Localization is a natural step in the growth and success of many websites. However, the website localization process can be complex and demanding. That’s why having a solid website localization strategy is as important as your overall business strategy. 

In this guide, we’ll go over each step in detail – from researching your target market to the translation process and, finally, monitoring your multilingual website to track your performance.

Conducting market research for website localization

Effective market research is crucial for a properly localized website. At this stage, it’s essential to understand your audience before outlining a content localization strategy.

Identifying target markets and languages

Your first goal should be to identify target markets with traffic potential. 

Look into your analytic tools for an unusual amount of visitors from a specific country or region. If you establish that your website content, products, or services fit well with said user base, you might have found a potential target audience

Note that there are many different factors to consider – for example, you might observe a lot of traffic from a particular country, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will profit from it.

The average CPM could be too low to make substantial ad revenue, or your product might not fit with other common demographic factors for your visitors – such as gender or age.

This is great news, though – now your website has the opportunity to expand its influence by reaching a fresh and untapped market.

The next step is to identify the native language of your new target audience. While you’ll rarely have to consider dialects, certain countries have multiple official spoken languages. In that case, look into specific website standards. For example, Belgium has three official different languages, but nearly all Belgian websites default to Dutch.

Analyzing cultural differences and preferences

Localization is much more than translating content into a target language. A well-localized website adapts almost every aspect of its design, writing, and composition with consideration of the user’s local culture, preferences, and buying habits.

Your research should help you establish when it’s appropriate to translate literally and when it’s better to develop new wording. Having in-depth knowledge of the local audience will help you avoid culturally inappropriate rhetoric or imagery.

While it’s healthy to maintain brand consistency across multilingual websites, you might find yourself altering certain slogans and entire marketing campaigns to fit foreign markets and their specific pain points and desires.

From a technical standpoint, countries utilize different sizing, weight, measuring metrics, and currency. Not only that, but some languages like Arabic, Urdu, and Hebrew are written right-to-left (RTL), which may completely change the layout of your website, including elements like buttons, icons, dates, and the navigation bar.

Preparing your website for localization

The next step is choosing a localization approach and building a strategy. Many of the decisions you’ll make depend on your budget, time, and the complexity of the website localization project.

Choosing a website localization method

Choosing a translation method is a key step in the localization process, as it will most likely govern your long-term localization efforts

Let’s look into some options:

  • Machine translation: By using software, localization can become a much more accessible, efficient, and affordable process. Automated translation is a relatively common practice, but it has a major downside – software localization can’t really capture cultural nuances. Ultimately, the quality of your translations might suffer.
  • Hiring a localization agency: Outsourcing website translation to a team or an expert will guarantee superior quality, especially if they have good local knowledge or are part of the culture of your target audience. Competent professionals already have established processes that will lead to a more organized translation and localization effort.
  • In-house translation team: Forming an in-house team is the most expensive translation option. However, it might be your best option in the long run if you’re running a successful website that supports multiple languages. The team will translate newly added content, run systematic quality assurance checks, and provide insights into your new markets’ needs and trends.
  • Crowd-sourcing: If you don’t wish to employ website localization services, you can always use this as an opportunity to connect with your audience. Involve local communities by asking them to translate content into their local language. This will add a sense of contribution, which you can incentivize via discounts – an easy way to convert potential customers.

Creating a localization plan and timeline

After choosing your translation approach, you’ll need to set a deadline and plan your steps. Delegate tasks across team members and prioritize high-value content that could be uploaded on its own.

There needs to be a clear line of communication between translators and web designers, as the latter will be responsible for implementing the necessary changes.

It’s of utmost importance to set up a global platform or a digital workspace that helps translators work more efficiently – we’ll cover this in more detail later on.

Determining your website’s readiness for localization

Once you’ve established some critical factors like your translation methods, budget, plan, research, and infrastructure, you’re ready to start working on a localized version of your site. Ensuring there are no holes in the pipeline will prevent work from being put on hold, which may cause you to lose resources.

From a backend perspective, you must ensure that there are multiple existing website versions to which the newly translated content can be uploaded. You can also create entirely new domains for your localized websites if it improves the user experience or loading speed.

Creating localized content

Now that you’ve completed all preliminary work, it’s time to start localizing your content.

Translating website copy and messaging

Start with your messaging. It’s crucial to shift your general rhetoric and brand messaging to fit the foreign language to avoid coming across as tone-deaf or, even worse, culturally inappropriate or offensive. Use your research insights and find your voice in the new market. This will govern all your copywriting, branding, and marketing decisions going forward.

In most cases, user interface (UI) elements like buttons and navigational items can be translated literally. The same goes for legal pages like the ToS or Privacy Policy ones, except when laws are different in the given country – in which case you’re legally obligated to make alterations.

On the other hand, headlines, meta descriptions, body text, and almost everything in between should be carefully reviewed through the lens of a local speaker. There are few things more awkward than a humorous line being translated literally, losing all of its value – when in doubt, avoid humor as it tends to be very polarizing.

In order to improve your search engine rankings and start gaining organic traffic, it’s worth conducting keyword research and applying your findings to elevate your on-page SEO. Search engines will drive new visitors passively, so consider spending resources on search engine optimization.

Adapting images and multimedia content for different languages and cultures

Images and multimedia content play a significant role in conveying messages – this is when localization starts to become more nuanced. Ensure that visuals are culturally appropriate and relevant to your target audience. 

Studying the different standards of style and living, you can start reflecting your findings in your choice of hero image, product images, informational videos, and others. Your research might even point to a need to change the entire color palette of your web pages.

Icons and symbols also carry different meanings depending on the culture – make sure the ones you choose are universally understood or replace existing ones with adequate ones.

If you’re working with an RTL language, you’ll need to start repositioning many of these visual elements to fit the screen and support a more suitable user experience.

Localizing product descriptions, pricing, and other ecommerce content

When it comes to an e-commerce online business, there are some unique aspects that require localization.

Let’s take a look at them:

  • Product descriptions: Accurate translations to descriptions are essential, but you should be open to tailoring them to the target audience’s preferences – the important thing is to make the product alluring, relatable and relevant.
  • Pricing: Make sure that your platform supports dynamic currency. Currency conversion is essential when working with international users.
  • Shipping and delivery information: Provide clarity about the delivery process and expected delivery times for specific geographical regions. Set clear expectations for your users.
  • Size charts and measurement units: A size M shirt differs in NA and Europe. Centimeters or inches? Kilograms or pounds? Ensure you introduce familiar measurement systems – if users are forced to make manual calculations, they’ll likely leave your website.
  • Testimonials: Encourage all customers to leave reviews. There’s nothing wrong with translating reviews (granted, you’ve established this in your ToS), but in this case, you have to translate verbatim.
  • FAQs: Have accessible information regarding products and services in visible places and choose FAQs depending on specific regional needs and cultural peculiarities.
  • Customer support: While setting up a customer service team might be expensive, even having a single native speaker to respond to e-mails is often enough. It builds trust, even knowing that a company has an open line of communication.
  • Seasonal offers: Christmas isn’t a worldwide holiday, and some countries don’t have summer. Keep this in mind when pushing temporary or seasonal promotions.

Implementing website localization

You’ve finished localizing your website content. Good work! Now, you have to put it out there. Here’s how.

Updating website code and architecture for multilingual support

In order to support a multilingual system, your website needs to be built for it, starting with the proper URL structure – meaning your links need to send users to the relevant domain or subdomain. 

For example, website.com would be your English version, while website.de could be your German one. If you’re looking to keep it all centralized, you can use a subdomain system like website.com/en and website.com/de for English and German, respectively. 

It’s important to write this in clean and organized code so it doesn’t affect performance from having to host so much data.

Have a language switcher – your website should support a system allowing users to manually choose which language they would like to view the website.

Another important aspect is hreflang tags. This is a signal you implement into your code that captures your visitor’s location and uses it to show them the relevant language version automatically. 

Finally, to maximize performance, a standard practice in website internationalization is setting up a content delivery network (CDN), a network of proxy servers geographically spread out so each version of your website is supported on different servers. Thus, loading speeds are increased for foreign audiences.

Choosing a website localization tool or platform

Establishing a good localization workflow is a long-term investment, and it all starts with choosing the right platform. In addition to serving as a centralized database, a localization platform consolidates all translation work, giving access to time-saving tools like text expansion.

Setting it up allows for a much smoother hiring process for future translators, streamlines the translation process itself, and offers reliable tools for easier linguistic quality assurance.

Testing and debugging localized website versions

Running tests is an essential step prior to launching the website. 

You should test every new language version for the following aspects:

  • Functional testing: Make sure all interactive elements like buttons, forms, and redirect links work correctly.
  • Browser compatibility: Test your website in different browsers, especially the ones that are prevalent in your target market.
  • Language switching: Ensure that automatic language detection is smooth and accurate. Manual switching should also be intuitive and functional.
  • SEO: Don’t overlook metadata and see whether search engines properly index all translated pages.
  • Performance: Track loading speeds and make changes in order to improve performance for a better user experience.
  • Layout compatibility: Sometimes, layouts clash with different fonts or letter sizes, and text goes out of bounds. This is especially common in RTL languages.

Maintaining and optimizing a localized website

Congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a global brand. However, monitoring the quality of your multilingual website should be a habit. Here are some tips for it.

Monitoring website traffic and engagement metrics

There’s no better way to determine the success of your localized website than to look at your analytical data. 

Consider these metrics:

  • Website traffic: Look at new traffic rates – understand where they’re coming from and determine whether your SEO needs improvement.
  • Bounce rate: Arguably one of your most important metrics, the bounce rate tells you how many visitors end their user journeys and exactly where. Using this information, you can make amendments to your localization efforts.
  • Conversion rates: Understand your success rates and what you’re doing right.
  • User behavior: Most analytical dashboards can give you insights into minor interactions within your websites, giving you a closer look into what could be harming your conversion rates and the general user experience.

Adjusting content and messaging based on user feedback

Listen to your community. Encourage users to provide feedback and address it. This can be done through feedback forms, social media interactions, and customer support. 

Some websites even allow customers to rate their experience and leave a comment after a successful purchase.

Conducting ongoing localization updates and improvements

Developing and maintaining a multilingual website is a dynamic practice. Expect to update old content as regularly as you’re uploading new one. 

Here’s how your website can stay relevant in the long run:

  • Localize new content: Anytime you update your core website, you should update all language versions. This is crucial as you don’t want to make your international audience feel like they are out of the loop or missing out on new opportunities.
  • New markets: Constantly explore new areas to operate in and be open to expanding further. Don’t limit your growth to only a few areas.
  • Market research: Follow endemic cultural trends and global market changes to update your messaging. Take advantage of new ways to position your brand.
  • Update your infrastructure: Keep your platforms and tools up to date to improve efficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is website localization?

Website localization is translating a website’s content to fit a foreign audience’s own language, culture, and buying behavior.

Why is website localization important for businesses?

The importance of localization for businesses stems from the nuances inherent in different cultures. Adhering to them allows a business to truly engage with a new market and ultimately expand its influence in new territories. 

How can you ensure accurate translation of brand messaging?

You can’t, and oftentimes, you shouldn’t. In localization, brand messaging might require partial or complete rework to fit the target audience’s relevant desires and pain points.

How can you measure the success of website localization?

Conversion rates are a good indicator of success, and so is user feedback. On the flip side, you should look at bounce rates to determine what you can improve.