Everything You Need to Know About Website Localization

Website Localization Explained

Expanding your business to reach out to customers who speak another language is an exciting prospect. Whether you’re planning to trade across national borders or simply want to engage new domestic audiences, translating your website is an excellent way to do so.

However, website translation is about far more than merely converting one language to another. It’s not enough to simply translate English to Spanish (for example) and then sit back and wait for the customers to roll in. Instead, you will need to use a professional translation company that also provides localization. Doing so will make all the difference between your English to Spanish translation being a hit with new customers and being a complete flop.

In this article, we’ll show you why this is, looking at how website localization is done, what it is, how you can source the best translation and localization services and more. We’ll give you all the information you need in order to proceed with your website localization project with full confidence.

What Is Website Localization?

Website localization, in a nutshell, is the process of adapting a website to suit a specific audience. We’ll stick with the example of an English to Spanish website localization in this article, but the same concepts apply irrespective of the particular language pairing.

Website and software localization services focus on delivering an end product that feels as though it was originally created for the target audience. A well localized website won’t feel like it’s been through the mill of an international translation company, but instead will leave the reader with no clue that it was first written in another language.

This means that localization has to cover every element of the site. The copy is one part, but even the best translation company won’t be able to adapt a website to a specific target audience through translation alone. While issues such as converting date, pricing and measurement formats can be addressed by a skilled translator, a localization expert will look at the bigger picture. Will the copy make sense in the cultural context of the new audience? Do the site’s images reflect the target audience? Is its payment system available in the target country/currency? Is there content that might offend the new audience on political or religious grounds? Are the website hosting and theme suitable for use in the new territory? All of this and more must be addressed to deliver a successful localization outcome.

What Is Globalization?

It’s worth taking a minute at this point to look at how localization fits into the context of globalization. Globalization is a far-reaching term that describes the way in which businesses and other entities expand to take on an international role. If your company is looking to translate and localize its website in order to attract new customers in other countries, this is part of the process of globalization.

Both localization and internationalization are part of globalization. While website localization services aim to target a specific audience, internationalization seeks to make a website as generic as possible. Doing so can aid the localization process immensely.

If, for example, you have an English language website, an internationalization expert can go through the site, making the language as neutral as possible. Removing idioms, cultural references and anything else that would engage only an English-speaking audience means that the site will appeal to as broad a range of international visitors as possible. It’s then much easier to translate and localize it into Spanish, French, Italian or any other language.

The Benefits of Using Localization Services

Now that we’re clear on what website localization is, let’s take a look at its benefits. For businesses, the main benefit is connecting with new customers. Very simply, a larger customer base can mean greater profits, and this is what many companies have in mind when they first embark upon a website localization project.

It’s important to understand how online user language preferences come into play here. Thankfully, the European Commission has analysed precisely this in one of its Flash Eurobarometer studies.

While 55% of internet users in the EU use at least one language other than their own to read information or watch content on the internet, that figure varies dramatically depending upon the type of activity being undertaken. For example, 81% of EU internet users will watch the news or browse to get information in a language other than their mother tongue. However, when it comes to searching for or buying products or services online, that figure drops to 56%. This means that businesses that fail to provide a multilingual website are instantly missing out on 44% of their potential customers. 

Of course, a business in Europe doesn’t need to translate its website into all of the 150 or so languages that are spoken across the continent. Selecting a handful of the most spoken languages should be sufficient to deliver a massively increased target audience. In terms of native speakers, Russian actually tops the list of languages spoken in Europe, with 120 million native speakers. That’s followed by German (95 million native speakers), French (80 million), English (70 million) and Turkish (70 million). As such, delivering a website in these five languages has the potential to reach 435 million people – well over half of Europe’s 740 million citizens. 

How to Localize a Website

Good website localization is all about cultural context. The copy must read as though it has been written for the target audience, not adapted from something written to suit another culture. That can mean all manner of subtle, nuanced changes are necessary when the language is converted from one language to another.

The first stage of localization is therefore to engage a professional localization expert. This is someone who lives and breathes the culture of the target audience – almost certainly a native of the country in question and definitely someone who has considerable experience of adapting copy to suit that country’s citizens.

In addition to reworking the website’s copy, the localization expert will also need to review the imagery and iconography of the site to ensure that it is culturally relevant. This doesn’t just apply to the ethnic mix of those in the images, but to everything from landscapes to buildings – all of these must resonate with the target audience as being something familiar and culturally appropriate.

Then there are the technical elements of the website localization process. Prices must be in the correct format and the website’s ecommerce functions need to work seamlessly, including the payment system.

The localization professional may also need to address issues such as the use of non-Latin scripts and text that flows in different directions. They will also need to consider the issue of language expansion and contraction. 5,000 words in English equates to around 5,549 words in French, but just 4,827 in German. The website will need to flex to fit each language without either looking crowded or having too much blank space – another task that falls within the localization professional’s remit.

The importance of using a translation company that specializes in providing website and software localization services cannot be underestimated. Localization is a long and often complex process that requires plenty of skill to deliver successfully.

How to Find the Best Language Translation Company

Finding a translation agency with a proven track record of providing expert localization services is key. If your business is in need of localization expertise, it’s not enough to Google ‘What is the best English to Spanish translation website?’ and engage the first company you see advertised! You need to undertake sufficient due diligence to assure yourself that your business will be working with a translation company that is used to working with clients around the world and that has a long history of successful localization work.

Any decent translation company that fits this bill should have plenty of positive reviews online. In addition, why not ask the companies that you are considering using whether they have business clients that you can approach for references? A company with an established history of localization expertise shouldn’t struggle to put you in touch with a couple of happy clients who are prepared to sing the company’s praises.

It’s also worth grilling potential translation companies on their sector specialisms. Ideally, you want a company that has experience of serving the particular industry that your business operates in. There’s a world of difference between a company that specialises in localizing (for example) legal websites and one that specialises in localizing medical content. Be sure to track down the company that has the most relevant experience for your particular business.

Final Thoughts

We’ve walked you through what localization is, why it’s important and how to go about it. You should now be armed with sufficient knowledge and confidence to get started on your business website localization project without further delay. Localization can open an incredible array of new doors for companies that get it right – make sure that yours is one of them!

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