The Internet has made the world a much smaller place. Expanding your business and selling to customers in overseas markets is easier than ever. But there is one giant hurdle standing in your way: not everyone speaks English.
By some estimates, roughly 63% of the world's population uses the Internet, but only 17% speaks English. And according to CSA Research, 76% of non-English speakers prefer to buy products with information in their native language—even if they speak English as a second language.
Therefore, if you don't have a localization strategy in place, you will miss out on sales to these potential customers.
Localizing your website makes your products and services more accessible and relevant to people in different regions. This improves the user experience, which results in more leads and sales.
Translation vs. Localization: What's the difference?
When you think of localization, the first thing that probably comes to mind is translation. The goal of translation is to convert written text from one language to another while accurately conveying the original meaning. It's how you make your content understandable for non-English speakers.
On the other hand, localization is the process of adapting your content to the culture and preferences of a specific market. The localization process may include translation, but it should also involve customizing the content and design of your website to better reflect local customs and social norms.
An example of how localization is different from translation would be if you were localizing an American website for a UK-based audience. In this scenario, no translation would be needed because the content would remain in English.
However, you should localize spellings, convert currency from dollars to pounds, and list all measurements in metric.
Steps for website localization
Knowing your target audience
The first step in localizing your website is to have a firm understanding of the market you're trying to reach. As noted above, it is not enough to simply take your existing content and translate it. You need to be sure your content is culturally relevant and appropriate in order to build trust with potential customers.
There are numerous steps you can take to understand your target market:
- Analyze your website traffic: Use analytics tools to analyze your website traffic and identify the countries and regions where you are getting the most visitors. This can help you understand which markets are most interested in your products or services and where you should focus your localization efforts.
- Research your target market: Conduct market research to gather information such as local language and dialect, culture, the dominant religion, and local competition for your products and services. This can help you understand what types of content and design elements will be most appealing and effective for your target audience.
- Engage with your target audience: Use social media, customer surveys, or other means to get a better understanding of the preferences and needs of customers in that region. This can help you identify any gaps in your current content and design and give you ideas for how to improve.
- Work with a localization partner: Consider working with a localization partner who has expertise in the language and culture of your target market. They can help you translate and customize your website content to better suit the preferences of your target audience.
The better you understand customers in a particular region, the more effective you will be at generating leads and sales from that digital market.
Save time and money with automation
If you don't speak the language in your target market, you're going to have to rely on a language service provider to localize your website for you. Fortunately, automated translation tools can dramatically reduce the turnaround time and cost associated with such services.
You may have heard that automated translations aren't good. And while that reputation is well earned, it's also out of date. The most advanced machine translation software on the market today uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to produce highly accurate translations. In fact, a recent study found that 85% of samples translated by machines were either very good (needing no human editing) or acceptable (only requiring minimal human editing).
Machine translation is great when you need to translate large volumes of content quickly or when you are translating highly repetitive content like product descriptions. You can also combine machine translation with human editing for more refined outputs.
Pay attention to design elements
It's not just language that changes from one region to another; there will also be different needs and expectations with regard to design.
The content management system on which you build your site should be highly flexible, and your site should be coded to make it easy to adjust different elements to match the needs of each region.
One of the essential parts of your website is the navigation menu. Your menu needs to be clean and easy to understand. It also may need to be adjusted to accommodate different lengths of text. French and German, for example, tend to need more width to say the same thing as English. Meanwhile, Japanese or Chinese might require more height.
Then there are languages such as Hebrew and Arabic that are read from right to left, which will change the entire orientation of your menu. Work with a skilled web developer to make sure your menus on both desktop and mobile provide a smooth user experience for your customers.
Symbols don't always mean the same thing in every culture. Therefore, it's important to choose icons and other symbols that are either specific to the region you are targeting or internationally recognized. The home, print, and shopping cart icons, for example, are fairly universally recognized. Arrows are also pretty clear, regardless of region or culture.
But other symbols can be confusing or even offensive in a different culture. For example, the angel emoji, which is considered innocent and pure in Western cultures, is a sign of death in China and can be perceived as threatening.
Make sure to work with a localization expert who can help you find symbols and icons appropriate for the region you're targeting.
It should go without saying that the images on your website should reflect the culture and demographics of the market you're targeting. Images of people, for instance, should represent the ethnicities of your target market.
Locations should be familiar or at least, recognizable to the target audience. And you'll want to avoid including any images that could be misinterpreted as offensive.
Localize your SEO
Once you've created a localized website for your overseas customers, you'll want them to be able to find it. This means localizing your SEO for the region.
It's not enough to merely translate the SEO keywords that have worked for you in your home market. You'll need to do keyword research for your target region to find out how the people there refer to products and services like yours.
Moreover, your website should be optimized for the search tools that your target audience uses. Although Google is by far the most dominant search engine globally, there are others—such as Baidu in China.
It is challenging to quantify exactly how many potential sales your business might be missing out on if you do not have a localization strategy in place for your website.
Localization helps you stand out in a crowded global market by demonstrating your commitment to meeting the needs and preferences of people in different regions. It also improves user experience and increases trust and credibility with your target audience.
The key to localizing your website is to make sure the language and the visual content on your website match the needs and preferences of the target market. This means translating your content to the local language and adapting your web design wherever necessary.