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website localization tips

Reaching new markets by localising your web content is no longer the preserve of large multinational organisations. Many of the client I work with who are having their websites (and other online digital marketing collateral) localised are small SMEs, and some are even sole traders who are looking to reach new foreign markets. However, many small businesses are put off having their sites localised because of the process involved in setting up localisation. Unfortunately, the process of website localisation is not as straightforward as supplying your url to a translation agency and waiting for your foreign language site to go live. There are a number of preliminary steps you need to take before you get to this point. With that in mind, here are five steps that can help anyone who is looking to have their website localised for foreign markets.

1. Investigate the need for localisation.

Although this may seem to be a bit of a no-brainer, many site owners and businesses are not inclined to investigate whether there is a need for their website to be localised because they assume the cost of research would outweigh any return. This doesn’t have to be the case. Although I would always recommend a thorough investigation into your potential foreign market – there are some inexpensive (even free) tools out there that give you a good idea of market potential, and some even give you an idea if there is already demand for your products/services in a defined geographical region. If you have Google’s analytics tools enabled on your website for example, you will be able to see the geographical location and what language visitors to your website have a preference for. Google obtain this information by looking at your vistors’ OS configuration and system overview as well as where the original request came from. If you spot a trend in your analysis data which shows (for example) you’re receiving a large amount of traffic to a specific section of the site from locations outside your domestic location but those visitors soon exit (put off by content they can not easily understand) – it could indicate that that section is ripe for localisation.

Google analytics showing language

2. Do the cultural research.

A lot of the steps involved in preparing your site for localisation involve working out what is and what isn’t suitable (or adaptable) for foreign markets and then making the changes to your English language site accordingly. Research into your foreign market should go deeper than simply researching whether the region uses metric or imperial measurements (although this is very important) and should involve research as to whether your non-text based content (images, videos, symbols, icons etc.) will be suitable for this new market. You need to examine, for example, the usability of photos and icons on your website, any colours used and if any of your symbols, icons, etc., could have negative connotations. What may seem a very inoffensive image to your domestic market may cause offence elsewhere. Even in perceived ‘liberal’ countries the level of acceptability will change. For example in France and some other EU countries it is acceptable to show a naked body in advertising (women’s breasts in skin care ads for example are quite common) – in the United States this is not the case and such images would not be suitable for advertising. In Arabic countries this would be totally unacceptable.

3. Adapt your English language site to make localisation easier.

Having undertaken your cultural research it may be the case that you now need to adapt your website to make it easier to localise. In some cases you may need to completely rework your site structure and layout. This is where sometimes starting from scratch can be easier than re-working what you already have. This, of course, is the worst case scenario and many clients we work with do not need to adapt their site in any way after a cultural review. Adaptation can include replacing any images/icons etc. that could cause offence with neutral ones and adding a ‘global gateway’ – the location on your site where users navigate to various languages/local versions of your site.

Example of Xerox’s website Global Gateway

It may be also be worth looking at your text content and considering adapting this ready for translation. This doesn’t necessarily mean changing your English text on your website, but could mean going through your English text and editing out any local references or colloquial terms that will be lost in translation. How you do this, i.e. copy and paste your text/set up draft pages etc., will be a consideration in how you send your text to your LSP, which brings me to my next point…

4. Get your files together for your LSP to localise your site.

As mentioned in the introduction to this blog post, supplying just a url to your chosen translation agency and hoping for the best is not the ideal approach to website localisation (hopefully your agency will agree and ask for more information). To get an accurate idea of how much it will cost to translate and localise your website the provider of this service (i.e. you chosen LSP) will need to know what you need translating (the content) and what format that content is in. For example, you may have white papers or Ts&Cs that are in PDF format, or you may have some form of video/audio track in mp3 format. Your site may be database driven in which case do you need all of the database (including any command strings) translated? It is worth having an inventory of what you have and what format it is in which you can send to your agency.

Content Page Format Translation needed?
Terms and Conditions /terms.html Static HTML Yes
“In to the Blue” APR12 White paper /into-the-blue.pdf PDF Yes
January blog posts (all) blogs/2014/january wordpressDB No
Welcome Video /home mps3/avi Yes

Example of a website data inventory

5. Dip your toes into localisation and get a few pages translated first.

Having confirmed that there is indeed a demand for your products/services in locations other than your current one, before you go and localise your whole site, it would be worth having a few test pages/sections translated first. Quite often we will be approached by a client who will ask us to quote on their website and say they would like it all translated. Although we are, of course, happy to do this – this can be very expensive (every word on every page) and often not needed. If you’re unsure what pages to translate, I would recommend the following:
1. Home page
2. Products pages
3. Customer support pages
4. Shopping card/purchasing pages


In summary then my 5 tips for website localisation success are:
1. Work out if you need to localise your website and if so where for.
2. Check how well your current site (and branding) is suited to your potential locales.
3. Adapt your site to work in your target locales.
4. Create an inventory of your content to allow for accurate costing of localisation.
5. Test the water first with a few pages.

Ultimately the objective of website localisation is to reach new markets. Within these markets there will be competition which will be either home grown or foreign like you. How you reach your new customers and the level of adaption needed will be down to your understanding of that market and how you feel that market reacts to a standardised version or a localised version of your website. If you go down the route of localisation the above steps should help in the preparation.

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Posted by Tom Wilson-Copp

Tom Wilson-Copp is a document design and production consultant who specialises in the project management and delivery of B2B services including design, localisation, off-line production and digital marketing.
With over 12 years experience working within the business services industry, Tom has worked for both large multinationals as well as bespoke service agencies.