Best Practices for Website Localization
What is localization?
Localization, often abbreviated as L10N, is the process of adapting the content of a website, app, video game, etc. to a specific country or region. Localization thus involves translating the language, but it is also much broader than that. It includes adapting cultural references, date and time formats, currencies, payment modalities, multimedia content, and anything else that can be optimized for your local target audience.
In other words, the difference between translation and localization is that translation involves changing the text from one language to another, while localization includes all the other aspects of user experience that need to be adapted when you launch your product in a new market.
Why is localization important?
Localizing your website opens you up to a whole new market of potential customers. Even though English may be the lingua franca of commerce, most consumers prefer to shop on websites that are in their native language. In a survey of consumers in 29 countries by CSA Research, 40% of respondents claimed that they only buy from websites or apps that are in their native language. If you’re not localizing, you’re not reaching those people.
Moreover, localizing your website will help potential customers find you, since most people use search engines in their native language. Localizing your keyword strategy can boost your visibility and help generate traffic to your website.
Top localization best practices
Write with localization in mind
The process of creating content that’s easy to localize is called internationalization. There are some simple steps your web developer can take while building your website so it’s ready to be localized—like enabling it to handle different languages, character sets, currencies, submit form data, and so on. Likewise, you can help make the localization process as smooth as possible by writing your source content with localization in mind.
When writing source content, avoid using examples or cultural references that might not resonate with foreign audiences unless strictly necessary or easy to modify. The more elements that need to be adapted instead of simply translated, the more complicated your localization process will be and the greater the chances of your play on words getting lost in translation.
For example, references to specific school grades can be a headache to adapt because different countries have vastly different educational systems. If you can express it in terms of age instead, your translators will thank you!
❌ We run an after-school program for kids in grades 6 to 8.
✔ We run an after-school program for kids aged 11 to 14.
Always use language that is clear and concise. Not only is this much easier to translate, but it’s also just good writing. Also keep in mind that your text may expand in length during translation, as some languages are wordier than others. For example, French and Spanish are about 30% longer than English. So if you’re writing in English and planning to translate into Romance languages, try not to go right up to the character/space limit in the source text.
Connect your website directly to our translation software
Connecting your CMS directly to your service provider’s translation software makes it easy to integrate the content into your website—without spending hours copy-pasting!
Many CAT (computer assisted translation) tools offer a plugin that connects to the most popular CMS solutions, like WordPress or Hubspot. It imports the content directly from your website into the translation tool, and then exports that translation to your website when it’s ready. This saves a lot of time and risk of human error because you don’t have to manually paste the translation into each page of your site. On top of that, it makes it super easy to manage any updates to your site content; when you make an edit or publish a new page, it can automatically send that new content to translation.
A CAT tool isn’t the same thing as machine translation. Your content will still be translated by a human (unless you request otherwise). The most important feature of CAT tools is that they break your content down into segments and store these in a database called a translation memory (TM), which allows you to reuse past translations of repeated or similar content, thus speeding up the translation process and ensuring consistency. Normally these repetitions are charged at a lower rate, so using a TM keeps your costs down—and the turnaround times are faster.
CAT tools also feature a built-in terminology glossary, called a termbase (TB), which gives translators easy access to your glossary and your preferred vocabulary. They also have useful quality audit features that automatically check for things like extra spaces, inconsistencies (within the text and among versions), and even character count requirements.
Communicate with your translators
There’s a popular joke in our industry: How many translators does it take to change a lightbulb? It depends on the context.
So much of translation and meaning depends on context. While CAT tools have many advantages, as described above, the one disadvantage is that you lose a lot of context. For example, the word “Contact” on its own could be a call to action for a button, or a noun for a label. Without more context, there’s no way for the translator to be sure of the right translation.
The best way to provide context is to give your translation team access to your website. This may involve giving them a login so they can access sections of the site that are members-only or not yet published, or it could be as simple as just sending them the link to the page in question. If the website isn’t built yet, you can provide other reference material like wireframes, mockups or screenshots.
You can also add comments to help translators, like “this is a button to submit a form.” If you’re working with content in text-based code files (XML, HTML, JSON and so on) you can code the comments. If you manage your translations in a spreadsheet, you can add a column with notes.
Measure your localization ROI
Once your localized website launches, you need a way to track its performance the same way you would for your main site. Make sure to also track the sales figures for this new market, online as well as offline if you have brick and mortar stores. It can be tricky to parse out what revenue came from your localized website vs from your local marketing efforts vs what buyers would have spent if your website weren’t in their language. It’s not an exact science.
That said, when you begin your website localization project, you should have some goals in mind for what you want to achieve and KPIs you want to hit. If you don’t see the increased sales or traffic you were expecting after your site launches, that’s a sign that you need to take a closer look at what’s going on. You might find that there’s an important factor you forgot to localize, like your SEO strategy or the availability of customer support in your target audience’s native language. If you’re not measuring performance, you’ll never know.
Localizing your website is a big project that requires serious investment. By planning accordingly and following best practices, you can ensure that it goes smoothly and that you don’t waste your time or money. The right global content partner can help you create a solid localization strategy and set up an efficient workflow so you can get the most out of your multilingual website. Contact OXO today to get started.