As of January 2020, English was the most commonly used language on the internet. But the other top nine languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Indonesian/Malaysian, Portuguese, French, Japanese, Russian, and German, accounted for 51% of internet users worldwide.
That means companies focused solely on native English-speaking internet users are missing out on most of the world’s internet traffic.
Attracting these visitors will take more than translation, however. We live in a global world where different countries and regions have unique cultures, values, perceptions, and religions, as well as languages. That’s why businesses with international ambition need to think beyond standardised content to win over customers in these diverse geographic markets.
In this post, we’ll explore what content localization is and why it’s important. Then we’ll walk through how you can develop your own content localization strategy to reach a global audience.
What is content localization?
Localization — or the tech-savvy term “l10n” — is defined by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) as the process of “adapting a product, an offering, or simply content to a specific locale or market.” Localized content enables businesses to bridge gaps between and beyond languages by addressing local requirements, regulations, customs, preferences, and more.
When content localization is done successfully, it provides international customers with online experiences that reflect experiences they typically encounter in their domestic market. By doing so, businesses are able to target customers on a more personalized level and encourage brand loyalty.
Content Localization vs. Translation
Translation plays a key role in content localization.
In fact, research from CSA based on large, representative samples from 29 countries around the world, shows that 65% customers prefer content in their native language. Furthermore, 40% of consumers won’t buy in another language and, interestingly, 60% of those surveyed would rather have a badly translated website than no site at all. Considering that only 25% of the global internet population are native English speakers, content translation is a must for international success.
However, while translation evidently plays a huge role in content localization, it’s not the only factor that needs to be considered. This was a lesson quickly learned by KFC when they first launched their international marketing efforts in China in the 1980s. Their iconic slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” was translated a tad too literally to “Eat your fingers off,” which alienated the Chinese consumer.
Fortunately, this blunder was quickly corrected and KFC now thrives in China as the top fast-food restaurant with over 5,000 restaurants. Enhanced localization efforts carefully examined Chinese culture and consumer habits, and implemented new measures such as an adapted menu featuring local specialities and 20 more items than in the US and a hostess in every store to greet customers. These efforts in local marketing lead to KFC’s phenomenal success in the market.
Another great example of content localization to draw inspiration from is Netflix. With 182 million subscribers in 190 countries worldwide, the company leverages the power of content localization to increase viewing and accelerate membership growth. For one, Netflix makes its content accessible by translating titles and providing the option of subtitles and dubbing for many of its movies and TV shows. But Netflix also creates localized content that appeals to specific audiences. Spanish high-school drama Elite is one such example, as well as Mumbai-based Indian drama Sacred Games.
Content Localization Strategy
Now that you understand what content localization is and why it’s important, let’s walk though the basic steps of any content localization strategy.
1. Choose your markets and languages.
One of the first steps you need to take when localizing your site's content is deciding which markets you’re targeting and the languages you’ll be translating your site to. In the beginning, it’s advisable to select a number of key markets you want to focus on based on market research and potential demand. At this point, you can establish which markets to prioritize first and which you’ll enter later as you scale.
It’s important to let your market research guide your decisions. Data analysis tools such as Google Analytics can be really helpful in this regard, giving insight into what locations and countries your website visitors are browsing from. You can also examine conversion rates from such visitors to gain insight into your current website and marketing collateral. For example, if the conversion rate from visitors from France is lower than any other country, it may indicate that they cannot understand the content, graphics, or branding of your site.
British online fashion retailer ASOS, which generated 60% of its retail sales in international markets in 2019, is a great example of an ecommerce business that used content localization to become a global giant. Their strategy focuses on seven key languages and dedicated websites in strategic market countries such as France, Germany, and Russia.
2. Choose the right localization tool.
The next step on your content localization journey is to choose a localization tool that best fits your needs. Since there are a number of options on the market, here are some criteria to help you narrow down your selection:
Ease of installation
Going through content localization can be an arduous task without the added complication of a tricky and complicated installation process. Try to opt for a user-friendly solution that can be integrated seamlessly with your site.
Solutions that use machine translation can help you rapidly localize your site. However, a hybrid translation solution that integrates both human and machine translation is preferable.
You should also be aware of the translation management capabilities. Can you easily edit and adjust translations?
Localizing content for many different languages will require people with an array of different experiences and expertise. That’s why you should consider a tool that has collaborative functionality.
Localizing comes down to more than simply translating the words on your site. Your images, video, and other media content need to be considered as well. Choose a tool that allows you to seamlessly translate all your media content.
Different languages are asymmetric in nature, in syntax, sound, and very often in terms of the space they take up. For example, the estimated expansion of text when translating from English to French is 15-20%. This considered, it’s helpful if your tool has a visual editor feature that will allow you to see how the translated text fits with your web design and make edits accordingly.
In order to rank highly on international search engine result pages, SEO features such as metadata translation and HreFlang tags are an important consideration. Luckily, some tools automatically take care of these tasks which can be otherwise complicated.
3. Collaborate with translators.
Once you’ve implemented your localization tool, you’ve hopefully already translated your sites’ pages using an automatic layer of machine translation. However, your work isn’t done yet — it’s at this point you’ll want to bring professional translations into the mix.
While machine translation is a clever option for businesses who want to scale up quickly and translate thousands of pages, inevitably some things will be — dramatic pause — lost in translation. For example, with the above example of KFC, while their slogan was literally translated the intended meaning and tone was lost. It is in these situations where you can benefit from professional translators who can better apply context to your translations and pick up on the linguistic nuances existing between languages.
The technical term for this process is called transcreation, a portmanteau of the words “translation” and “recreation.” Transcreation is the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context.
4. Build personalized experiences.
To successfully localize your content, you need to tailor every part of the user experience to the unique target audience. This requires consideration of language, cultural relevance, and payment options.
Following from these steps, it’s now your job to fine-tune your content localization and build the most personalized consumer experience possible. A starting point for building such a personalized experience is to give your website visitors different language options when they land on your homepage. A front-end language switcher on your website is a great choice and allows visitors to easily select which language they’d like to view your website in.
A good example to draw inspiration from in this regard is Bluetooth, which uses the translation and localization tool Weglot. Bluetooth provides its visitors five language options to choose from on their homepage. Take a look below.
Another aspect of personalization you can work towards is providing culturally relevant content. This could involve, for example, providing different landing pages for your site depending on where the visitor is browsing from.
One thing you should be aware of when catering to international audiences is the meaning of colour in different cultures. For example, in Western culture the colour red can symbolize positive things like love and action whereas in Middle Eastern culture this colour can have more negative connotations representing evil, caution, and danger. Check out this infographic to explore the meaning of different colours around the world.
Similarly during a website redesign, you’ll want to be cautious of using imagery with any gestures. While the thumbs up gesture commonly denotes a job well done in most cultures, in other cultures such as Greece or the Middle East this can be considered offensive.
Local payment options
Finally, another step towards personalization is to familiarize the buying experience for customers. This involves not only translating your e-commerce checkout, but also providing local payment and currency options.
For example, if you’re selling to customers in China but only have payment options in euro this can cause a problem. In fact, 33% of customers are likely to abandon their carts if a local currency option is not available. Knowing that China consumers tend to use WeChat Pay and AliPay rather than traditional debit and credit cards, you can provide these local payment options to reduce cart abandonment rate.
5. Show up in local search results (SERPs).
Once you’ve taken care of all the above, you can reap the rewards of content localization done well. Thanks to your efforts to target specific markets, localize your content, and optimize this content for SEO, you’ll thrive on international search engines and appear more frequently in local search engine results.
For example, when we search for “tracksuit” in English, JD Sports appears as one of the first organic search engine results.
Thanks to successful content localization, when we search for “survêtement,” or the French equivalent of tracksuit, JD Sports also appears as one of the first organic results on French SERPs.
If you’re looking to succeed in international markets, content localization is a must. Fortunately, thanks to innovative localization tools like Weglot, the content localization process has never been easier.