4 Best Practices for Website Localization at Scale

July 12, 2023

Website localization — the process of adapting your website to a specific country or region — has a major impact on your organization’s growth goals. It’s the key to making your website and brand equally impactful in different languages as it is in English, and it helps drive the right traffic to your site.

Today, we take a closer look at the role website localization plays in a winning globalization strategy and unpack four website localization best practices you should adopt to captivate international markets.

Why you should care about website localization

According to the Global Multilingual CX Report, 71% of respondents believe it’s extremely/very important that a brand promotes and supports its products and services in their native language. So converting your website for your target markets is well worth the effort. 

Imagine you’re a customer browsing online: Would you rather buy from a brand with a website in your native language or one that didn’t support a site in the local language?

Localization is more complex than just translation: It’s about making the content compelling and ensuring it resonates locally. Simply translating your English website content, or using raw machine translation, gives an entry point to potential customers in other markets, but it doesn’t help you showcase your brand to the fullest. Also, without a holistic website localization strategy, the website content might not feel natural to local customers. For example, Japanese buyers prefer to have more detailed information about the product than American buyers before they decide to complete a purchase.

Search engines will rank your website according to how they predict users will react to your content. In other words, they measure the user experience of your website, and that includes factors such as design, speed, and, of course, language. So failing to deliver properly localized content in the user’s native language will affect your website ranking in your target market searches. Here the local (or localized) competition has the advantage. What measures can you take to even the playing field?

1. Plan and design with a global audience in mind

There are a number of factors you need to consider, plan, and design for before starting your website localization.

 First, you’ll need an understanding of what countries you’re targeting. From this list of countries, you can research the market and competitors and decide if you’ll be targeting different regions and language variants. You’ll need to assess whether you’re prepared to support potential customers — with training, product materials, and customer support — in the new markets.

Turn your attention to your software and workflows: Is your CMS fit for purpose when it comes to multilingual websites and localization workflows? Your language service provider can recommend the right translation software and translation tools for you, given your CMS, language assets, and required functionalities and automated workflows. Prepare for translation by building up assets for your translation partners (terminologies, keywords, style guides) and determine if you have the internal resources to review the translations.

How are you going to switch between languages on your website? This can be done by automatically redirecting users based on their location or letting them choose their preferred language from a menu. Consider if there’ll be different domains or subdomains to host the separate languages. 

Localization is an ongoing process, so you’ll also want to add it to your website testing strategy as part of your continuous localization process. Lastly, envelope into your process performance tracking for pages and keywords in the target languages to develop and improve your website localization. 

2. Internationalize your website and automate your workflows

Internationalizing your website prepares it to be localized in multiple languages. This means assessing each content type for your target locale. If the content type isn’t suitable, you need the right workflows and assets to localize it.

Companies often need to consider whether their strapline is suitable for their brand in other locales. While your English brand voice should drive your content in all languages, in most cases, you may want to work on the target versions of your assets, including your style guide or your terminology, before translating. This helps translators beyond the formal/informal tone instructions.

Choosing your website images with localization in mind means you won’t have to localize each image for each country. For example, it’s simpler to avoid having text on the images (which needs to be translated). You should also consider your target markets when choosing images (for example, the ethnicity of people in images).

Language scripts look and sit differently on websites — for instance, languages like Spanish and French can expand by up to 30% compared to an English source text, while others, such as Arabic and Hebrew, are written right to left. This can have consequences on website design and page layout. To minimize this impact, you may need to test your target languages. This is called pseudo-testing. 

Other best practices for software localization include testing your technology for different time zones, currencies and pricing, and address formats. Even elements such as the available payment methods need to be tailored to your target audience to offer the best possible customer experience.

Finally, some manual steps in the workflow may be fine with one website to manage. However, when the number of languages and volume of content grows, you’ll need automation to keep pace, including:

  • An automated way to send data for translation and import it back into your system

  • A digital platform to approve your quotes

  • A CMS that makes it easy to view and select new and updated content

  • An online portal to review your website translations

3. Localize and recreate your assets as needed

Most of the UI assets created to build your original website will be relevant for localized versions. Yet, in some cases, like color palettes, imagery, and icons, you may want to have a native marketer assess them. As an example, for a Chinese audience, red represents luck and fertility, while in African cultures, it symbolizes death and grief. Yellow is a symbol of happiness and cheerfulness in North America and most of Europe, but for a German customer, it could be associated with jealousy and envy.

For your text-based content, if your business has an English glossary and style documents, use these to create glossaries and style guides for each of your target languages. This makes sure your brand is consistent, with the right vocabulary, across each language. It’s particularly important that this stage of your localization project is reviewed by subject matter experts from your company.

4. Find the right localization strategy for each content type

When localizing your website, you may want to consider different strategies and translation levels for each content type — service web pages, legal pages, product content, blogs, or user-generated content. 

The content type, volume of content, and your localization budget will determine your strategy, but it comes down to three key elements: 

  • Levels of machine translation usage

  • Number of translators assigned to the content

  • The translators’ levels of marketing and industry expertise

Choosing the right levels for each element will ensure you get your multilingual content right

Adapting your SEO for other languages is another crucial part of website localization and definitely not one to leave until the end of the process. Consider your multilingual SEO early in your website localization to include your keywords across your content and continue to drive traffic to your website across all your target markets. 

Localizing your website boosts your business’ performance in new markets; these four practices will make the process easier. There is a lot to consider, but our professional translation and localization experts can help. Reach out here:

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Unbabel’s Content Team is responsible for showcasing Unbabel’s continuous growth and incredible pool of in-house experts. It delivers Unbabel’s unique brand across channels and produces accessible, compelling content on translation, localization, language, tech, CS, marketing, and more.