeing as freelance translators may also work to some extent as localizers. However, CSA Research houses a database of approximately 18,000 language services providers (LSPs) worldwide. Furthermore, the EU Directorate-General launched a report in 2012 that found that around 330,000 people are employed as translators or interpreters globally. Some 78% of European translators worked on a freelance basis. In the US, however, over 3,000 language firms employ more than 55,000 language services professionals. When it comes to localization, it must be remembered that you need more than just a great translator to do the job. You need a localization manager, developers, UX and UI designers, local marketing experts, and many more. What does all that translate into? The fact that localization employs a lot of people.

You can barely sell in English to non-English speakers

CSA Research showed that if people can’t understand a website, they won’t buy products from it. They specifically studied individuals residing in different countries of the EU. The participants did not speak English. When presented with websites in English only, they clicked out of them faster than you could say “page loading!”. The study found that a massive 87% of them would not buy from an English-only website. Consumers simply aren’t confident enough to part with their money on a website in a language they can’t understand. Whoever helped to perpetuate the myth that the whole world speaks English has caused many global companies to fail at the international marketing game.

Newsflash: not everyone in the world speaks English. Another newsflash: you’re not the only one in the market with an interesting product to sell. Your potential customers will simply click on a site that caters to their needs and speaks their language. Whether that’s a global competitor or a local provider on the ground. And it’s not only the words they need to see in their own language to instill confidence. You need to ensure that the whole user experience is smooth and feels natural to them. That means that you need to study how different colors work in different markets. What currency they use, the date and time format, weights, measures, images and so much more. If you blunder into new terrain with a monolingual website, you are gambling with your sales from non-English speakers.

Localization is not the same as translation

Call it localization, or call it l10n, whatever term you’re comfortable with, it’s not the same as translation. Many people get translation and localization confused. So, don’t be surprised if you need to explain the difference—customer after customer. Translating your software, website, or mobile app into the language of the country you want to do business in is a great start. But, it is only the start. You’ll need to have a team of people keeping an eye on pertinent details. Texts that are merely translated tend to miss the context in which the text is perceived. Just imagine you have a product page that sings the praises of a new car's traction control in the snow. Now translate that message into Spanish for a Caribbean audience. The Audience is probably going to feel out of place in year-round heat. Worse still, when using that same page across all 22 Spanish-speaking countries and you’ll soon find out that there are big differences in the perception of the texts. People don’t speak a language in the same way, they don’t celebrate the same holidays or live in the same climate. They don’t have the same culture, ideals, beliefs, humor, or even purchasing preferences. You’ll need to research all of these under a microscope before expecting to gain a successful foothold on a foreign shore.

You need a lot of space

Space may be the final frontier, but when it comes to l10n, it should be at the forefront of your mind. When it comes to designing your website or app, you’ll need to be obsessed with space. Just as any good designer knows the importance of letting a website breathe and not cluttering the design with too much noise. This concept needs to be vastly exaggerated when it comes to localization. Why? Because not all languages take up the same amount of space or read from left to right. Arabic, for example, reads backwards, from right to left. Japanese, Chinese and Korean, as well as other Asiatic languages, read vertically. If you haven’t left room for flexibility in your design, it’s going to break, look suboptimal, and need some costly tweaks and fixes. So, consider your dropdown menus, CTAs, and download buttons. Even languages that share the same alphabet can be deceiving. A simple phrase in English may take up just two or three words. But in French or Spanish, you may need several more. German can take up to 40% more space than English, so ignore this need at your peril.

Localization requires internationalizing your website

It’s best to plan for localization from the start by internationalizing your website. Of course, you can make major changes to your website later, but major changes tend to be expensive. Here’s another cool shorthand for you. Internationalization is commonly known as I18n. You’ll hear about I18n a lot as you move through your localization project, so it’s good to get comfortable using it.

When you internationalize your website, you’re essentially preparing it for other languages. This will make it much easier when you want to move into each new market. Leaving enough space, as mentioned before, is a key factor in your design. But, in I18n, your developers will really show their worth. They will get busy with valuable behind-the-scenes preparation to launch your international versions. Part of this will be about applying Hreflang tags to your URLs. These will let search engines know what language a certain page is in.

Unicode (UTF-8) is the real key to internationalization, though. You’ll need to make sure that your programmers are using it. Unicode is the industry coding standard to support different languages. It covers just about every language you can think of and assigns a unique symbol to each character, standardizing encodings across server and browser. 99% of compatibility issues are solved with Unicode. There are some very rare cases when you’ll need to use UTF-16, and that’s if you’re working with some rarer Asian languages.

Internationalizing your website isn’t only about your programmers. You’ll need a united team with everyone on the same page. A good translation management software will help you do this. You’ll need to explain to your translators how to work with strings and give them the work to translate in context. Your developers will then need to separate the content from the code and store it. This means that you won’t have to break your strings each time you want to localize for a new country. Internationalization of your website is a process and investment but will smooth the l10n process for you in the long run.

China is the most lucrative market and one of the hardest

95% of Chinese online shoppers will only use websites that are in their own language. So, why is it that just 1% of US retailers offer websites that are specific to China? China is the most lucrative app market in the word, with app revenue expected to hit $42 billion by 2020. However, it’s also the hardest market to crack. You have to comply with various standards to get through the great firewall of China. And you also need to tap into the psychology of a vastly different culture. Many international companies have tried and failed to localize for China. So, you’ll need to carry out ample research before deciding if this is a suitable market for you.

Carrying out a localization project requires a lot of research

Many companies have crashed and burned in their efforts to localize their message to different markets. Usually, it’s simply because of a lackluster effort and a poorly translated website. But, sometimes, it’s actually way worse than that. You really don’t want to become the laughing stock of a country because of a strange-sounding or off-point translation. Worse still, would be offending a local community because of inappropriate images or wording. So, getting help from local teams on the ground will prove invaluable when rolling out your localization project. Using local translators and marketers who can ensure you steer clear of cultural taboos is essential. They can also help you avoid costly lawsuits and comply with legislation. Remember what they say, failing to plan is like planning to fail. This has never been more important than it is with l10n right now.

Localization requires clear SEO and ASO strategies

You have a well-thought-out SEO strategy for your home market, don't you? Well, you’re going to need to do that for your target market abroad and the respective localized versions as well. Localization is an awesome way of improving your SEO around the world, as long as you get it right. So, when you’re localizing your website for different markets, let’s say, France, you’ll need to know what keywords and search terms French people use in their native language when looking for a product like yours. These differences are very noticeable, not only between languages but between different countries as well. Just think about the difference in accent and vocabulary between Brits and Americans. British people wear jumpers. Americans wear sweaters. British people go on holiday. Americans take a vacation. You’ll need to know these key differences so that your localized website doesn’t fly under the radar of web users. The same is true with your mobile app ASO strategy. You’ll need to make sure that you use the right keywords. The right app name, imagery, and translations from region to region, app store to app store are vital. You’ll also need fresh, local, relevant links pointing to your different language version websites.

Localization doesn't need to be hard

Localization is a complex process with many moving parts. Not only do you have many different languages and dialects to deal with, but you have cultural and technical aspects involved as well. To make the most of it, you need to put together a strong team and enable all everyone involved to work efficiently with the help of localization technology. Finally, just for fun, let's with some more localization facts to ponder: