Localization strategy

10 Key Localization Facts for Companies on the Verge of Going Global

If you're just starting to dip your toe into international waters, these 10 key localization facts can help you make educated decisions about the global future of your business.
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One of the main differences between the pre and post-globalization eras is how businesses operate. In the past, the organizations conducting international business were mostly large, multinational corporations. Today, the internet has democratized commerce, allowing smaller businesses to have a global presence by connecting with new customers previously out of their reach.

The tricky part about globalization is that you can't just replicate the same business model you use at home and expect it to be successful in a new country. There are a whole host of cultural, legal, and linguistic differences that you need to take into account. This is where localization comes in. In this guide, we've compiled 10 essential localization facts to equip your business for success as you expand internationally.

Localization is big business

Language services make up a massive industry that is growing at an incredibly fast pace. Despite technology merging global tastes and giving companies new platforms to market their products, the language barrier is still a very real challenge.

The market size of the global language industry is estimated to climb to more than $57B by the end of 2022—the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated growth by 40% in just a couple of years. Europe owns nearly half of the global language services market, followed by North America at 39.41%, where increasing diversity and changing demographics have made multicultural marketing a priority for multiple businesses that previously focused on English-only audiences.

Localization employs a lot of people

Localization is a complex, multi-step process that requires the work of many different professionals, from project managers and linguists to developers and UX designers. It's not surprising, then, that localization is a major job creator.

While it isn't easy to get an exact count—seeing as freelance linguists make up a large portion of the workforce—CSA Research houses a database of approximately 26K language service providers (LSPs) worldwide. The US alone registered almost 70K interpreters and translators employed in 2021.

Non-English speakers won't buy what they can't read

CSA Research showed that if people can’t understand a website, they won’t buy products from it. They specifically studied non-English-speaking individuals residing in different countries of the EU. When presented with websites in English only, they clicked out of them faster than you could say “localize.”

The study found that a massive 87% of them wouldn't 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.

Not everyone speaks English, no matter how global the language has become, and competition is only a click away. 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 that they need to see in their own language to feel confident about buying from you. You need to ensure that the whole user experience is smooth and feels natural to them. Colors, for example, can have different meanings in different cultures. Currency, the date and time format, weights, measures, and images are other elements you need to consider to avoid alienating your new customers.

Localization and translation aren't the same

It's common to see localization and translation used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. The main difference between localization and translation is one of scope: Translation is the process of converting text from one language to another, while localization takes a broader approach, encompassing both translation and cultural adaptation. When you opt for mere translation in your quest to go global, you might end up with a product or service that doesn't make sense in the new culture.

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 would be utterly perplexed—the year-round heat and lack of snow mean that few people have any need for traction control. On top of that, when using that same page across all 22 Spanish-speaking countries, you’ll soon find out that even the word for "car" differs from country to country ("coche," "auto," "vehículo").

Not all people speak the 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

User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) localization can be challenging. The average English sentence is about 15 words long, while the equivalent in German would be around 22 words—that's 40% more. This difference in sentence length means that you need more horizontal space on a page when translating into languages like German, French, Spanish, and Russian.

Vertical space is also important. In some languages, like Japanese and Chinese, the writing runs vertically rather than horizontally. This can cause problems when you’re trying to fit everything into a space that was originally designed for horizontal text. Right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic are another consideration—you'll need to flip your UI around completely.

If you haven’t left room for localization in the design of your website or app from the start, it’s going to be a lot harder (and more expensive) to make the necessary changes later on. You don't want your design to break, look suboptimal, or just not make sense when you start adding other languages.

Designing dropdown menus, CTAs, forms, and other key elements with localization in mind from the outset is essential to ensure a good user experience for all your customers, no matter what language they speak.

Localization requires prior internationalization

If your website or app isn't prepared for localization, the process will be more difficult and expensive later on. Think of it as trying to put a square peg in a round hole. You can do it, but it's going to take some brute force—and the result won't look or work as well as it would have if you'd made the hole the right shape from the get-go.

The process of making a website or app “localization-ready” is referred to as internationalization (i18n). Once your product has been internationalized, you can then start adapting it for specific locales (or target markets).

Some common internationalization tasks include:

  • Extracting hard-coded text from the codebase and storing it in resource files
  • Creating placeholder texts (or “skeletons”) for translated content
  • Designing UI elements that can resize or be rearranged to accommodate different languages
  • Using Unicode to support a wide range of characters
  • Setting up a translation management system with all the necessary features for an efficient localization workflow

As you can see, internationalization is a big task that requires careful planning. It's important to start thinking about it early on in the development process—preferably before your developers have written a single line of code.

China is the most lucrative market—and one of the hardest to crack

Of all the potential markets out there, China is by far the one with the most potential for growth. However, it's also one of the most difficult to enter.

There are over 1.4B people in China, and that number is only going up. The country's middle class is growing rapidly, and as disposable incomes rise, so does consumer spending power. The most lucrative app market in the world is in China, too, and if you want a piece of that pie, you'll need to be prepared to put in the work.

Because as easy as it may seem to appeal to such a large potential customer base, the fact is that China is a very different market from anywhere else:

  • 95% of Chinese online shoppers will only use websites that are in their own language
  • The Great Firewall of China blocks access to many international websites and apps
  • Consumer preferences—such as cluttered websites—and expectations are different from what you may be used to

Many international companies have tried and failed to localize for China. If you want to be successful, you'll need to put in the time and effort to understand the market and what Chinese consumers are looking for.

Research is a vital part of localization

Many companies have crashed and burned in their efforts to localize their message to different markets, and a big reason for that is that they didn't do their research.

Before you start translating your website or app into another language, it's essential to learn about the target market: what are their needs and preferences? What cultural references will resonate with them? What payment methods do they prefer?

Market research can be a time-consuming process, but it's essential if you want your global expansion efforts to succeed. Without it, you're essentially shooting in the dark and hoping that your localization efforts will somehow pay off.

From not considering local competitors to offending a whole community with an insensitive marketing campaign, there are a lot of ways that skipping market research can come back to bite you. When you complement in-depth research with help from local teams on the ground and the work of expert in-market translators, you give your company the best chance possible of succeeding in a new market.

SEO and ASO can make or break your localization efforts

Just like you want your content to be discoverable in your home market through domestic SEO, you'll need to make sure that your localized content is properly optimized for search in your target market. This is called international SEO.

Say you're localizing your product for 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 speaking the same language 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 applies to your mobile app ASO strategy. App store optimization for international markets is vital if you want to encourage downloads and ensure that your app is visible to potential users. Again, you’ll need to use the right keywords, plus the right app name, adequate imagery, and localized descriptions. You’ll also need fresh, local, relevant links pointing from your different app store listings to your localized website.

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 everyone involved to work efficiently with the help of localization technology.

Devising a localization strategy that accounts for all the above facts and automates key processes can help you save time and money while expanding your business globally. It's all about having the right processes, people, and tools in place to face the challenges and opportunities of the global market armed and ready.