How to approach website localisation

A guide to making your website feel local

1 Overview

The challenge

Around 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from websites in their own language.1 So, if you’re going global, speaking your target market’s language is crucial to your success.

Your aim

To maximise user engagement by creating a website that looks, feels and reads local, but packs all the branding and sales punch of your original site.

How to go about it

Gather a team to determine your localisation strategy. As a starting point, consider these questions:

  • What languages do the customers you’re targeting speak? Consider the variables. For instance, countries like Switzerland, Canada and South Africa are multilingual. Languages like Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and others have various dialects.

  • Does your content management system (CMS) support multiple languages?

  • Who will ensure your site’s content e.g. images, symbols, colours and text are appropriate for your market?

  • Does your site have a mobile–responsive design?

Tip

If your market is a large expat community, they may prefer content to be in their own language with prices in the local currency.

2 Design your user interface (UI) to be localisation friendly

Talk to your design team about creating UIs adaptable to all your target languages. This design should allow translators to focus on the accuracy of the translation. Your UI should:

Accommodate variations:

  • Spacing — e.g. often German is longer than English, Arabic takes more vertical space
  • Density — e.g. Traditional Chinese characters are detailed, so use 12+ point font
  • Right-to-left languages — e.g. Arabic, Hebrew, Persian

Include:

  • Transliteration capability — make it easy to enter any language using Google Input Tools.

Tip

Transliteration is to write words or letters in the closest corresponding characters of another alphabet. For example, the name for Russia in Cyrillic script, "Россия", is usually transliterated as "Rossiya" (it's translated as Russia).

3 Develop your site to handle i18n needs

Internationalisation is the process of preparing for localisation. It ensures products and services can be easily translated into local languages and cultures. It's often shortened to i18n.

Aim to make your site easy to use for everyone: customers, and translators. First, work with engineers to code your site with different languages and content types in mind. Then, create a localisation engineering guide. Your best practices for coding/engineering should include:

  • Workflow and tools

    • Ensure that commands, buttons, and forms are easy for each culture to understand
    • Allow users to configure their language preferences by using a Universal Language Selector (ULS)
    • Consult user language profiles to learn what languages multilingual users most likely speak
  • Character and string handling

    • Avoid showing users UI strings before they’ve been translated
    • Store all data in a language/country-neutral format (e.g. Unicode for strings)
  • Libraries

    • Use industry standard libraries for language-specific formatting (e.g. Unicode Common Locale Data Repository [CLDR]) for dates, times, time zones, numbers, and currency)
    • Create an international identifiers’ library to properly represent languages and regions (as needed)

4 Create your language resources

Assemble a team of translators to create a glossary and a style guide.

Glossary

This should give translation instructions for the most important words and phrases on your website, such as your brand name, product names and key features.

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Basic Create a simple glossary

Identify the 10-50 most frequently used terms on your website

Create a spreadsheet with a row for each term

Add a column for each language you’re localising into
Intermediate Develop your glossary

Invest in professional translators and reviewers. Hire language specialists from your new market to translate key terms

Review and update your current glossary. If a new product doesn’t match the tone of existing products, create a new product glossary

Choose a terminology management system. Use a high quality authoring tool to manage the translations of your products and services
Full programme Manage your glossary:

Automate your process. Use a glossary management tool

Expand the impact. Create product-specific glossaries

Develop a workflow:

1. Keep your teams on the lookout for new terms

2. Replace outdated terms

3. Gather metrics on key search terms to write SEO-optimised content

Style guide

A style guide ensures consistently written and formatted web and app content.

Basic Create a basic style guide

Gather existing writing and design resources into 1 document

Determine which rules to follow

Select 2–3 recently written pieces of content and assess your ‘natural’ style. Think about your most commonly used words, phrases, and sentence elements

Based on your natural style, create standards for each content type
Intermediate Assess your style guide

Review your guide. Get feedback from members of Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, etc.

Align across team needs. Use this to ensure the style guide meets everyone’s needs

Maintain your style guide. Ensure it remains useful by regularly reviewing and updating
Full Programme Optimise your style guide

Broaden your base. Create language (and product) specific style guides

Publish your guide. Host it on a platform that all stakeholders can access

Onboard new users. Ensure new content developers familiarise themselves with it