Website Localisation: The Ultimate Guide

website localisation guide
Please Share:

If you think merely having a website is enough to give your organisation a global presence, think again. To connect with a global audience, your website must be both appealing and understandable to that audience. And actually, it’s audiences, because any business with an international presence needs to cater to multiple regional audiences to be successful.

Website localisation is the process of customising your website for visitors from different regions or countries. This guide will show you why it’s important, walk you through the localisation process, and help you avoid common mistakes.

Why Website Localisation Matters

What is website localisation, and how is it different from translation? You might think that these two words mean the same thing, but that’s not quite correct. Translation means changing the content, the words on the page, from one language to another.  Website localization involves customising the other aspects of your site to appeal to specific regional or cultural groups. Translation is merely the first step in website localization.

For example, if you’re using your website to sell products across borders, localising currencies, dates and times, and units of measurement will improve the shopping experience for your international customers. Contracts, agreements, and terms of service may need to be localised to comply with local regulations.  Marketing messages may require adjustment for cultural appropriateness and appeal. The overall website design may need to be altered to reflect local aesthetics and to accommodate different alphabets.

The bottom line is that website localisation matters because it improves the customer experience for international visitors, and helps your website effectively achieve its goals.

For more information on translation versus localisation, see The Difference Between Translation and Localisation. 

Multilingual Web Statistics You Should Know

Every day, more than one million people around the world begin to use the Internet for the first time. That means that the demographic makeup of internet users is rapidly changing. Before you begin a website localisation project, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the multilingual landscape of the internet today, as well as the linguistic trends that will affect the internet of the future.

In the beginning, most Internet users were from English-speaking countries, like the US, the UK and Canada. But that’s changing. Languages like Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian are widely spoken in countries that are either newly online or rapidly increasing their internet access.

Over the past two decades, Arabic has been the fastest-growing online language, growing by 9,348% to 237M Arabic-speaking Internet users in 2020. Meanwhile, China has the second-highest number of internet users in the world. Despite this fact, only 1.8% of online content is written in Chinese.

Other languages which are expected to grow quickly in terms of online users in the immediate future include: Portuguese, Spanish and Russian.

The Top Languages for Website Translation

There are around 6,500 languages spoken in the world today. Fortunately, your website can reach 75% of internet users with just 10 of them:

  • English
  • Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Portuguese
  • Indonesian
  • French
  • Japanese
  • Russian
  • German

For more facts and statistics, see The Multilingual Web: 6 Vital Facts.

As always, remember to consider your target audience when deciding which languages to localise for.

How to Localise Your Website

Ready to begin localising your site? Here are some steps to take and best practices to follow.

First, you’ll need to determine who you’re localising the site for. Remember, it’s not just about language- geography and culture come into play, as well.

Once you’ve determined which markets you’re aiming for, the next step is to determine which content to translate. You need to translate any and all content required to browse your site, use your products and make purchasing decisions.  However, some content, like press releases or job opportunities, may not be relevant to an international audience.

Next, determine how the translation will be handled. We do not recommend running your content through Google Translate or handing the job off to a bilingual employee. Translation is a specialised skill. The potential for errors is simply too high.

For more information on translating your content successfully, see How to Translate your Website.

Additionally, consider the design elements of your site.  In almost all cases,  translation changes the length and spacing of the text. The differences can be quite dramatic. And what if the target language reads in a different direction- right-to-left instead of left-to-right?

The best time to address these issues is when you first design the English-language version of the site. Using a flexible design and template from the start will save you a lot of trouble in the future. If that ship has already sailed, a redesign may be necessary when you localise.

Localising Web Design

Even with a flexible template, some imagery and design elements may need to be altered to maximize the site’s appeal in your target market. Aesthetic and design preferences can vary across cultures. Additionally, having a responsive website that adapts to mobile browsing is absolutely crucial in some markets, Understand the web browsing habits of your target audience (device type, browser type) and optimise your site accordingly.

Additionally, make it easy for users to select the site language. Use the language names, as they are spelt in their own languages. Do not use country flags. And don’t forget to localize functional elements, such as:

  • Fields for addresses and phone numbers.
  • Measurements.
  • Currencies.
  • Dates.

For more information, see Multilingual Design for Websites. 

Or check out some examples of multinational companies who have great multilingual website designs. 

Localising Your Messaging

You’ve probably invested a significant amount of time and energy on the messaging your website presents in English, haven’t you? It’s just as important to get the messaging right in other markets. But because cultural touchpoints and experiences are so variable, what works in one market may not have the same effect in another.

You do want to keep your messaging consistent. But consistent doesn’t  always mean word-for-word translation (to the extent that’s even possible.)

Ideally, your site’s messaging should have the same emotional impact across all markets. But that doesn’t mean that the messaging itself will be the same across all markets. You may need to customise elements to suit, or even rewrite the content completely to get the same results in the target language. This process is called transcreation. Your linguistics partner should be able to evaluate your content and advise you accordingly.

Quality Assurance

A robust quality assurance process is essential to the success of your multilingual website.  Before you unleash your new site on the world, ensure that any translation errors have been caught and corrected and that all parts of the site are displaying and functioning correctly in all languages.

Multilingual SEO

No matter how well-executed the other elements of your website localisation are, your international traffic will be disappointing if you neglect multilingual SEO.

No, you can’t just cater to Google in English and expect it to impact your search rankings in other markets. In fact, in some markets, you’ll need to take other local search engines into account.

Any successful multilingual SEO effort will begin with comprehensive keyword and market research for all target languages and countries. You have to know how people search for your products, and that can vary even amongst countries that share a common language. For example, Americans search for sneakers instead of trainers, lawyers instead of solicitors, and car rental instead of car hire. Similar differences exist between local varieties of other global languages such as Spanish.

You also need to know what search engines your target audience favours, and what devices they typically use to browse the internet.

Site architecture must also be optimised, to ensure that your site is indexed properly. And quality content is non-negotiable, of course. In fact, error-laden machine-generated translations can negatively impact your SEO rankings.

For more information, see How to Win at Multilingual SEO in 2020.

Common Website Localisation Mistakes to Avoid

To make the most of your investment in website localisation, there are some common mistakes that you should avoid:

  • Using free translation engines without human supervision. Yes, machine translation has gotten better over the past few years.  No, it’s still not bulletproof.  If your website reads as if a drunk robot wrote it, that is going to negatively impact your user experience.
  • Not adjusting your layout as needed. As noted above, the copy can expand or contract significantly in translation. Make sure your layout is functional and easy to read in all languages.
  • Neglecting multilingual SEO. When it comes to a website, you can build it, but they won’t come unless you have search visibility.
  • Forgetting to translate forms. Whether it’s a checkout form, a sign-up form or a contact form, your visitors won’t convert if they can’t read what they’re signing up for.
  • Not translating supporting marketing channels. 
  • Translating, but not localising. Making your content readable to international users is a good first step, but it’s only a first step.
  • Not optimising to suit your customers’ browsing habits.  If your visitors can’t load key components of your website when they land on it,  expect them to bounce.
  • Forgetting to update multilingual versions of your site. 

For more “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to website localisation, see 9 Best Practices for Multilingual Websites, Website Localisation Guide:  7 Recommendations for Success, and Website Translation Mistakes: 8 Common Errors You Need to Fix Now.

Want to see best practices in action? Take a look at these 6 Great Examples of Multilingual Websites. 

What About Machine Translation?

There are a variety of free or low-cost machine translation tools and plugins out there. But should you use them? There’s not an easy “yes” or “no” answer. It depends on your resources, your website localisation goals and the resources you have available. Machine translation is always imperfect, and we can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a native speaker proofread and post-edit all machine-translated content  ASAP. Additionally, some plugins are not SEO-friendly.

If less-than-perfect translations will harm your brand, or if they will create liability issues then you need a professional linguist with the appropriate specialisation.

On the other hand, if you have a lot of user-generated content that you’d like to make accessible to a multilingual audience, a machine translation plugin might be the most practical option.

For more information and recommendations, see Translation Plugins for Your Website. 

How to Choose a Website Localisation Partner

Done right, website localisation is a complex process with a lot of moving parts. If it’s not your area of expertise, consider reaching out to an LSP to manage the process for you.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure you the LSP you choose is a good fit for your organisation. Here’s what to look for.

  • The right people. Make sure their staff includes qualified translators, web design experts, multilingual copywriters, and designers.
  • A reasonable turnaround time.  Human-powered translation doesn’t happen with the press of a button, but you should be able to expect a fairly quick turnaround.
  • The knowledge and service offerings you need to grow your business. Save time with “one-stop shopping” for current and future language needs.
  • Quality control. A robust QA process is a necessity to ensure errors, whether machine- or human-generated, don’t go live.
  • The right technology. While technology won’t replace human translators, it can significantly streamline the translation management process. For example, at K International, we use translation memories and our customised machine translation engine combined with careful human post-editing to reduce costs and turnaround time where appropriate.  Meanwhile, our Tracklingua customer portal makes requesting and managing translation projects fast and efficient.
  • The right price. That doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest price, however. Quality is still paramount and if you invest in quality the first time around you’ll save on future cleanup costs.
  • Content management.  Forgetting to push content updates to all versions of your site is a common mistake. Look for an LSP that can assist you with ongoing content management.
  • Project management: Ask about their project management process. An efficient process with a single point of contact will save you many headaches!

If you’re looking for a full-service language services provider to help your website live up to its international potential, we’re here to help! Our team includes skilled linguists, graphic designers, multilingual SEO experts, and multilingual copywriters, all at your service to ensure the success of your website localisation endeavours.

For more information or to discuss upcoming projects, contact us today!