A step-by-step guide to website localization

Expanding to the global market is the primary objective for any online business, and if you look at the businesses that succeeded in it, like Nescafe, Nike, or McDonald’s, you’ll see how much a multilingual website can do for you.

And there’s more to it: just look at these numbers!

  • 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.

In this article, we are explaining website localization step-by-step.  If you’re ready to engage with all these international prospects out there, read and act right away.

Oh, wait a moment! How about a little trick that’ll save you up to 30% of the effort?

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  • Fast and accurate AI translation. The algotithm that finds the best translation engine for each language pair.
  • Higher quality each time. The system that learns from the every edit you make.
  • Live preview and instant publishing. Just a few seconds to preview the edits you made to the translation right on the website and a few clicks to publish all the language versions.

What is website localization?

Website localization is adapting a website to the customs and norms of a specific country or region and removing anything that might be culturally inappropriate. It touches upon every little detail, from words and phrases to color schemes, images, keyboard layouts, and even URLs.

Simply put, you have to create content that's respectful of the area's culture and is easy to follow in the user's local language.

Take a moment to plan it

It is very important to determine what you want to accomplish before you start. Firm goals allow you to make sure that your resources are not wasted and set the metrics to track progress.

So first ask yourself and your team a couple of very important questions:

  • Short- and long-term, measurable objectives. Do you want to increase page views by 40% in a given country in the next six months? Do you want to triple sales in that country over the next five years?

The answers will let you if you’re moving in the right direction.

  • Deadline. When do you need the localized site launched? How much time exactly do you have?

This information will help you prioritize tasks and approach supplier selection wisely.

  • Localization team.  How many people do you have at your disposal externally and internally? What steps of the localization process are they involved in?

With this list you’ll be able to assign tasks and responsibilities without overloading anyone.

  • Approach. Are you going “waterfall” (fulfilling tasks one by one) or Agile (involving all your teams simultaneously)?

The Agile approach is more effective if you want to prioritize a rapid launch for your localized site, however it’s not too easy to make your whole team collaborate in close communication.

 Agile website localization
  • Budget. How much money do you currently have? Are you ready to spend extra and when?

Knowing your limits is the key to answering all the questions above and many more like selecting a localization partner or tools to use.

Website localization: a step-by-step guide

Website localization checklist

Let’s break that down in more detail.

Preparation

Before you start translating your website content you need to understand what and how you plan to translate and what languages to target. These decisions should be based on quite a bit of a market analysis.

Select languages

Nearly 6,500 distinct languages exist worldwide today. Fortunately, approximately ten of these can reach the majority of internet users. Knowing exactly where you want to expand your business will guide which ones you need to select.

If not sure yet, here are the most popular languages:

But still, it’s possible that you only want to start with the languages that are key to your business. To narrow down your scope, use tools like Semrush or check out Google Trends to:

  • Find where your target audiences are
  • See where your competitor‘s traffic comes from
  • Learn where your products are in demand and the competition is low

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

Choose content to translate

The languages you choose for localization are only half of the equation. You also should select the sections of your site you want to translate. Localizing every page may not be too urgent, depending on your business model and website structure. So it’s time to prioritize again.

Сontent that you should typically convert includes:

  • Your home page
  • Individual product pages
  • High-traffic landing pages

Meanwhile, you may not need to localize the following content:

  • Outdated backlog of blog posts
  • Landing pages for stores in your own country
  • Review pages submitted by customers in your own country

In some cases, it may even be better to commission entirely new content for your localized site instead of translating it.

Find a localization partner

Website localization can be a lengthy process with many moving pieces. So it’s quite natural to be looking for a solution that will take all or part of the burden off you and your staff.

The market is full of various offers: translation agencies, CAT tools, localization platforms, management systems, freelancers, and more. Whatever you decide to pick there are some important aspects to pay attention to:

  • Technology. While technology will never completely replace human translators, it can streamline the process. For instance, many businesses use automated translation in conjunction with human editing to help minimize costs and ensure a quick turnaround time. There are also TMSs that help you manage multiple tasks, and various linguistic resources to consider.
  • Human resources. Your localization partner must have skilled translators, editors, multilingual copywriters, and other specialists to complement your team in case you need them.
  • Respect to deadlines. Even if you opt for machine translation, it will require human editing, which may take quite a while. You must ensure the professionals you choose are available when you need them and can complete your tasks within the required time frame.
  • Quality Assurance (QA). A comprehensive QA process is required to guarantee that mistakes get detected and fixed. Whether the translation is machine or human-generated, a human must verify the work is accurate.
  • Flexible pricing model. The cheapest option is rarely the best option but you can always find a way to save, for example by reusing your existing translations.

Smartcat combines AI translation, collaborative workflows, and a network of 500,000+ language professionals to serve all of your localization needs. It is the perfect solution to manage your translation projects and collaborate with teams across your organization saving up to 70% of management time and 50% of translation costs.

Translate your website to any language using a simple real-time translation tool

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Localization

Once you've accomplished the steps above, you can move on to the action phase, when you stop planning and start having your site translated and localized.

Internationalize your design

Site design is often an often-overlooked element of accurate localization, but it's also a most important one. Many websites' structures make it challenging to translate them. Before you can start the translation process, you need to rework the basic architecture of your site so it can handle your chosen languages. This process is known as internationalization.

If you're lucky enough to read this article before launching your website, 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 different text lengths. Texts in European languages are typically longer, while many non-hieroglyphic texts in Asian languages are short.
  • Separate images and text. Avoid using graphics that include text in the design, as the text length may change and impact the image composition. If you need images with text, remember to keep the text layer of the source image accessible for easy translation.
  • Prepare your CMS. Ensure all the plugins you use to support different languages and that you can easily switch between them.
  • Make your website light. The quicker your website loads, the better the user experience since internet speeds vary widely from country to country. To make your website lighter, compress images, eliminate 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 access the internet via smartphones or tablets, so optimizing for the small screen is crucial.

This list is not exhaustive, but the key idea is to ensure it’s possible to deploy your website in the target market without having to completely rebuild it.

Localize your messaging

After you've internationalized your site architecture, you can begin translation. However, a successful localization is much more than just a word-for-word text translation, there’s a great deal of marketing involved. Your messaging should appeal to your target audience in their language. This includes:

  • Using local metaphors and slang
  • Paying attention to the colors and symbols you use
  • Localizing your offering taking the local culture into account

This process is called transcreation. Here we are considering a real example of how it was implemented by Canva.

Translate your content

When it comes to texts, the two key issues you face are:

  • How to extract your content from the website and then load the translation back without losing data,
  • How to localize the planned volume in the shortest possible time.

As for the first, you can always try to do this manually or get help from your developers, but it's a cumbersome process. The larger your website is, the longer it will take, and the higher the risk of missing something.

Moreover, 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 again. So automating the process is definitely worth it.

Smartcat integrations connect to your CMS, extract the content, send it for translation, and then back again. They also help you ensure all the translations are up-to-date, so the entire process is taken care of automatically, so you won't need to worry about it.

The second problem is actually not a problem at all if you have the right tool at hand. You can just start with automated translation which literally takes seconds and hire a human editor to revise it. Apart from saving time, automated translation lets you significantly cut translation costs.

QA and Testing

Quality assurance and testing are the things that precede the localized website launch and are essential parts of the localization workflow. Why? Once, a translation mistake resulted in a $10 million campaign failure for the HSBC bank and there are dozens of stories like this one out there.

Provide for translation quality

Though you don’t speak all the languages your content has been translated into, you still need to make sure these are correct.

This process falls into two parts: eliminating grammatical errors which can be done by a human or machine, and final human (preferably native speaker) assessment that includes smaller nuances like local spelling specifics and your personal requirements.

Powerful localization solutions like Smartcat usually have integrated LQA tools that help you fulfill both tasks at minimum effort.

Test before you launch

Technical testing lets you get rid of the issues like design flaws, development bugs, and delivery glitches before they spoil the user experience and scare away your prospects.

Start with making your designers and developers double- and triple-check everything operates as intended.

Then, take the opportunity to get feedback from local users or customers before the project goes live. This feedback will help you avoid missteps in the tone of voice or messaging.

And don’t forget to refer to a lawyer in case you have the slightest suspicion  you can violate local laws and regulations.

Optimization

The localization process doesn't end just because you've completed the first round of translations and testing. After you've launched your website you should start optimizing it for better performance.

Do some international SEO

You must give your localized websites the same care and optimization as your primary site to ensure they perform well. This involves a lot of things but here are the ones you can’t do without.

  • Keywords. The same product or service can be called very differently even in one language. Your prospects can also use local slang, idioms, or unfamiliar terminology to find what they need. So you’ll have to review or redo your keywords list based on a new location. Luckily there are tools like Semrush  to let you do it for you in a couple of clicks.
  • Search engine differences.  Google is the dominant search engine in many countries, but it’s not necessarily popular in your target location. Remember there are Baidu, Yandex, and Naver that have their own specifics and ranking algorithms.
  • Geotargeting. Think whether you want to use subdirectories (www.example.com/fr), subdomains (fr.example.com), or a country-specific URL (www.example.fr). Subdirectories are simplest, while subdomains give you more flexibility, and country-specific URLs give you the best geotargeting abilities. It’s also recommended to add hreflang tags / attributes to your pages to inform search engines that a specific page is written in a certain language.

Streamline localization management

Apart from keeping an eye on the search engine rankings it’s important not to forget about optimizing the user experience. This is about keeping your translations up-to-date when you make changes to your primary site, translating the metadata and image Alt-texts among other things.

  • Automate content updates. You do not need to manually update every localized version of your site when you make a change to your primary site. Smartcat Integrations work here the same way they do when you need to upload your content to the tool and then push it back, saving you hours with every change.
  • Take care of consistency. And of course it’s crucial to ensure you use the same words or phrases to speak about the same or similar things across all the languages. This can be done by creating a glossary or using a translation management system that learns from your edits and reuses existing translations.

Examples of great website localization

So, what does localization look like in action? Here are three great examples of what localization looks like when it works.

Weebly

The website-building platform Weebly is available internationally. Weebly worked with Smartcat to produce localized versions of the entire platform in languages including Russian, Japanese, German, and many others.

As a result Weebly is now available in all of the most popular languages in the world. The company can access 90% of the international market, making it significantly more competitive as a global website builder.

Lush

The skincare and bath product retailer Lush operates in more than 20 countries worldwide, requiring it to cover dozens of languages. What sets Lush apart is its choice to localize its pages, not just translate them. Each page above is unmistakably Lush, but the actual language is changed to appeal to the specific audiences it targets in Germany, the UK, and France.

DHL

As an international shipping company, DHL must ensure that its site is easily understandable and localized effectively in every country it serves. This localization is particularly complicated because DHL must work well in Japanese and English, two very different languages.

The company accomplished this by carefully considering how to blend different Japanese writing systems. The Japanese page includes kana and kanji, leading to phrases of different lengths while communicating effectively with the reader. This approach allows the page to look almost identical in both languages and neatly addresses the problem of static page architecture.

Final words of encouragement

As you go through the process described above, you will have to manage multiple aspects of the project simultaneously which may seem daunting at first, but the benefits of having a properly localized website are undeniable:

  • 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-locals in your domestic market

As long as you work with an experienced localization partner, they will help you keep the project running smoothly and successfully bridge the language gap between your product or service and your prospects.

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Daria Andronova
Daria Andronova Content Expert at Smartcat