The global economy is becoming increasingly more connected. Businesses and consumers have the ability to interact over far greater distances than ever before. So it’s no surprise when your online business starts to flourish in your domestic market, attracting a customer base from abroad will inevitably become part of the next stage of your growth strategy.
But communicating your brand message outside your domestic market comes with many challenges; the most obvious one being the language barrier.
If your website is in English, you’d assume you could get by with sticking with one language. After all, English is the most popular language on the web, is the second most spoken language in the world and is often a popular choice when learning a second language. But research suggests that 73% of the global market prefer engaging with content on websites that are in their native language – despite the dominance of English online.
If you’re embarking on a product or service launch in another language, word-for-word translations simply won’t do. For a start, replicating the subtle nuances of your native language, such as tone of voice, will prove extremely difficult unless you’re a qualified translator and target language native speaker. Get these subtleties wrong, and you’ll risk confusing or alienating your customers.
That’s why it’s vital that your website isn’t just translated, but localised to meet the language and cultural expectations of the local market. While some businesses hire staff internally to help them localise their websites, most decide to partner with a reputable language service provider (LSP) that offers a range of language services and has a large pool of qualified linguists to select from that specialise in their sector.
In the localisation industry, ”can you translate my website?” is one of the most common questions asked. Typically the answer is yes, but to do this effectively, and receive the best service possible, you need to plan ahead in order to provide your chosen LSP with the assets and background information they’ll need to do a good job and have the technology and processes in place to ensure that your multi-language site is launched on time and within budget.
Below are some common factors to consider before you approach a language service provider:
- Identify where your traffic is coming from
- Specify a language convention
- Consider the cultural impact of imagery
- Identify the types of content you want to translate
- Choose a robust, multilingual CMS
- Select a reliable web hosting solution
- Export content in a structured format
Identify where your traffic is coming from
When it comes to marketing your products and services to new audiences, you need to identify where your potential consumers are located and what their preferences are in order to determine your target language and message.
Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, can give insights into where your visitors are located geographically, and levels of engagement with different sections and pages on your site.
If you’re based in the UK and notice that a considerable amount of website traffic coming from France, it would be wise to consider localising your website for the French market. Not only is France a lucrative market in itself, but you’ll also reap the benefits of attracting traffic from other Francophone regions of the world including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and a host of countries in the African continent.
If you’re an eCommerce brand, consider which pages of your website are attracting international visits. If a substantial amount of traffic from a particular country is arriving at category and product pages but not converting, localising your website to the official language of that market could prove to be profitable – assuming you have the logistic capabilities to cater to that market.
And if your overseas customers are only interested in specific categories or products, you could benefit from just localising these sections in order to determine the ROI before embarking on a full-scale site localisation project.
Specify a language convention
Once you’ve identified the languages you want to localise your site into, you first need to consider your brand’s verbal identity.
An eCommerce brand, for example, would need to pull together internal brand guidelines (including references to tone-of-voice), information about your target customer and source language glossaries containing preferred brand and product terminology.
This will allow your LSP to recommend the right translation or transcreation service for different types of content and allow you to mitigate any errors in translating brand terminology.
You’ll also need to consider how the localised text would appear on your website with text expansion and contraction.
How would translating your content into languages such as German (known for its long compound words) or Chinese (formed using logograms) affect the overall layout of your website? Would this impact the look and feel and how your brand is perceived in the local market?
There’s also the matter of your brand name and straplines. You need to consider whether they’d be appropriate and likely to be well-received in your target country. Consulting a native linguist with local cultural knowledge to evaluate your brand marketing messages is advisable and using a transcreation service to adapt your brand identity could be worthwhile.
When Airbnb decided to launch in China, the US-based online homestay marketplace tested over 1000 variations for a Chinese brand name before settling on Aibiying (爱彼迎) – which includes three characters meaning “love,” “each other” and “welcome”.
Another challenge you might face is writing direction for languages like Arabic and Hebrew which read from right to left. Again, think about how this may impact the layout of your website and where you’d like users to focus, how your navigation works and where your call-to-actions are positioned.
If you’re not localising into a right-to-left language now but plan to later, you’ll need to consider how writing direction could impact your site in the future and ensure your templates and CMS are able to handle right-to-left languages.
Consider the cultural impact of imagery
Many businesses focus on the localisation of text content and pay less attention to whether their images are suitable for use in the target market.
Striking the right tone with your images requires deep cultural knowledge of the local market. For example, understanding the level of body modesty that is appropriate in Middle Eastern cultures will be essential to success if you’re localising your website for Arabic-speaking markets. A bikini-clad model might go down well in countries in the West, but wouldn’t be acceptable in the more conservative markets of the Middle East.
You might also want to identify what the dominant local pop culture references are in the market you’re targeting, as well as historical references. It’s safe to say that football is a globally recognised sport, and the image of a footballer scoring a goal conveys success in many markets, but in the US, a baseball player hitting a home run might be more suitable for local audiences.
Dig a little deeper and research what your competitors are doing in each market to get a better understanding of how they use imagery to engage with their customers.
If it’s not feasible to tailor images to specific markets, creating campaign images that can be used broadly for multiple markets is an option – but bear in mind, this may not be suitable for every market and would need to be checked to ensure cultural sensitivity.
If in doubt, tap into your diverse workforce and involve employees who are native to the country you’re targeting, during and after the localisation process, for cultural sensitivity assistance. In this case, remember to always be open to feedback from these team members as they are the ones with the local knowledge.
Identify the types of content you want to translate
Translating a website isn’t as simple as sending pages of text to a linguist to translate, approving the work and uploading the translated content to your CMS.
Not all content is created equal. Product descriptions, editorial content, blogs and legal terms of service all need to be handled by linguists with different skills and expertise. Whether you’re promoting a brand or selling goods or services, some parts of your website need to be handled differently to others. That’s where partnering with a reputable language service provider really pays off.
A language service provider not only has the capacity to meet your linguistic workload as it peaks and troughs, but it’s also more likely to have the technology and local cultural knowledge in place to successfully deliver your localisation strategy.
If you’re translating an eCommerce website, a blend of services from an LSP could be the most effective approach.
For example, a translation service with human translators can be used for category and product descriptions. Then, you’d need to use specialist legal translators to localise your privacy and term and conditions pages. And finally, a transcreation service would best be used for brand marketing messages and creative copy such as blog and editorial content.
Transcreation protects your unique brand tone of voice and messaging while adapting your content to meet the cultural expectations of the target market. Combined, the aforementioned services can have a huge impact on translation quality.
You can further even improve website translation output efficiency by taking advantage of neural machine translation technology, providing you’ve accumulated a large enough dataset from content that’s previously been translated to a suitable standard.
When it comes to machine translation, it’s always best to seek advice from an LSP first; only certain types of content are suitable for this type of service as subject matter and language pairs need to be taken into consideration in relation to the capabilities of different machine translation models like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Amazon Translate or DeepL.
Try to keep in mind what sets one piece of content apart from another, and keep an open mind about which type of translation service may be more beneficial to different parts of your website when evaluating, selecting and briefing a language service provider.
Choose a robust, multilingual CMS
You probably work within your CMS every day to manage your content, so identifying whether it can integrate with a translation management system is essential before you approach a language service provider.
As a basic requirement, your CMS will need to allow you to manage different locales and the database will need to support UTF-8 to display different character sets.
The ability to import and export content easily from your CMS will also play a key role in how you manage translated content effectively. A reliable export process will allow you to avoid copying and pasting content from your CMS and reduce errors.
If your CMS doesn’t support different locales natively, you may be able to add multi-language functionality with a plugin. For instance, if your site is powered by WordPress you can install a plugin called WPML which will help you accomplish this.
If your CMS is localisation ready and includes the ability to integrate with your LSPs translation management platform through an API, the process of localising your website is going to be much more efficient and require a lot less effort.
READ MORE: CMS Considerations for Multiple Languages
Select a reliable web hosting solution
Managing multiple websites can be complicated, especially if you’re working in small teams. For some businesses, a translation proxy is often an easy, quick-fix solution to translating their websites for international audiences.
A translation proxy allows you to use existing site functionality without editing source files or worrying about additional developer support. Localised content is layered on top of your original website by dynamically swapping original content with translated content, seamlessly in the cloud.
On the surface, a translation proxy may seem like the ideal solution, translations are pulled from translation memory stored in the translation proxy, but it does have its disadvantages. For starters, you won’t have control over your files and content as translations are pulled from servers that aren’t accessible to all internal team members.
Translation proxies are simply copies of your site and don’t allow you to deliver a radically different, localised experience with custom content on your international sites, significantly impacting local market engagement and conversion.
You’ll also need to make use of a content delivery network or web servers hosted locally to decrease page load times, reduce bounce rates, increase engagement and boost international SEO.
Export content in a structured format
If you’re partnering with an LSP to localise your website, chances are they’re going to need an accurate word count and typical levels of repetition in order to provide you with a quote. To do this, you’ll need to either export your data or request an LSP to crawl your website to extract the content from the HTML.
There are common steps for both methods, however, it’s best practice to start by ensuring you have an up-to-date XML sitemap of your website and have removed any archived, redirected or deleted pages.
We always recommend exporting data for the content you’d like to localise, however, take the time to consider the following before you request a quote from your language service provider:
- Exporting site content allows for more flexibility in terms of choosing the exact content you want to be translated; which means to you’ll receive a more accurate quote
- Exporting site content, in XML, XLIFF, JSON or other standard formats, makes working with an LSP much easier, especially if you have a large website
- If your CMS has the ability to export data, be sure it also has the functionality to import data received by your LSP once the translations are complete
- While it’s possible to crawl a site to extract the content in HTML format, it usually includes everything that’s published including archived pages. Also, repetition in navigation or paginated content can artificially inflate word counts and consequently increase the translation cost estimate
- There’s also the hassle of sifting through several types of code contained in crawled HTML files, making filtering and extracting content for translation technically challenging
- You may have to review a folder containing hundreds of pages before quoting to ensure that the correct pages have been stripped
- Unless your site is using static HTML, the crawled HTML files should not be used for the translation process as it’ll be difficult to get the content back into your CMS once it’s been translated. In most cases, it’s worth involving your developers to ensure the content extraction and import process is as efficient and error-free as possible
Whether you’re dipping your toes in the water and translating your website into a single language or embarking on a larger international expansion project involving multiple languages, planning ahead and taking the above considerations into account before contacting a language service provider will allow you to receive an accurate quote quickly and ensure your localisation project and site launch go off without a hitch.