Thanks to the power of the Internet, even the smallest businesses can now operate on a global scale and reach a worldwide audience. This opens up a world of opportunities, yes – but it also creates a number of fairly significant challenges, too.
Case in point: website and content localization. Far too many brands make the mistake of assuming that all you really have to do is take your content written in English, head on over to Google Translate, select your target language from the drop down menu and let technology do its work. You may hire someone who fluently speaks the local language to catch any basic errors, but after just a few minutes you’re good to go, right?
Not really, no.
Website and content localization is far more involved than that and if you really want to make sure your own efforts soar to that end, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.
The Art of Website Localization: Breaking Things Down
Maybe the most critical thing for you to understand about website localization is that you’re talking about a process that is far more involved than just a straight, one-to-one translation.
Even if you’re trying to preserve the same message, there are a number of ways that a literal translation could negatively impact your site – both in terms of how that message is perceived and how your efforts bleed out into other areas, like design.
Take something as seemingly simple as a presentation, for example. A piece of presentation software like Visme (which I founded) makes it easy enough to simply replace the text on each slide with content that is translated into the language of whatever market you’re dealing with at the moment. But don’t forget that certain words or phrases are longer and more complex in one language than they may be in another.
So suddenly a slide that had a sleek, minimalist amount of text in English could look overloaded and far too complicated for its own good in something like Spanish. The message is exactly the same, but nearly everything about the perception of that content is different.
Your overall presentation that worked incredibly well in English can suddenly feel overwhelming and convoluted in another. Those graphics that integrated perfectly with the overall feeling you were going for suddenly detract from the experience instead of adding to it. All of that white space you leaned on to keep things light and breezy is now gone – thus harming the pace of the finished piece, too.
Rather than letting it ride, you need to instead think about ways to translate that content from one language to another while still preserving all of the other elements like your design. That, in essence, is what localization is all about.
The point here is that translating marketing collateral or even an entire website into multiple languages is certainly easy enough… but it also creates a negative ripple effect across everything you’ve worked so hard to build to the point where you probably don’t want to actually do it.
Note that this is all taking place before you even get into the cultural and contextual implications, of which there are many.
Getting Your Localization Efforts Off on the Right Foot
The ultimate key to maximizing your online presence has always and will always involve getting the right message in front of the right person at exactly the right moment in the buyer’s journey.
When you’re talking about a single market, it stands to reason that you need to know as much about who those people actually are as possible. But when you’re talking about multiple markets, you suddenly need to factor in the cultural side of the conversation, too.
This will be evident almost immediately as your efforts begin, when you use a service like Respona to do research into the types of topics you should be writing about in the first place.
As a thought experiment, go to a site like Respona or Google and look up topics that are getting a lot of attention in the United States of America. Now, try to take those same topics and see how much attention they’re getting halfway across the world, in any country in Europe. You’re probably looking at a very, very different picture.
That’s not to say that there won’t be certain topics that are universal in their appeal – because there will be. To help make your localization efforts as easy as possible, you should try to write about these things more often than not. But sometimes you’ll have to get specific in order to appeal to a niche market, and you’ll need to do so with the understanding that the type of content you’re now creating may be so specific that it won’t necessarily appeal to a global audience.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on those topics. It just means that you should do so with the express understanding that you may be devoting a tremendous amount of time and effort to something with limited appeal.
Such is the nature of the global business environment that we’re now living in.
Along the same lines, you’ll also have to think about how certain references will be accepted by one culture versus another in your writing. Your brand’s website probably doesn’t have very many popular culture references, for example, but for the sake of discussion let’s hone in on that topic in particular.
A reference to a major motion picture that is hugely popular in America probably wouldn’t play well in another culture like China. That film could have had a very different reception there, if it was even released there at all. So suddenly that reference that absolutely kills with readers in the United States falls totally flat with another market and takes them right out of the content.
In a larger sense, there may be certain topics in one country that are perfectly acceptable that are taboo in another. All of these are things that you need to consider when creating content for a global audience.
Equally important is the idea of units of measurement. Let’s say that you were using a timeline maker that will be filled with references to your own local currency. When localizing that content, you’ll also need to “translate” those measurements into the currency of whatever market you’re focusing on at the time.
If all of this sounds like a proper website and content localization is going to be a challenge… well, that’s because it absolutely is. But again, the stakes are incredibly high and if you truly want to make your brand appeal to a worldwide audience, you have to put in that effort and show people all over that yours is a business worth paying attention to.
If your website isn’t properly localized, you may have a “presence” in countries other than the United States, but it’s also ones that consumers there probably won’t take very seriously.
If you do show that you’re willing to go above and beyond to court those potential customers, however, you won’t just raise brand awareness as you enter into new countries – you’ll immediately build a significant amount of loyalty, too.
Payman Taei is the founder of Visme, an easy-to-use online tool to create engaging presentations, infographics, and other forms of visual content. He is also the founder of HindSite Interactive, an award-winning Maryland digital agency specializing in website design, user experience and web app development.