So, you’ve got a killer website in English, and you’re about ready to launch translated versions in a handful of markets around the world. You invested in a CMS that boasts handy automated solutions for multilingual versioning. But what you may not be anticipating is that the new pages with translated content will not be assigned a searchable URL. This is going to undermine the whole endeavor. It doesn’t matter how great your site may be—even in translation. If there isn’t a search-engine-optimized (SEO) way for people to find it, they won’t. They can’t.
Based on a true story (hopefully not yours), this cautionary tale reveals how important it is to take all of the many localization details seriously, whether big or small, as you determine the best way to translate a website for global audiences.
The Best Way to Translate a Website—In Detail
Making your localized website as fantastic as the original version involves more than just excellent translation. There are technical issues to solve and ROI considerations to keep in focus. It takes know-how to move forward efficiently. Here are some of the things that go into great localization.
A balance of human effort and automated content tasks
Your team costs money. A big step toward optimal ROI is to make sure people are not doing things automation can handle just as well—if not better. You do need highly experienced linguists who can translate your content precisely for foreign audiences and stay true to your brand. And you need knowledgeable editors and in-country reviewers to sign off on translations. But you don’t need a project manager to spend time assigning that work and tracking progress. The good news is that the latest localization AI can handle translator evaluation and matches, efficiently sidestepping all of the email threads and delays of the old manual assignment process. This system effectively matches linguists and clients for measurable success.
Efficient management helps preserve high-quality linguistic resources by not squandering them on unnecessary tasks. Surprisingly, the enlightened management we’re talking about is not an individual in your organization (they have other important things to be doing) but a sophisticated piece of technology. With as many repetitive technical tasks as there are to keep a localization ecosystem running smoothly, it makes a lot more sense to rely on an automated platform.
By integrating your CMS with this centralized localization platform, your operation is easily scalable for multiple languages, and it cuts down your time and resource spend. You also gain access to resources such as experienced linguists, translation memories, and centralized organization of terminology databases and style guides. You can even use a localization platform to coordinate the testing of your website.
Desktop/laptop, tablet, and mobile responsiveness
Testing is vital to your success, so it needs to be thorough and encompass all formats. Text that spills off the page, buttons that don’t work—these things are not just egg on your face, they undermine reader confidence and lose you business. Formatting issues are one of the main sources of errors following language translation. Your readers may be looking at the website on a 20-inch freestanding computer screen that can accommodate any graphics you can devise. But they are just as likely to be using a tablet or their smartphones—perhaps even more likely. If your content doesn’t look nice and respond well in those formats, that’s a huge chunk of your readership that may never get past the homepage.
Content may appear on a mobile device quite differently than it does on a browser. Content localization faces a double challenge on the ultra-small screen because mobile formatting is often an afterthought even on the original-language site. So you may be starting out with the disadvantage of poorly planned solutions for the source material. This is a good time to point out the importance of planning in advance to look good in all formats in all markets and languages.
Internationalization and troubleshooting
Internationalization is the process of preparing for effective localization. One of the biggest internationalization challenges posed by mobile formats is so-called real estate: how much room it takes to say the same thing in different languages. German is a classic example of the real estate problem because it tends to take up significantly more space to say something than it does in English.
Besides checking to make sure every language fits on the screen after localization has begun, effective internationalization includes coaching translators beforehand—with character limits, in particular—and alerting designers to the need for flexibility. Right-to-left reading languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, also depend on internationalization in advance to avoid problems with real estate, justification, and readability.
There are extra-linguistic aspects of internationalization that your team needs to be aware of too. Name and address conventions may differ in foreign markets. Developers need to adapt contact forms to these conventions, at the very least. If your organization takes payments, you need to know the leading local electronic payment systems in those target markets and be ready to integrate them.
Discoverability and SEO readiness
The best localization in the world won’t help you if no one can find it. Search engine optimization is more than keywords. It is also the URL, subdirectories, subdomains, meta page titles, meta descriptions, and other technical details that have to be right before any of the content details can matter. When considering keywords, that SEO research has to be handled in the target language by someone who can also understand the cultural nuances. After all, the keywords translated directly from English may not be what people are actually searching for in the local language. You need to present what will catch the local audience’s attention. All of these details highlight the need for an in-country partner when you’re making a serious attempt to attract audiences in global markets.
Content, imagery, and media relevant to the market
Another function of your localization team, in conjunction with your in-country partners, is vetting content and imagery for the local market. Excellent content with disjointed images is still not good localization. Some of the details to focus on include local expectations of:
- Modesty and local modes of dress
- Gender roles
- Etiquette and customs
- Facial expressions
As a matter of fact, these considerations can be so thorny that, in some markets, it’s recommended not to show images of people at all.
It’s also important to closely examine patterns of social media use in your markets. Usage patterns vary from country to country, and your target audience’s habits may not be obvious at first glance. Social media engines enjoy different levels of popularity, and some countries have local competitors to the global giants. This is another topic to explore with your in-country partner so you can amplify your market exposure in the wake of successful website translation.
What level of content adaptation is worth the effort?
Your website is the entry point into your whole universe. But one size does not fit all. Each market requires a separate strategy. While the general tendency is for ever-more localized content and user experience, it is labor-intensive and very expensive. So, proceed thoughtfully. Begin by identifying just the primary elements you will need to localize for effective communication in a particular market. Many companies have succeeded by adapting abbreviated versions of their English websites for foreign-language audiences.
If you are expecting huge success in a specific market, then it makes sense to go for some extras. You might want to adapt some blog content (selectively translated from the English or commissioned for that market), multimedia content, local marketing, and other strategies when it’s clearly worth the investment. Some level of product packaging localization may be mandatory in the markets you enter. Customer service may support your success in a market as well. But, as always, you’ll want to handle these projects strategically as they can easily blow up your budget and your resources.
Get Help from the Experts for the Best Localization
Yes, it’s a lot of thought and a lot of work. It’s also the thrill of going global, of pursuing your vision on a grand scale. How are you going to “translate” your brand for foreign audiences to relate to? With some help from the experts!
You can take advantage of expert knowledge and years of collective experience by partnering with a localization services provider. You can also use their centralized, automated localization platform, which will improve your project management tremendously.
At Bureau Works, we can provide you with the expert guidance you need to get started creating your own localization strategy, as well as the ongoing support you need to keep your localization effort going. Our automated platform will make it possible for you to create and store resources and save you many valuable human hours. Contact our team to get started.
Written by Aaron Schliem
Aaron is the chief marketing officer for Bureau Works. He also loves to tickle the ivories and is a wiz at designing cocktails.