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By OXO Innovation
December 14, 2023

5 Website Localization Mistakes and Best Practices to Avoid Them

Embarking on website localization for global markets requires careful consideration to avoid critical errors that could impact your business’s success. Even with a well-established online presence, overlooking key localization practices can lead to costly overruns, quality issues, and brand mismanagement. Recognizing the potential errors and identifying website localization best practices before starting down this road reduces headaches and improves the odds of successfully going global.

Businesses often look to localized website content as a port of entry to start growing local operations and expanding markets. However, customers worldwide are quite discerning—if they view your first entry into the new market as poorly planned, culturally insensitive or overly difficult, your organization’s wider business ambitions can be in jeopardy.

While you can recover from a mistake, why not avoid it altogether? Here’s a list of the top five common mistakes when localizing websites and some best practices to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Neglecting Language and Cultural Nuances

One of the most common blunders in website localization is to deploy a uniform approach across different markets. When the characteristics of the source language and the culture of the headquarters dominate the content in local markets, website visitors often perceive geocentric arrogance or incapacity to understand the local culture.

Here’s how you can avoid this common mistake:

  • Tailor Content to Specific Regions: Acknowledge the diversity of each market. Use the appropriate language variants (e.g. Latin American, US or European Spanish?) and understand cultural nuances to resonate better with local audiences.
  • Avoid Cultural Insensitivity: Refrain from using references or imagery that may be offensive or disrespectful in the local culture. Internationalization as preparation for actual localization is key.
  • Prioritize Proximity over Uniformity: While consistency in branding is vital, adapting messages to align with local sentiments and preferences can significantly enhance engagement and give you an edge over the competition.

Remember, effective localization involves more than just translation; it’s about conveying your message in a way that resonates with the target audience. The closer you are to your audience, the better chances you have to win them.

Mistake #2: Content Localization Without Channel Alignment

Localization efforts often focus solely on content while overlooking the adaptation of support channels. Companies that choose to go global must analyze how their prospects and customers use the Internet. However, they may fail to provide additional means for the customer to complete their journey. 

Recommended website localization best practices to avoid this mistake:

  • Align Communication Channels: Ensure that your support channels, such as contact numbers and customer service representatives, are tailored to regional preferences and languages. An 1-800 number will not work in the target country, and for B2C activities, local language support might be a legal requirement—it is the law in Quebec, for instance.
  • Diversify Payment Methods: Offer various payment options that cater to the specific needs and preferences of each market. Not everyone has an international credit card; the more options you give, the better choices you have to close the deal.
  • Optimize Social Media Presence: Create localized profiles on the most popular social channels of each different region; this will maintain consistency with your brand while catering to local preferences.
  • Consider Mandatory Fields and Field Limitations: The number of digits and allowed characters in contact form fields varies considerably. Non-US regions may require special characters or have letters in their telephone numbers and postal codes.

    Websites are about conversion—moving the visitor down the sales pipeline. Balancing content localization with channel adaptation is crucial for a seamless user experience and increased conversions.

    Mistake #3: Neglecting Mobile Friendliness

    With the surge in mobile internet usage globally, overlooking mobile optimization is a big mistake for most industries. Today, mobile represents 58% of web traffic worldwide. In Canada, 96% of people aged 15-44 have a smartphone, and even seniors are adapting to the new mobile era, with 54% owning a mobile device. What does this mean to you? If your web content and design efforts do not support mobile devices upfront, you could be harming your ROI opportunity.

    Failing to provide the content in the target language will leave a substantial percentage of your prospects to fend for themselves. Rather than converting, those prospects often abandon their contact with a company. Website localization and design best practices work hand-in-hand here:

    • Prioritize Mobile-Friendly Design: Optimize your website for various devices and screen sizes, considering factors like operating systems, screen resolutions, and internet speeds prevalent in different regions.
    • Address Technical Issues: Ensure faster loading times, eliminate pop-up ads, and optimize navigation for a smoother user experience.
    • Responsive Design or Separate Mobile Sites: Choose between a responsive design for one site or separate mobile sites based on regional needs and preferences. Keep in mind that text length changes from one language to another.

    Adapting your website for mobile users with these best practices is crucial in regions where mobile internet usage is predominant. And the trend is that the entire world and all generations will only consume more content on their mobile devices in the near future.

    Mistake #4: Sacrifice Quality for Cost Savings

    Many times, managers make the decision to keep in-house their localization efforts—and occasionally translation work—to manage the process internally and avoid seeking additional budget. 

    The idea may sound appealing, but it is likely to produce a costly outcome. Although the cost considerations for localizing website content are significant, cutting corners to save money leads to bad customer experience, lost revenue, and wasted effort in rework. 

    Here are some website localization best practices to keep your project within budget:

    • Selective Localization: Technical documentation, corporate news and press releases can be left in English while you focus on the three main sections: home, contact page and service/product description. Make sure to include a “English only” note in the target language, placed next to the links to the pages left untranslated.
    • Leverage Machine Translation Wisely: With the ever-increasing quality of MT engines and AI translation, web users are becoming more accepting of it. Make sure to include a disclaimer explaining which parts of the website were not translated by humans. And engage with your audience by asking them to rate the quality of the content or submit requests to have articles reviewed by a professional.
    • Invest in Professional Expertise: Engage professional linguists and localization experts for accurate translations, ensuring quality and cultural relevance. Make the most of the expertise of your internal team members by putting them in charge of more relevant yet less time-consuming tasks, such as validation of terminology queries, glossary approval and style guide endorsement.

    A recent CSA Research study based on the behaviors and preferences of 9,909 respondents in 33 nations shows that increasingly less information consumers will buy or even consider products and services if they’re not provided in their mother tongue. With so much on the line, do not take the risk of making any of these mistakes when you can easily avoid them.

    Mistake #5: Ineffective Project Management

    Management teams may not be aware of the factors that can put their localization efforts at risk. Hence, the biggest mistakes companies can make when engaging in a website localization project often result from inexperienced or incompetent project management. 

    Ineffective management results in little to no project management, poor quality control, inconsistent tools and resources, inadequate or increased budget and more. Ultimately, that means:

    • Delayed, incomplete or obsolete web content that instills an image of lethargy and carelessness among customers.
    • Inconsistent branding across the company that reduces the return on your marketing investment.
    • Page errors and broken links that frustrate the visitor and potential customer.
    • Content that is not findable in the local language, which harms SEO results and reduces viewership.
    • Subpar customer experience that can lead to viral criticism on social media.

    Best practices in project management apply just as well in website localization. To ensure effective project management, it is always good to go back to the basics:

    • Establish Clear Responsibilities: Clearly define roles and responsibilities within the localization project, ensuring accountability and smooth coordination between teams.
    • Invest in Consistent Tools: Utilize standardized tools and resources for translation, content management, and quality control across different markets.
    • Allocate Adequate Budget and Resources: Allocate sufficient budget and resources to facilitate seamless localization processes without compromising quality.

    Navigating the Complexities of Global Localization

    International expansion is both an exciting and risky proposition for companies of any size. Yet with close to 80% of consumers today choosing the competitor if they offer a similar product in their own language, and 40% buying only if the information is available in their language, the upsides are staggering.

    Website localization is a multi-faceted process that requires a nuanced understanding of cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects. Successful website localization isn’t just about translation; it’s about delivering a tailored experience that resonates with diverse audiences across the globe. By recognizing common mistakes and implementing content localization best practices, you set yourself up for success when entering new markets in other countries.

    Before choosing a localization company, research and ask advice from peers and industry associations, read online reviews, and contact us for a free consulting session. Our teams, processes and technology are built with an intrinsic client-first mentality, and that is what we pride ourselves on, as reflected in a very high satisfaction rate for our global clients. We will be happy to guide you through your website localization project: Contact us to learn more!

    This article was updated in December 2023.

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