Since its launch, English has been the dominant language of the World Wide Web; however, in the last few years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of users whose native language is not English.
These days, to access international markets, reach potential customers, increase traffic to your site and ultimately grow your business, website localization is a must. If you are not familiar with how website localization can help your business go global, read our post about the benefits of website localization.
But before jumping into action, there are a few things to consider when localizing a website. First of all, localization is not just simply translating a website. Yes, translation is a major part of it, but in order to reach the end user, a website has to be adapted not only to their language, but to their culture as well.
Languages: What language(s) should you translate your website into? It really depends on your target markets and audience, and in-depth research into where you want your products and services to be visible can help clarify your marketing goals. That said, the so-called “killer” languages – the top five languages accounting for almost one billion Internet surfers are Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, and German.
Sometimes, localizing your website for a specific language can be tricky because some languages are spoken in more than one country that not only have different language usage, but also different cultural traditions. For instance the Spanish spoken in Spain is somewhat different to that spoken in Latin or South America and the cultural customs and values are also different. Likewise, the French spoken in France differs from the French in Belgium, Switzerland or Canada. In these cases, it may be best to localize a website for a specific country rather than a language.
International content: Translating a website is not as simple as it may appear, regardless of whether it is machine or professionally translated. So, it’s always a good idea to keep the source content of a website simple, consistent and if possible free of cultural references. This makes it easier to translate and will increase the likelihood of the content still making sense in another language.
Images and colors: Images can have a huge impact on potential customers and the last thing one wants to do is offend the very people one is trying to reach. When localizing a website, it is important that images are adapted to conform with the target market and culture; an acceptable image in one culture could be considered negative or offensive in another. For example, in Scandinavian countries equality is highly valued; so an image depicting a director sitting alone behind his desk will not be viewed positively. But an image of a director mingling with his staff would. While some countries find it acceptable to portray women wearing little clothing or bikinis, other countries would find it offensive.
As a general rule, it is best to avoid images or symbols that have a religious connotation, any nationalistic symbols, or images that show body parts and hand gestures.
Although it seems trivial, your website colors can also affect traffic to your site. Colors have different associations in different cultures; in the Far East particularly, colors are deeply engrained in the culture. In China, black is a symbol of death and in Japan, white is the color of mourning.
Numerical data: A very simple yet often neglected detail is to check all numerical data when a website is translated and localized to make sure it adheres to the format used in a target country. This includes dates, weights, measurements, use of decimals and prices – which ideally should be in the local currency. Websites that have online payment methods should offer preferred methods in the target country (some countries have unique payment methods).