When you’re designing your original website, you put a lot of time into creating the layout, color scheme, and content that will resonate most with your target audience. After all, they’re at the center of everything you do, and your website’s pages often make up the first and most critical touchpoints in a customer’s journey.
But when it comes to designing your international website, do you put in the same amount of time?
Website localization and globalization go hand-in-hand. If you want to attract international customers, your international website needs to cater to their unique needs. This doesn’t mean just running your content through a machine translator – it means carefully customizing everything from your images to your SEO strategy.
So, what is website localization, and how does it improve your website’s UX?
What Is Website Localization?
Website localization is the process of altering aspects of your website to make it more suitable for audiences who speak a different language or have different cultural values. It’s a way of providing your international customers with a user experience that’s customized to them.
As you’ll see from the graph below, English is the most common language used on the internet – but that appears set to change. As more countries embrace and utilize the internet for business, brands are learning that even those who speak English as a second or third language are more comfortable navigating the internet in their native tongue.
This has put pressure on businesses to offer multiple language options on their websites.
However, don’t believe that localization is synonymous with translation. In reality, translation is just the first step. A website localization strategy involves considering everything from design to SEO elements.
Why Is Website Localization Important?
Just like utilizing enterprise call center solutions is critical for optimizing and personalizing international customer communications, website localization is how you create a tailored online experience for your international audience.
It Increases Visibility and Opportunity
If you aren’t planning to expand to international markets, do you really need a localized website? Perhaps not, but take a look at your Google Analytics to see which countries your traffic is coming from. Chances are you’ll find that a percentage of your traffic comes from a different country – and that right there is a seed of opportunity.
For example, if you realized that your ecommerce website was garnering traffic from China without localization, it could indicate that there’s an interest in your product. Taking into account that the number of China’s internet users is more than double the number of America’s internet users, expanding into this market would be lucrative. But you’ll want to optimize your user experience to increase engagement levels and conversions.
Creating a localized website means that you’ll appear more often in local searches and encourage engagement by catering to language and cultural preferences.
It’s Critical to Global Survival
According to CSA Research’s long-running “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” series, 76% of people prefer to shop in their native language – and a huge 40% of online shoppers refuse to buy from websites in other languages.
This paints a pretty clear picture. If you want to expand into an international market, you need a localized website just to get your foot in the door.
It Instills Trust
A well-localized website evokes a sense of familiarity and earns the trust of your customers, whereas a website that feels “foreign” automatically feels untrustworthy. Would you buy from a website with foreign phone numbers or poorly translated legal pages?
Ensure that your terms of service and agreements pages are adapted to comply with local regulations. Consider obtaining any local credibility-boosting certifications even if they aren’t legal requirements (for example, ISO accreditation isn’t a legal requirement in the UK, but customers will deem you credible if you have this type of certification).
Localizing Your Website to Improve UX
Once you’ve decided on your target audience, you can begin to localize your website. While translation is fundamental to localization, the images you use, your website’s design, and the nuances of your brand message are just as important.
It doesn’t matter how awesome your product is. If your translated website is full of errors, your audience won’t trust your brand’s credibility. This is why it’s imperative that you stay away from machine translation tools and hire professional translation services instead.
Bear in mind that your translated content shouldn’t be a mere duplicate of your original copy. It needs to read fluidly and authentically, encapturing the linguistic nuances and cultural sensibilities of your target audience’s language and communication preferences.
With the help of translators and local advisors, play around with sentences, words, and phrases to create content that is truly customized for your target audience.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t forget to check the direct translations of your brand’s name, product, or slogan. Even big-name brands like Pepsi are guilty of overlooking this step. Their slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” translates loosely in Chinese into, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the grave.” It didn’t go down too well!
At its core, your brand’s message should remain consistent throughout, but elements of your content marketing strategy may need some tweaking. This might be due to cultural appropriateness, a difference in customer pain points, or, like we mentioned above, an awkward translation.
As long as you have an intimate understanding of your brand’s values, conveying your message across languages and cultures should be relatively painless. Whether you merely change a couple of words or completely rewrite content to address a local pain point, the emotion behind your website’s messaging should shine through authentically.
Technical Design Elements
You might need to alter your website’s design template to suit localized trends, aesthetics, and preferences. For example, Western audiences read in an F-shaped pattern (i.e., from left to right), so they naturally focus on the left side of website pages. This isn’t the case in Arabic countries, where they read from right to left. So, if you were localizing a webpage for an Arabic audience, you’d focus your main content, images, etc., on the right-hand side.
Device preferences are another important thing to consider. Do your target audience primarily search on their mobiles, or are they big tablet users? Research your audience’s device habits, and ensure that your website is fully responsive.
Other essential functional elements to localize include:
- Currencies and payment options
- Date formats
Visual Design Elements
The images you use matter – a lot.
For example, did you know that cows are sacred animals in India? This would make an image of a sizzling steak on your landing page a serious faux-pas. Similarly, a photo of a woman in shorts wouldn’t be received so well in Arabic cultures. And hand gestures have so many different cultural meanings that if you don’t do your research, you might accidentally end up confusing or offending your target audience.
When it comes to photos of people, ensuring that they are of the same nationality as your target audience can help to eliminate that “This is a foreign website” feeling. The same goes if you’re leveraging video marketing on your website too.
Colors also play a key role in subconscious messaging. They have the power to elicit specific emotions and connotations that influence a buyer’s purchasing decisions. This isn’t automatically translated across markets, though, as colors mean different things across cultures and often have deep-rooted symbolisms.
For example, green often symbolizes freshness and growth in Western cultures, but in some South American countries, green is a symbol of death. In China, blue symbolizes femininity, and red symbolizes fertility and prosperity (hence why Chinese women wear red on their wedding day!)
Using the right colors can improve your UX by instilling positive emotions and connotations.
Securing a top-level domain for your target country and having lots of high-quality, country-specific backlinks is an SEO must. One of the quickest ways to secure backlinks for your newly-localized website is to build links by purchasing existing websites in your industry or niche.
When it comes to your content marketing, remember that keywords are not universal. A critical step during the translation process is to perform in-depth market and keyword research.
Start by identifying the search engines that your audience uses (not every country prefers Google), and then identify localized keywords in your target language. Remember that keywords can vary drastically across even English-speaking countries.
In the UK, a buyer would search for “dummy” instead of “pacifier” or “garden” instead of “yard.” And where Americans would search for “candy,” British buyers would search for “sweets,” and Australians would search for “lollies.” This kind of variation exists within other languages too.
Taking the leap into global expansion is a daunting venture, but there are plenty of small-but-powerful tools and tactics that you can use to your advantage, and hopefully, thanks to this guide, you won’t need to search “What is website localization?” online.
Along with implementing a virtual business phone system to enrich your international communication capabilities, website localization is a surefire way to increase your chances of globalization success. Enlist the expertise of translators and local advisors, arm yourself with market research, and equip your team with the workflow management and data analysis tools needed to create, publish, and track the success of your localized website.