Beyond Translation: How to Make Your Website International

This post is provided by Ella Petlicka, the Senior Internationalization Program Manager, Websites at Pinterest.

Making your website easy to use for an international audience requires more than just translation or localization: it requires adaptation, SEO optimization, and thorough testing. This effort can take a small village, so team collaboration is essential. In this article, I'll share some field-proven tactics on how to provide a better experience for global site visitors.

At Pinterest we revolve around the same mission: to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love. No matter where you live, what language you speak, or which device you use, everyone in our audience is part of that mission too. And that is the north star that helps to guide our strategy and decision-making.

Pinterest

Focus on user experience

Your site is not just a collection of individual pages - it’s a robust and changing ecosystem. The site visitor doesn’t experience just one page at a time - they are likely to navigate to other pages, check the homepage to see what else is available on the site. Not everyone will explore - but some visitors certainly will. And that exploration - that user journey needs to be consistent (consistently localized) for their experience to be smooth and pleasant.

User experience - Pinterest

Localization scope

That’s why you need to consider WHAT exactly you want to localize on the site and into how many languages. Without going into too much detail, there are two general approaches you can take.

Localize everything

Pro:

You can localize each page on the site into all site languages, creating confidence that the user experience will be smooth.

Con:

Localizing every page is often the most expensive approach.

There is one important factor that you need to consider when taking this approach though. Your site might promote certain features, programs, and/or services that are only available in certain markets or languages. If your entire content is going to be localized (including that promo), you run the risk of creating a false impression that these are fully available to the users in these locations and this can result in a lot of disappointment - or increase the strain on your support team. But there are ways to prevent that.

Quick tips from Pinterest

At Pinterest, we often include messaging on regional availability that exists in the master (source) copy. This allows us to very quickly communicate to our users where a certain feature is or is not available. It sets clear expectations.

Additionally, we include messaging about what we’re working on now. We want users to know we’re working actively to bring features, services, or programs to their markets.

We also created special pages or banners to appear at the top when the user comes from a market that doesn't yet have that page’s feature or service. This is more complicated and will likely require working with your engineering team.

Localize Some Content

Pro:

It will be less expensive to localize only some pages.

Con:

This can complicate things: if you're thinking about the user journey but you only localize half of the site’s pages, what will that full journey look like?

It will often result in 404 error pages. No matter how funny or attractive you try to make an error page, seeing it several times is a bad user experience. Instead of showing a 404 error, you could display the untranslated source content, but that can also be confusing, as your audience will be exposed to two languages on the same site.

Some companies will choose to localize only their most popular pages. They select a number of pages based on their traffic and submit only these for translation.

Case Study: How Pinterest Handled Localization

The prime solution? What worked for us in some cases was to combine both approaches and clearly separate evergreen content (content that is always globally relevant) from editorial content such as more seasonal and has a shorter shelf-life. Evergreen content, due to its global nature could be easily localized into a wide range of languages, whereas editorial content was only available for a handful of markets it would be relevant to.

Building this kind of infrastructure, that would allow for separation of these two content types and smooth management of localization operations, should be a collaborative process that you will build together with content management, engineering, and production teams.

Mobile matters

Mobile devices account for a higher percentage of traffic for many websites - and that can be true especially important for consumer sites. Therefore, the mobile experience needs as much attention (if not more) than the web experience.

Pinterest mobile

Start with checking your site analytics: which devices are most used by the site visitors? Make sure to test your content specifically for mobile devices, prioritizing design, layout, and readability. With international content, there are more opportunities for errors and bugs.

How to leverage SEO

You can have a fantastic site, but it only matters if users find it. Here are some key tips for gaining more organic traffic.

Pinterest SEO

People search the internet for everything, but you have to understand how they’re searching. This matters even more if your brand is new or not very well-known in a certain region. In order to boost your online visibility, it’s important to understand search engine optimization (SEO).

You want to reach an international audience. But do users choose the same keywords? It’s crucial to ensure your international copy uses the keywords that your audiences are using. To find them, use tools like Google Trends and Google Search Console. Find out what phrases each market is using so your site can become the solution they’re looking for.

International SEO is a separate topic we could dive into on its own. For now, here’s what might not work: optimizing the source (usually English) site for SEO and then simply translating the content, especially the keywords.

In some cases this approach might work: your users across different markets might be looking for similar things. But you don't know until you do your research. You might find users from different markets are searching with entirely different keywords. If that’s the case, determine if adding content around those keywords would be relevant and beneficial for all users.

Case study: How Pinterest Handled SEO

For one of our sites, we did keyword research for both the U.S. and some international markets. What did we learn?

In several markets, users aimed to understand what Pinterest is, how it works, and how they can leverage it for their own purposes. They needed this very basic knowledge of how our product functions. This was important feedback for us.

We decided to create new content directly tied to those keyword searches. Listening to the international voice led to us creating one of our most popular website pages.

Even if international users are searching for similar things, they might be using some very specific words or phrases. That's why simply translating a list of keywords doesn't necessarily work.

That's something we noticed while researching one of our subsites. Pinterest has a ‘dark mode’ feature, but we discovered that in many languages the users were alternating between searching for ‘dark mode’ and ‘night mode.’ As a result, we could optimize our content and make sure to send the latter group of users to the right place.

The key to achieving good SEO is simply knowing your users and then applying this knowledge in content development.

SEO quick tips

While SEO can be a long-term game, you can also level up your SEO performance with these quick tips.

Backlinks: Link to your site from other websites.

Backlinks are references to your site on other websites. Thanks to backlinks, search engines can discover your content faster; they also help the browser index your page sooner. The quality of backlinks is key to ranking higher in search results. To determine high-quality backlinks, look at a website’s domain rating. Higher authority sites will improve your site’s visibility.

You can also acquire backlinks through your company's ecosystem of subsites, like a help center, marketing site, or community site. Additionally, your international teams might have their local sites or profiles that can link back to your site. Make sure to cross-promote your web content across those markets for an extra boost.

Think of it like this: if your product is recommended by a well-known influencer it instantly gains credibility. SEO is very similar: if your site is recommended via another popular site, that gives your link credibility.

Alt-text: Alt text is an accessibility tool to help visually-impaired people navigate the web. The text will be read aloud to those users and is essential to their online experience.

Alt text can also help search engines better understand your images, along with the content in which they are placed. As a result, search engines can index your site images more accurately. In some cases, it’s easier to optimize images for SEO to become more competitive in the image category (e.g. Google Image search) rather than optimizing an entire website.

Keep in mind: having untranslated alt text on a translated page makes it harder for the search engine to determine which language is primary. That’s why localization of this attribute is so important.

SEO often requires patience. It often takes days or even weeks simply to index your content. SEO is a long game, and it can take months before seeing any improvements in your site’s ranking. Be patient.

Creating locally

One of the best ways to ensure great international experience is actually - not to localize at all, but to develop content that is local. Developing local content is key, even if translation alone is faster and cheaper. Generic content may not have the same impact as a piece written specifically for a region, referencing local celebrities, events, and culture — in the primary language of the user.

Pinterest - creating locally

For example, we created content specifically for our users in Brazil, and it became one of our best-performing pieces on our Brazilian blog.

Localized content enables growth and brings value to the company. Localization teams have a great opportunity to scale that effort further since we constantly communicate with regional teams, including linguists and vendors. Those teams may have access to quality local writers and designers to help create impactful content. We can bridge the gap between those resources and our core content team. Localization matters more than ever to create meaningful, relevant content that drives users to your website.

4 key takeaways

  1. Focus on the user journey.

Make sure the user journey is well-adapted, well-localized, and makes sense for your international users.

2. Prioritize the mobile experience.

Your site needs to be tested on mobile devices. Find out what devices your users prefer.

3. Know your users.

Discover user interests by researching keywords. Then, use those keywords in your copy to boost organic traffic. Localized content creation is important in creating meaningful connections.

4. Be the international voice.

Give users what they are looking for, and do it thoughtfully and strategically.

When I talk about my role, I don't say I do localization. My goal is to create great international user experiences so we can make a global impact. That means hearing our international audiences and making our website journey meet their needs.

If you aren’t listening to the international voice, who will?

View Ella’s full presentation here.