While English may be the de facto standard for Internet communication, you will be surprised at how few people on the Internet actually use it in English. In 2002, it was estimated that 32% of internet users were non-native English speakers; but recent statistics on the number of internet users from different countries show that only about 26.8% users from around the world use the Internet in English. What this means is that the number of non-native English users who prefer to use it in their own languages is constantly rising.
This brings to light the importance of not just having a website promoting your business but also the huge positive impact that localizing your website can have; keeping in mind the increasing competition for all kinds of businesses.
How Would We Define Website Localization?
Web localization is all about going global through translation and adaptation of the content on your website for foreign markets. Of course, it also means making an existing website usable and culturally suitable to the audience you’re targeting.
The Coming of Age of Web Localization
If you think web site localization is an unexplored arena, you haven’t been noticing the changes over the past couple of years. Recent trends reveal that most businesses now understand the potential value of web site localization in untapped international markets and are all geared up to lure users around the world.
This is a period of boom for web localization and translation services. With the increasing demand, a number of such services have come into existence over the past year and this trend is expected to grow further in 2012.
It’s all well and good that localization is big business, and big business equals big websites. But it can be very confusing when you have to cater to the entire world; especially with the knowledge that people from different countries look for different things.
Localization goes much beyond website translation into different languages. Cultural nuances such as color associations, language formalities, images etc. are very important. The web pages must be in tune with the standards and practices of the region you’re targeting.
Before going ahead and discussing the requirements for localization, it helps to do away with a few false assumptions that surround it.
“Not a big deal, just get website translation done”
This is what many companies feel localization involves. They assume that it simply entails translating into foreign languages. Unfortunately, website localization requires much more than translating text. Text is just one part of the user experience; and things like, images, input, output, layout, fonts, colors, validation and functionality complete the experience.
“Translate website using Google Translate”
While Google Translate may be better than many other translators and has been improved over the years, believe me when I say machine translation tools like Google Translate or Babylon are great for your personal sites and blogs, but are certainly not meant for commercial use – at least not localized websites. Don’t be under the assumption that all the information on your English site will be acceptable to the target culture, and these changes can only be made by a human.
Your website is the face of your business; you want to ensure it has the personalization that’s so much an intricate part of attracting users from a targeted-country. Go with human translation!
Is Website Localization What Your Business Needs to Propel it Forward?
With a couple of misconceptions out of the way, you’d want to assess if website localization is going to actually help take your business further and generate new revenue growth.
If you’re in business you’d agree that return of investment (ROI) is the key to any business venture; offline or online. Your intention behind creating a localized website is to tap into the huge online market of millions of Non-English speaking Internet users from around the world.
Now, if you wish to get into the local markets, the first thing you should be looking at is the investment required and whether it is worth investing your time, money and effort for the returns you’re business is gaining back. That’s the bottom line!
For you to be able to make a practical assessment, knowledge of what web localization entails helps.
Here are a few pointers that can help your company go about localizing your website:
Strategies for Web Localization
There are a few core strategies that need to be outlined before you actually begin localization.
Content Translation – Website translation into the target language is the beginning when it comes to localizing a website. But it is not as simple as it appears! There are several factors that have to be taken into consideration for content translation.
We know that words, metaphors and phrases do not translate directly to the target language. Does your existing English website use humor? In that case, do you think the audience of the target country with different cultural norms even understands it? It is important to seek native alternatives to use in website localization.
Also look at your target audience. If the audience you’re targeting is youth oriented then a relaxed language and style must be used. Just as in English, you either use ‘heavy English’ or ‘Street English,’ other cultures will have the same differences of language use.
Another very important thing is to keep in mind is that some languages require more characters than others, even when writing the same thing. For example, French has an expansion factor of about 25% and so does Spanish. This means that the localized French or Spanish text may not fit the web page created in English. This expansion factor also affects all the drop-down menus and boxes.
- Even if you’re not localizing your website right away, you can still internationalize your site and the contents now, to save time and money later.
Get it done by a professional translator if you want to hit a homerun, or you may end up with an amateur looking website that users are not drawn to.
- If your budget doesn’t permit complete localization of your website, look at partial website translation. The rest can be done later when you have more money.
How to handle partial translation?
If you decide to go ahead with partial translation, then you must spend time planning accordingly. How are you going to let your visitors know about this? How are you going to link to non-translated pages? By using an “English Only” button? Well, that’s something you need to sit down and figure out.
Audience – In order to target the right users, assessing your visitors is not just necessary but crucial. Before getting your website translated, know where and who your visitors are and their education level – then prepare web pages and content to suit their needs. Analyze the style of the target audience first and create your website based on that.
If you’re going with localization, you may want to provide enough information about your service or product in different languages, so that your visitors are not left guessing. Go find your audience first and target countries and demographics with the maximum potential for your product or service.
Visual Communication – The saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true. Images speak to the audience. They carry subtle cultural messages. Using images is an area that thankfully is receiving plenty of attention in website localization.
Coca-Cola Korean Website
For example, if you observe the Asian market, you will understand that Asians love visual effects for communication and this creates a need for images when targeting this market. Major international companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds fill up their Asian websites with images of people using and having fun with their company’s products; whereas they target the Western audience with simple websites containing intelligently written text that conveys a strong message and a call for action. Take a look at the Coca-Cola US website which contains just one image and simple text; but the Coca-Cola Korean website is a flurry of color and images of their products. This stark difference hits you the moment you visit the websites.
The usage of appropriate images in web localization is the key. Pictures on a website either invite the audience or repel them. Would the image of an alcohol drinking woman in a bikini be appreciated in a country with Muslim population?
Why reinvent the clock? Just spend time looking at what these big companies are doing. The beauty of following the lead of successful companies is that they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars towards research and know exactly what works.
- It goes without saying – it’s only you that can be the best judge of whether your product or service has potential in the country you’re targeting.
I found this humorous article about how Japanese audience believes that ‘more is more.’ It will help you get an idea of what you should be looking at with web localization, not just for the Japanese market but any target country.
- Adobe Flash may slow down a website, but it’s a good idea if you’re targeting the Asian market. Keep in mind the cultural sensitiveness of the region you’re targeting.
Color Connotations – Preferences of fonts, colors and styles are different with people from different countries. Again taking Asia as our example; the more the color the better the website is perceived to be. But since this is not paint you’re splashing all over your walls – using what looks good will not work. You would want to look at the cultural significance of the color. In the West, red could mean danger and passion, but for the Chinese it is symbolic of luck and celebration. Take a look at these color connotations of different cultures.
Domain and Hosting – Once you’ve taken care of everything, the need for a domain arises. It really helps to have a localized domain. While many companies go with a single domain for different countries; major successful companies have been seen to use individual top level domains (TLDs) for each country they target, like .in for India, .jp for Japan and .cn for China. Wikipedia has a complete list of TLDs for you to get an idea.
If you’re targeting many countries and buying individual domains is not affordable or if you feel they consume a lot of time, you may want to go with a .com and have sub-domains like jp.mysite.com or subdirectories like mysite.com/jp for each language.
Now all that’s left to do is host your website? One very important aspect of hosting a foreign website is to host it in the target country. This has been seen to help in the local search engine rankings.
Implementation – Presentation of a localized website is the key to attract local users. For these websites, many companies set the language automatically when a user lands on their website. They do this by detecting the user’s language settings. This alleviates the need for the user to select a language on each visit. But if you want, a language selection box placed in a highly visible area of the website makes all the difference for a great user experience.
Amazon detects users connecting from different countries and switches to the local version if they want. The BBC home page offers internationalization options in a very clear manner.
Too often companies fail with website localization because they do not adopt the proper approach to international markets. It may seem overwhelming initially, but web site localization is easy and manageable – as long as one has a solid plan in hand. Spend some time familiarizing with the local market you’re planning on targeting and then watch your company grow in leaps and bounds (virtually). Finally, here’s a detailed guide to developing a website in languages other than English by the University of Maryland.