The 5 Top Website Localization Best Practices

Best Practice Series

Expanding beyond your borders involves more than simply rubber-stamping your strategy.  Learn why.

Entering New Markets

You’ve made the decision to enter into a new market. You’ve lined up your translation resources and your localization strategy is coming into focus.

Now it’s time to localize your website. And as online content becomes ever more integral to your marketing message, making sure it hits the localized mark is more important than ever before.

Consider these tips for ensuring your website fires on all cylinders no matter who reads it, what language they speak, and what cultural values matter most to them:

1. Sweat The Small Stuff

While overall branding should remain consistent from one geography to another, subtle shifts in color, punctuation, date/time conventions and other seemingly minor elements can go a long way toward reinforcing how local your localized site actually is. Pay attention to formats for phone numbers and currencies, as well as specific references to holidays, geographic locations and even colors. Look to global brands like Apple and Coca-Cola for examples of how regional versions of their websites are tweaked without eroding the core branding principles.

2. Consider Going Slightly Bilingual

Depending on how some sites will be used, it’s reasonable to question whether the localized website needs to be completely rendered in the target language. To be blunt, it doesn’t, and it’s entirely acceptable to throw in minor occurrences of the original language here and there. Consider where it might make sense to keep things in their original language - or to provide a quick translation for viewers who may not necessarily reside in the target location. The resulting hybrid-like approach to bilingualism could serve as an important guide to certain visitors, especially in businesses where international traffic dominates.

3. Consider Keeping Brand-Based Material As Is

Some global messages may not fully translate into foreign languages. Certain logos and taglines, for example, may work better in their native language. In other cases, what sounds great in one language can be perceived negatively in another. Or it might simply lack the branding power after it’s been translated. Work with local resources to better understand how branding elements are perceived, and use their feedback to help you decide what gets translated and what can stay the same.

4. Freshen Up The Graphics

Photos, charts, infographics and other visual elements must be adapted to the local audience. Cultural sensitivities around certain colors, gestures, and even separation by gender, can throw wrenches into even the most well-intentioned marketing plan.

For example, the thumbs-up gesture used so often in North American culture to illustrate enthusiastic approval can be perceived as an insult in other regions. The A-OK gesture has a similarly wide rage of perceptions. When selecting visual imagery for the website, vet it carefully to ensure you’re not crossing any local moral or cultural lines. Culturally appropriate photos can go a long way toward reinforcing trust with the audience and guiding them toward the rest of your great content.

5. Be Prepared To Ignore Common Design Conventions

The latest best practices for web design in North America revolve around relatively sparse use of text, lots of white space, liberal use of photos and related images, and an overall clean design to facilitate navigation. Some far-eastern cultures, on the other hand, value a more complex interface, with options and crowding galore. In fact, a little chaos can be perceived as a good thing within the right cultural context. Avoid the temptation to apply the same design template in every region across the globe. Instead, examine other websites and online resources within your target geography to ensure your design philosophy aligns with target audience expectations.

Because of the diversity in website content and design, one size will definitely not fit all when it comes time to localize yours. But by paying focused attention to the subtle elements of design and structure, you can easily strike a balance that allows optimal messaging to the localized audiences you’re trying to reach.


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