A Step-By-Step Guide to Website Localization

You’d like to localize your website and expand to new markets around the globe, but don’t know where to start. You’re worried that it’s too expensive, the quality will be too low, and naturally, you don’t want to trust your website to strangers. The whole project gives you a bit of a headache.

Don’t sweat it. In this article, we’ll show you how to localize your website, step-by-step, without any of the guesswork.

Why is website localization so important, and how is it different from traditional translation?

When you think about translating your website, you’re probably thinking of simply handing over all the content to translators or using machine translation engines to translate it all into different languages.

After all, that’s what translation is – converting text from one language to another.

Localization, on the other hand, involves adapting the language and phrasing to the local context, removing anything that might be culturally inappropriate, and changing everything, from words or phrases to colors and keyboard layouts, to fit the customs and norms of a specific country or region.

Website localization is critical to your business when you want to sell globally as there are many differences between countries, even those that share the same language. Some examples include phone number formatting, measurement units, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, or the preferred browsers and software used by users.

Failing to adapt any of these to each market can end up confusing – or even offending – your target audience. Aside from the embarrassment, it can cause your brand, this can seriously interfere with your sales funnel too. And there’s more to it:

  • 90% of Europeans never browse in a language other than their own.
  • Globally, 72% of customers are more likely to buy products or services if the information is in their language.
  • 56% say finding brand information in their language is more important than price.
  • A staggering 85% of customers worldwide will not purchase a product if the information is not in their language.

So if you’re really looking to expand your business to foreign countries you’ll have to focus on content that’s easy to follow in the user’s native language and that is respectful of the local culture.

Localizing your website in 5 steps

You’re ready to start! Fantastic. We’ve put together a definitive step-by-step guide to help you along the way.

Website localization steps

1. Identify the languages you want

Today there are nearly 6,500 languages spoken worldwide. Fortunately, your website can reach the majority of internet users with around ten of these. If you know exactly where you want to expand your business, you know which ones to pick.

If not, here are the most popular languages to go after:

To narrow down your scope, use tools like Semrush or check out Google Trends to

  • find where your target audiences are,
  • see where your competitors’ traffic is coming from,
  • learn where your products are in demand and the competition is low.

Use that information to finalize your list of languages for localization and explore the cultural norms of each market, the search engines preferred, if the language is written from left to right or right to left, and so on.

2. Internationalize your website

Once you’ve identified your target markets and languages, it’s time to prepare all the technical aspects so your site can be translated. This process is called internationalization and ensures that your website architecture is set up correctly to handle different languages.

If you’re lucky enough to be reading this article before launching your website, then now is the perfect time to develop it with localization in mind. If not, the process can be more complicated. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Find a way to accommodate for different text lengths. Texts in European languages tend to be longer while many non-hieroglyphic texts in Asian languages are short.
  • Separate images and text. Avoid using graphics that have text in the design, as the text length may change and impact the image composition. If you need to have text in graphics, be sure to keep the text layer of the source image accessible so it can be easily translated.
  • Prepare your CMS. Ensure all the plugins you use support different languages that you can easily switch between.
  • Make your website light. The quicker your website loads, the better the user experience is, especially since internet speeds vary widely from country to country. To make your website lighter, compress images, get rid of redirects, enable caching and asynchronous loading, and minify your CSS, JavaScript, and HTML code.
  • Leverage a responsive design (or create a mobile version of your website). In many countries, people mostly access the internet via smartphones or tablets, so optimizing for the small screen is crucial.

3. Select a good localization partner

Website localization can be a lengthy process with several moving pieces. And of course, there are plenty of companies out there that can take the burden off you.

As budgeting is usually a concern, we’d recommend you consider a solution that offers different levels of involvement, e.g. managing your project from beginning to end, or just the translations. Here are some aspects to pay attention to:

  • A large database of professionals. Make sure your localization partner has skilled translators, editors, multilingual copywriters, and other specialists that will complement your team.
  • Respectful of deadlines. Even if you opt for machine translation, it will require human editing that may take quite a while. Make sure the professionals you choose are available when you need them and can complete your tasks within the required time frame.
  • A thorough quality assurance (QA) process. A comprehensive QA approach is required to guarantee that mistakes don't slip through the cracks. Whether the translation is machine or human-generated, someone has to check the work.
  • The right technology to get the job done. While technology will never completely replace human translators, it can absolutely streamline the process. For instance, some businesses use translation memories in conjunction with human editing. This helps minimize costs and ensures a quick turnaround time.
  • A service that fits your localization budget. This doesn’t mean always going for the cheapest option. Quality is key, and investing in quality the first time around can save you money in the long run.

Services like Smartcat might be exactly what you’re looking for when taking these characteristics into account.

  • 500,000+ carefully vetted freelancers and dozens of LSPs to choose from for your tasks,
  • Easily see vendors’ availability and estimated deadlines,
  • Integrated localization quality assessment tool,
  • Translation memory and Smartwords technologies that can help you save without sacrificing translation quality,
  • Autopilot feature that is always at hand to take over your project management.
Translating with Smartcat

4. Arrange the content extraction and delivery process

When you’ve decided what content and web pages you want to translate and found your language service provider, you need to set up a way to extract all the content and send it to the localization tool or company of your choice.

Once translated, you have to check, review, and upload the translations back into your CMS. You can always try to do this yourself or get help from your developers, but it’s a cumbersome process, and the larger your website is, the longer it will take, and the higher the risk of losing data will be.

On top of that, each time the translated text doesn’t fit, let’s say, in an image or button, you’ll have to send it back and go through the whole process all over again. So, why not automate this process too?

Smartcat connectors extract the content from your CMS, send it for translation, and then back again. They also help you ensure all the translations are up-to-date.

5. Test your localized website

A detailed QA process and a thorough localization testing plan are essential for your website's future success. Ideally, you should check not just the language but all components to eliminate any design, development, or delivery issues.

Furthermore, if you have the opportunity, get feedback from local users or customers before the whole project goes live. This will help you avoid any missteps in the tone of voice or messaging.

Final words of encouragement

Different markets have different needs and meeting these needs is a guaranteed way to win them over. That’s why the value of customizing your website and its content to provide a unique user experience for each location is undeniable.

So by investing some of your time and resources into taking the five steps we’ve covered, you will get these five (and possibly many more) benefits:

  • More brand recognition across all target locations
  • More traffic and a lower bounce rate due to higher engagement with your content
  • More purchases and revenue as your products become easier to buy
  • Increased customer loyalty and more brand advocates
  • More opportunities to reach out to non-natives in your domestic market