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By Fabiano Cid
October 4, 2014

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Avoiding Common Mistakes When Localizing Websites for Latin America

As a company first approaches web content localization for Latin American markets, the potential pitfalls and chances for errors are numerous and worrisome. Even the most savvy and sophisticated website operations can, and most likely will, run into large cost overruns, quality control issues and brand management problems if they choose to go it alone. But recognizing the potential errors before starting down this road improves the odds of avoiding such problems and making a successful entry into this promising region.

Businesses often look to localized website content as a digital beachhead 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. And, the mistakes range from failing to think about target audiences to choosing advisors who really are not experts.

While it is not impossible to recover from a mistake – why make them in the first place if they can be avoided? This list of the top five mistakes companies make when localizing websites for Latin America includes what you should look for and how to prevent them.

Mistake #1: Failure to Speak the Local Language

Management and marketing should never view Latin America as one monolithic market. This mistake could ruin opportunities and waste investor’s money. Reaching prospects depends heavily on the right references to local cultures and the use of the proper language variants. When the characteristics of the source language and the culture of the home country dominate the content in local markets, those prospects often perceive geocentric arrogance or incapacity to understand the local culture.

Some practical examples of how you can fail miserably in your Latin American online enterprise without even noticing:

  • Your website uses the European variants of Spanish and Portuguese.
  • You display flag icons for language selection. While Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America, which national flag will you choose for Spanish?
  • You choose imagery, colors or taglines that do not resonate with your local audience.
  • Worse still, your content reeks of mockery, disrespect or disregard for the local traditions.

While it is important to maintain the consistency of your brand, changing your message across the different markets can give you an edge over the competition. The closer you are to your audience, the better chances you have of winning them. For example, avoid religion at all costs and remember that in most Latin American countries, the national sport is called “futbol.”

Mistake #2: Localize the Content, Not the Channels

Companies that choose to localize content to Latin American markets analyze how their prospects and customers use the Internet. However, even when they produce localized content they may fail to provide the additional means for the customer to complete their journey.

Remember, websites are about conversion—moving the visitor down the sales pipeline. If your sales and support channels are not properly localized, conversions simply will not happen. Some of the communication channel errors that happen most often include:

  • Providing a US telephone number only: Calls are toll free only inside US territory and long-distance calls are still very expensive in Latin America.
  • Employing customer service representatives who only speak English. On average, English proficiency is very low in the region, so start thinking bilingual.
  • Mandatory fields and field limitations. The number of digits and allowed characters in telephone numbers varies considerably. Non-US regions may require special characters or have letters in their postal codes.
  • Restricting payment methods. In Latin America, not everyone has an international credit card; the more options you give, the better choices you have to close the deal.

Latin Americans are flooding the web and are one of the largest populations in social media. If you are serious about your marketing strategy, you probably already have a social presence. Create a Latin American profile (that stays consistent with your brand) for your audience’s preferred social channels to take your brand engagement to a whole different level.


Mistake #3: Disregard Mobile Friendliness

According to LatinLink, Latin America has been undergoing a massive increase in mobile Internet usage since 2010. By the end of 2014, there will be 341 million mobile phone users in the region and by 2017, 243 million Latin Americans will own a smartphone, with 44% overall penetration. More than 77% of Argentine mobile users go to social media sites with their devices today, and in Peru there was a 98% sales increase for smartphones in 2013. According to Gartner, Latin America had the strongest growth of all regions (including APAC, EMEA and Eastern Europe), with smartphone sales growing at 96.1% in Q4 2013. By 2018, Brazil will lead with 350 million mobile subscriptions, followed by Mexico with 150 million subscriptions.

What does this overwhelming growth mean to you? If your web content and design efforts do not support mobile devices upfront, you could miss a very large chunk of the Latin American dollars. eMarketer projects an 87% increase in mobile ad spend in Mexico in 2014, reaching a total of US$173 million. Brazil follows and while mobile ad spend in the country is projected to reach US$132 million by the end of the year, by 2017 it will soar to US$731 million.

If your business chooses to maintain a separate mobile site, failing to provide the content in the target language will leave a substantial percentage of your prospects to fend for themselves. And rather than converting, those prospects often abandon their contact with a company. But whether you created a mobile version for your website that is fully localized for Latin America or opted for responsive design of one site, the potential issues below can wreak havoc. These issues apply to any mobile website, but some are particularly worrisome when it comes to Latin American markets:

  • Pop-up ads. Latin American consumers get just as annoyed at those colored boxes that block what really matters.
  • Cluttered menus and text. Spanish and Portuguese tend to expand some 20% in length when translated from English; so the website design must accommodate that expansion.
  • Sluggish navigation. In a region where connection speeds are low and Internet time is costly, slow-to-open pages will lose customers before they see your content.
  • Limited operating system availability. While Android averages 61.3% of the market share in Latin America, iOS has 36% of the market share in the Dominican Republic, Windows Phone has 7.2% in Mexico and BlackBerry has 12.4% in Venezuela.

Mistake #4: Sacrifice Quality for Cost Savings

The cost considerations for localizing website content are significant, but companies often decide to cut corners to save money, which leads to bad customer experiences, lost revenue, and wasted effort in rework. This is particularly true for Latin America, since headquarters usually expects to see some results coming from the region before making the necessary investment.

Of course businesses look for cost savings to improve the return on investment (ROI) for their website localization project. Many times managers make the decision to keep their localization efforts—and occasionally translation work—in-house, because they can manage the project as operations and do not need to seek additional budget. Since they supposedly have the necessary knowledge about the region, salespeople or local distributors are charged with the task of making the website Latin American ready.

On paper, this is the best of both worlds. The company gets a “localized” site and the manager is rewarded for keeping costs low. The intention is not to create a low-quality website with poorly localized content, but that is the most likely outcome. Lack of localized design, poor quality control on the translated copy, a move to unedited machine translation, may appear to be cost savings upfront, but they almost certainly lead to quality issues and increased costs to fix later in the process.

Yet there are some things you can do to make the most of your online marketing budget for Latin America:

  • Localize only part of your website. 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 note in the target language, placed next to the links to the pages left untranslated (“contenido en inglés” or “matéria em inglês”).
  • Save money with machine translation. With the ever increasing quality of MT engines, 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.
  • Make the most of your internal team members. They are the experts and should be in charge of more relevant yet less time-consuming tasks, such as validation of terminology queries, glossary compilation or approval and style guide endorsement.

Your sales team is supposed to be doing exactly that: sell. Hire a company that has the expertise, the technology and the capacity to deal with the localization of your website for Latin America.

A recent Common Sense Advisory study based on a survey of 132 companies in 20 countries that purchase language services shows the return for properly developed global website is definitely worth the investment. 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: Settle for Ineffective Project Management

To no one’s surprise, the biggest mistakes companies can make when localizing web content result from inexperienced or incompetent project management. New management teams may not be aware of the factors that can put their localization efforts at risk. For example, in many organizations, it is not clear who is responsible for what pieces of the initiative–does a corporate department manage the budget and provide project management or does a local office play a role in developing, reviewing or producing the content?

Ineffective management results in little to no project management, poor quality control, inconsistent tools and resources, inadequate budget and more. And 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 depresses SEO results and reduces likely viewership.
  • Subpar customer experience that can lead to viral criticism on social media.

International expansion is both an exciting and risky proposition for companies of any size. Capital expenditures can easily run into seven figures, but with more than half of consumers today preferring to buy in their own language, and more than three quarters seeking out product information in their own language before purchasing, the upsides are staggering.

Using the right firm with the right knowledge can support your localization efforts for a relatively low investment. Sensible people do not travel without a guide; savvy executives entering a large and complex economy should also get help from local experts. It is therefore paramount to find the right company you want to work with before moving into unfamiliar territory. A big name company with headquarters in NYC may have extensive localization expertise, but perhaps not the regional knowledge necessary to speak to the different cultures in Latin America.

Before choosing a localization company, research and ask advice from industry associations, such as GALA; read online reviews; and consider attending a localization conference to develop meaningful partnerships. A language service provider can guide you through dark tunnels; a Latin American partner will lead you to where the sun shines.

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