7 reasons to localize your website, 3 guides, and lots of advice on getting the strategy and the processes right
My favorite articles on localization from around the web
“the action or fact of making something local in character, or of adapting something for a local audience or market.”
- Localization. (n.d.). In Oxford English Dictionary online
Reasons to localize
1. Cross the cultural barriers
“translation is about crossing the language barrier, whereas localization is about crossing the cultural barrier … the content itself must be capable of penetrating the target market; it has to resonate with prospective customers”
Should Marketing Content Be Translated Or Localized?
2. Be accepted by your target market
“Understanding the cultural characteristics of your target market is essential for how you adapt your brand.
For example, Russian consumers tend to be more impulsive, while Japanese shoppers are more cautious and will do more pre-purchase research. British customers enjoy witty humor, whereas a German audience prefers modest and direct language.”
3. Show clearly that your foreign audience is important to you
“But as a company, entering a country, looking to profit, without an understanding of the culture and in turn language, is irresponsible. And sends a clear message to users about how you view both.”
The need to localize your product, Cat Noone
4. Connect on a more personal level and build trust
“Localization goes beyond merely having to translate website content, and it connects with consumers on a personal level, builds your brand image in a way that is both accessible and unique. In short, localization is about building trust,” writes Danyelle C. Overbo, a Smartling contributor.”
5. Avoid offending, confusing and annoying your target audience
“Literally every design decision you make—whether color choice, visual style, illustrations, microinteractions, tone of voice, or the phrasing of error messages—contributes to the personality of your product and, by extension, your brand.
Unfortunately, some of these decisions do not automatically translate into other cultures. Most languages force you to make decisions that are not applicable to English. Should you use formal or informal language to address users? Can you use the first person or the royal we, or must you formulate impersonal messages? An online banking site’s addressing a German audience with the informal du is a sure-fire way to destroy confidence right on the landing page.”
6. Understand the implications of one-website-fits-all-languages approach to the UX
“Hmm. That’s odd. There’s a video up top, but the captions are in a language you don’t understand. The wording is weird, and the button text doesn’t even fit in the button. How could people think this is good?
Well, it turns out this app wasn’t designed in your language. It was designed in Elvish, then translated into your language. Most people are using the Elvish version, so they don’t know how things look in your language.
Believe it or not, this is what non-English users have to deal with time and time again. Because many apps are only designed with English in mind, some design details can get lost in translation if you’re not careful.”
7. Be more credible by adapting design, layout and wording
“This "generic mental model" consists of the set of conventions shared by a specific discourse community for a specific genre, such as corporate websites or blogs. This model does not only include linguistic and cultural features, but it also includes typographical, graphical or functionality aspects.
In digital texts, non-compliance with a convention, such as placing the navigation menu to the right of the screen as opposed to the left, might slow down the communication process, but it will not stop it. On the other hand, non-compliance with a norm, such as including recurring spelling errors, will produce a negative effect on the user that will associate it with a lack of quality ... [t]his could lead to a lack of credibility that would stop the text from achieving its pragmatic goal. “
Miguel A. Jiménez-Crespo, PhD,
Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, USA,
Conventions in localisation: a corpus study of original vs. translated web texts
The Journal of Specialised Translation, Issue12 – July 2009
Why localizing your website to attract Russian customers is a good idea
1. Take into account the differences in business culture and the higher degree of formality
“The main obstacles faced by companies wanting to take over the Russian market are: a significantly different business culture, a different export tax system, a seemingly impenetrable language and alphabet, and different means of online promotion.”
Christian Arno, 3 Localization Tips for Exporting to Russia,
SEJ, 3 Localization Tips for Exporting to Russia or the CIS Countries
“Take the US and Poland. The US style of business is more relaxed and outgoing than in Poland, where things tend to be more formal. This is why some Polish companies find it difficult to enter the US market — because their business style, language and approach might be considered stiff and overly formal. And to Polish people, the US style of business might come off as too loose, even unprofessional at times.”
Julia Rozwens, How to Conduct Website Localization – Don't Get Lost In Translation
This includes even such innocuous details as the amount of “we” used in the copy.
For example, it is much more common for US brands to use “we” in their copy (and this matters not just for websites – see this fascinating post by Amanda Williams), but in Russian it should be used more sparingly.
On the other hand, Russian tends to require a more implicit flow of reasoning, so adapting the section about the great battle of berries and changing the sequence to a more linear one would have made the copy more comprehensible for a Russian reader and made the last sentence appear less random and disconnected from the previous text.
2. Understand what’s legal and what’s not, as well as what’s acceptable and what’s not
“Also, respect societal norms and create a cultural guide for each market. Explore beyond the general attitude of the area. Your team should analyze consumer behavior.
For instance, marketers in the United States use aggressive, sales-oriented campaigns. However, in Europe, your team may tone down the message.
More importantly, learn the laws of the area. Some regions prohibit words or phrases that are considered lewd.”
Shayla Price, How to Localize Your Marketing Campaigns to Increase Conversions
3. Encourage your Russian-speaking audience to buy from you
“Potential Russian buyers prefer to buy in their own language and are very attentive to the quality of the texts. In addition, 81.7% of respondents said they would never buy medicine without being able to read a description in their own language, 37.4% wouldn’t buy tech products, 33.9% wouldn’t buy tourism services, 33% wouldn’t buy food, 20.9% wouldn’t book a hotel and 20% wouldn’t buy clothes.
One of the major objectives of e-commerce is to allow the user to perceive the website as safe and reliable. For this task, product descriptions play a fundamental role. Just as in the "real" world, what you say and how you say it in online sales play a fundamental role on a potential customer’s decision to purchase your product or service.”
What could be simpler than ordering a pizza?!
While the Domino’s homepage in the US does not waste time getting to the point, the Russian homepage has to work harder to get visitors to buy, presumably because they need to be sold on the idea of ordering a pizza.
The US version is ideal for brand-aware visitors, and the Russian version is targeted towards product-aware visitors (who just want pizza, but not necessarily a delivery).
Both the US and the Russian websites give prominent placement to deals, but the US website has “Start your order” buttons (delivery/carryout)” positioned above and has a significantly sleeker header menu.
The Russian version offers a discount for both in-house orders and delivery, has a prominently displayed brand promise (Happiness delivered in 30 minutes), an average delivery time for the last week, as well as a field to enter a promo code.
The number of promos offered on the Russian website is higher (and the first link in the header menu is for promotions), and the same goes for the amount of pizzas presented on the homepage.
While the US visitors can either start ordering, choose one of the running promos, or click through to review the menu, visitors in Russia have access to a variety of pizzas straight on the homepage, including an exotic “Bavarian pizza” with pickles, onions, salami and mozzarella (personally, I am disappointed to sauerkraut is used in the recipe).
Implementation and hidden dangers of technology
1. Be open to discussing possible solutions that would work for the market (also, using avatars created for your local market to sell to a foreign market is an exercise in futility)
“A translation can make a product sound domestic or foreign, customary or special, and many things in between. When attempting to sell products or to develop cultures (or better, to do both at the same time), you overlook translation at your peril.
Localization planners should be especially aware that the range of translation strategies is restricted by the nature of the target culture involved.”
2. Understand that CAT tools have limitations: sometimes a sentence-to-sentence approach will hinder localization
“But if you force a breakdown of a written page into small pieces (segments), you also force the translators to keep the same flow and sentence structure across all subsequent languages. While this can easily be adjusted during the process by, say, merging segments, the translators’ interface encourages translators to think by segment and restricted by the flow of the source text rather than that of their native language.
In summary, CAT-tools should be used with care, and maybe not for some content. And when used, you should consider segmenting the text on a paragraph or document level – depending on the content’s intended function. In doing so, the translator will be able to enjoy the full benefits of the various features offered by CAT-tools.”
Kåre Lindahl (CEO), Venga Global
Is Marketing Translation Dead?
3. Help your team make sure that cultural match comes before terminology and translation memory matches
“At the bottom of this, translators are being employed to repeat terminology as consistently as possible, to control the length but not the content of their output, and to forget about anything else. Localization and translation memory software do their utmost to separate translators from any sense of actually communicating something to someone. This is disastrous for the professional self-image of translators, who frequently enter the more interesting parts of localization, or move on to non-localization work as soon as they can afford to do so. It may also turn out to be disastrous in the long-term for localization itself, since experienced translators should be the source of much valuable cultural information. They are the ones who can tell you, intuitively, what cultural transformations our products have to undergo in order to be accepted. They also have ideas about the long-term effects of their work. If you don’t want to indulge in translation theory, you may still obtain some practical benefits by listening to a few experienced translators.”
Anthony Pym, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain,
What Localization Models Can Learn From Translation Theory
Advice on strategic approach
1. Use the right data to prioritize localization efforts
“To be ‘strategic’ you have to do more than just optimize your localization process. It’s about listening to your business and users. It's about leading with data.
Generic country data—like total population, mobile penetration, age distribution, languages, and purchasing ability per capita—can help you understand where your total addressable market is. Company-specific data—like revenue, pipeline, and visits—can help you work out which countries you should be optimizing for. Put together, these two factors help you create a prioritized list of countries.
However, having a strategy is pointless if you don’t execute it in the best way possible.”
Lee Densmer, How Localization at Box Fuels International Revenue, Global Blog
2. Avoid this nightmare scenario
“You’ve presented the new website and everyone loves it. The design is crisp, the code is bug-free, and you’re ready to release. Then someone asks, “Does it work in Japanese?” You break out in a cold sweat: you have no idea. The website works in English, and you figured other languages would come later. Now you have to rework the whole app to support other languages. Your release date slips, and you spend the next two months fixing bugs, only to find that you’ve missed half of them.”
Zack Grossbart, 12 Commandments Of Software Localization
For Russian, I’d say this is one the most common nightmare scenarios: developers not realizing that in Russian endings of nouns after numerals can vary. This is why dynamic counters and “number of views” are sometimes left looking less than grammatically correct.
3. Implement global-by-design approach: for example, accounting for the fact that Russians write their addresses differently (and don’t have SSNs)
“The global-by-design approach goes further than traditional approaches to localization. For example, say you want to build a feature that flags all documents containing personal information like social security numbers. With the global-by-design approach, you wouldn’t just roll out a generic social security number-capturing feature and translate it for different regions. You’d build a feature that flags all kinds of sensitive personal information like passport numbers, ID numbers, and bank details, and tailor it based on each region’s policies and practices.
That’s what it means to be ‘strategic.’ To use data and to think more deeply.”
Lee Densmer, How Localization at Box Fuels International Revenue,
4. Understand that different types of content will require different approaches
“First of all, a lot of companies think of their web content as a single organism without realizing there are different pieces of content serving different purposes. They usually get it translated, which means applying the same workflow to all content types. However, as every piece of content communicates different things, the approach should also be different.”
5. Don’t stop at internal review: talk to your customers and adjust
“Audiences in different countries could be attracted to different things. Always ask for feedback with a simple survey. You’d be surprised by the answers you get to just a few open questions. With this knowledge, you will be able to adjust your content strategy and localize your website with even greater precision.”
Julia Rozwens, How To Conduct Website Localization – Don't Get Lost In Translation
Of course, it’s not just websites. Customers in different countries might prefer different products (McDonald’s is well-known for adapting its menu to the preferences of a local market and continues to do so):
6. Be mindful of the importance of teamwork (and of constant vigilance!)
“Confusion about the process often leads to translation teams blaming the quality of the source, agencies blaming the quality of the translation, and marketing teams frustrated – because the mixed messaging leaves them unsure as to who to believe and makes them spend too much time trying to arbitrate the process, instead of focusing on delivering the message to end customers.
If marketing and localization leaders invest time in pulling these often conflicting parties together, the end result is a highly scalable, polished global message that meets business objectives. It’s not easy, it takes people out of their comfort zones, and it requires constant vigilance, but the best of both worlds, scale and quality of message, can be achieved.”
Wayne Bourland, Why We Shouldn’t Translate Marketing… And Why We Do It Anyway
4. Consider pre-launching your website
“When entering the Russian market we usually recommend using a pre-launch – as mentioned earlier, the Russian market is very different from those you’ve worked with in the past,” says Simanovsky. “The behavior and preferences of Russian consumers differ from those of European, Asian, and American consumers, which means you need to be extremely attentive and careful and make preliminary test flights. This will enable you to obtain real analysis so you can understand what you will be up against during launch and what you need to do to make your launch as successful as possible. Moreover, a pre-launch will allow you to generate consumer interest, attract more active consumers, and guarantee your first sales immediately after launch”, he explains.”
Ecommerce News, What you need to know when entering the Russian market
7. Use A/B testing
“Localization often shapes the entire user experience, so a lot of the ties are subtle. But we can tie localization to other metrics like conversion and engagement, which are good indicators of revenue. However, the only way to attribute a metric to a new language, currency, or payment method is by running an A/B test.
For example, we’re designing an A/B test that involves adding a new language to a specific region. Instead of rolling it out universally, we’ll only offer it to half of the region’s user base. The other half will be our control population. We’ll then look at the difference in engagement in both populations. If we see a statistically significant increase, we’ll know that language impacts user engagement. Although that’s a localization-engagement tie, it’s reasonable for us to assume it would directly influence revenue.”
Lee Densmer, How Localization at Box Fuels International Revenue
8. Consider localizing all parts of your sales funnel
(sales emails, welcome sequences, and yes – post-sales support documentation)
“Localizing post-sales support might even save you money in the long run. By localizing documentation and building platforms where customers can troubleshoot answers to questions in their own language, you’ll dramatically cut down on call center costs, email queries and increase the likelihood that your international customers will buy from you again. But keep in mind that post-sales support services vary from country-to-country.
Ensuring your platform supports customer reviews in-language is important for post-sales engagement in-market. However, this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to invest in live chats or telephone support to capture this engagement – you can succeed with simply having localized, automated CRM. Localizing isn’t just about language. It’s also about tailoring your support to regional preferences. Each region responds differently to sales support efforts. For instance, due to data privacy concerns, loyalty programs are ineffective in Germany; whereas in China, nearly 90% of consumers would buy, and buy again, from companies that offer loyalty programs.”
Michelle Lingo, Three Reasons to Localize Your Post-Sales Support, Wordbank
3 guides to check out if you want to find out more
Need help with getting your website and email copy localized into Russian?
Ekaterina is a bilingual copywriter helping US-based companies who want to unlock the potential of the Russian e-commerce market and attract more clients by adapting their Russian copy to the desired target audience, by using conversion copywriting framework