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21 great tips to localise your website

Preparing the expansion of a business on an international scale can be an overwhelming and complex task for a start-up or a SME.  There are many things to consider and to do. And the risk is always to forget a key element . In this case, the result may be that, a few months after launching your products or services in a new Market, you will ask what is the missing piece of your clever strategy to target a new country.

You did your market research; you sought the advice and assistance by governmental organisations, helping businesses to penetrate new foreign markets (UKTI for British companies). You revised your business plan to integrate it with your new entrepreneurial adventure abroad. Your products looked ready to be launched in a new market, but all your efforts have not had the desired effects.

I know how hectic it can be to plan on making your business international. I know how commonly smart entrepreneurs forget one of the most important aspects of establishing a long and effective business relationship with your clients. Communication.

Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a Language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I couldn’t agree more.  If you want to build a solid relationship with your customers, you have to speak their own language.mandela

You may have translated your website, but this is not enough. Consider your webpages as the first-point of contact between you and your customers. It is a window shop you have to use to engage and arouse the curiosity of the target audience.

72.1% of foreign consumers spend most of their time online on websites in their own languages, and 56.2% stated they consider getting information easily more important than price. These are just two reasons your decision to translate your website was correct.

However, you are communicating with your clients in their own language, but not as a native speaker. What can make the difference between you and your competitors is the correct localisation of your website to encourage business relationships with your foreign audience. And translation is only one of the many aspects to consider when you prepare your website to make your content and pages more suitable for a particular market area.

I won’t lie; localisation is, obviously, more expensive than a simple translation. There are many elements to pay attention to. You need to consult with professionals and experts to make decisions that affect the success of making your business global. But trust me; the money and the time you spend on a professional and effective localisation are well worth the investment.

Ideas and experience can help you save money and time, when making your website suitable for a foreign audience. However, if you are approaching a new market for the first time, the localisation of your website can be daunting and challenging. You may also make mistakes, and correcting them can cost you more money and time.

This is the reason, in this post, I gathered tips about website localisation. I included advice, concerning different aspects of a localisation process, from SEO to the translation of content, from cultural differences to the design, and the optimisation of local social media.

  1. SEO
  2. Cultural Differences
  3. Translation
  4. Design and Languages
  5. Miscellaneous

SEO for Website Localisation

At a glance, SEO may not seem applicable for website localisation. You may have created an innovative product in your niche. But, if you do not have the right visibility, you may end up empty-handed.

However, remember the main goal of website localisation is helping your business to communicate with new foreign customers. Without a clear international SEO strategy, your website will receive a very limited number of visits from potential customers in the market you are targeting.

Multilanguage vs Multisite

This is the first decision you have to take, the one that may heavily affect the success of your localisation strategy. Multisite option is more expensive than multilanguage, because you have to buy a new domain in any country you are targeting.

Both strategies have pros and cons. If you choose the multisite option (i.e., mysite.co.uk; mysite.it; mysite.es; etc.) your website may appear more local in the eyes of your target audience. However, you have to maintain several domains, and this process can be time-consuming.

If you use the multilanguage option, your local pages may benefit from the ranking of your main domain. As for the content, this second option is more manageable. But your clients may not perceive that your business is targeting their market.

Example of big companies opting for multisite option: Coca-Cola, Toyota, Google

Example of big companies opting for multilanguage option: Samsung, Windows, American Express

Use hreflang

Your SEO strategy can be the crossroads of your localisation success. It helps search engines show the right content in the search results. Adding a hreflang tag to your page will help Google and its competitors to understand which language you are using on a specific page. So, the page will appear only on search results in the area you are targeting. Hreflang can also be useful if you are targeting different countries that share the same language. Here, you can also indicate the region for which the page is thought (e.g., UK: en-gb; USA: en-us; South Africa: en-za).

href-lang

Perfect use of hreflang by Samsung!

More info about hreflang: https://moz.com/learn/seo/hreflangtag; https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/189077?hl=en

Local keywords

Depending on your business and the countries you are targeting, you need to pay attention to two issues you may have if you do not properly do keywords research for local markets..  People speaking the same language in different countries use different words to refer to the same thing.

Just to give you a quick example a British recipe website with brilliant ideas about cooking aubergine will have a hard time in America if it optimises its pages for the keyword ‘aubergine recipes’ for its US audience. Just a small change into ‘eggplant recipes’ will dramatically improve the times the content is shown in the search engines results.

keywords

If you are targeting a country where people speak a foreign language, you have to do accurate research to use a batch of effective keywords used by the target audience. A simple translation of your keywords may be a bad choice. This could mean a limited visibility through search engines for your website.

A professional Language Service Provider can offer keyword research in the languages you are translating your website. A detailed keyword research for new markets may increase your spending, but it is the only way to guarantee an excellent return of investment for your localisation.

Search engines

If you are targeting Western countries, you may not need this tip. But if you are planning to target Asian countries, you have to know that Google is not the first option for audiences in China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. You may find useful this post I wrote a few weeks ago about 6 local search engines and how you can optimise your website for them.

Local Link Buildings

Provided you have optimised your international web structure and you have used the right keywords to create content for local audiences, it is time to think of how you can develop popularity in the markets you are targeting. The number of backlinks to your page is considered one of the main factors to be on the first page of the page results in Google and other search engines. Obviously, this is not relevant only for your English website.

An effective and well-organised international link building strategy is the best way to gain popularity and improve your ranking on search engines. There are many hurdles to overcome in order to make your strategy work on a global level. You may not know the language or perhaps you do not have an in-depth knowledge of your competitors in a new market.

Behaviours and preferences of users can differ from those of your local customers. However, depending on your sector, the level of competition could be much lower than in an English market and your investment can be compensated with a boost of popularity and credibility in the new markets you are targeting.

If you want to know more about International Link Building, you can watch this amazing webinar.

tube maps

An effective international link building strategy will connect you with the world.

Cultural Differences

Transcreation

As the name suggest, transcreation is a service that mixes translation and content creation. It adapts a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context. Transcreation considers the differences between the source and the target versions of a text. This often means making cultural adjustments. This process is very effective and will give a local touch to your company.
To clarify how transcreation can be powerful, I always use a non-marketing or business related example. The biblical phrase “The Lamb of God” in the Inuit (Eskimo) version of the Bible is translated as “The Seal of God.” This is because, in the Eskimo culture, seals (as opposed to lambs) represent innocence. If the translator had not ‘transcreated’ the phrase, Inuit would have had issues to understand this title for Jesus.

Benefit from the advantages offered by transcreation in making your content sound as local as possible. This service can be very helpful to improve your SEO and increase the number of links you get in a new market.  It is more expensive than a simple translation, but the results can be very effective and powerful for your business.

Images

What people forget is that images may be more effective than content, sometimes. This is why I recommend using culturally appropriate and sensitive images. There are two main reasons you should pay attention of the visual parts of your website.
First, what is acceptable for your culture or a target market may be a very improper content by other audiences. And once you stain your reputation in a country, you have to spend lot of money and time to clean it and plan your strategy again. Second, you can incorporate details in your image to flatter your target customers.

Importance of images

H&M presents the same Wide shorts differently in Western countries and areas with a different level of tolerance.

Colours

Well, one of the main factors that affect the perception of a person is colour. You can find several articles online, explaining you how colours can affect the success of your business online. If you are interested in this topic, you can read The Psychology of Colors.
But be careful, because people from different countries and cultures have different perception of colours. In Western countries, red is associated with passion and danger, but in China, its meaning is different, and it is associated with luck and joy. You may consider blue as a colour that gives confidence, but in India, it is the colour of mourning.

You only need a few minutes to adjust the CSS style sheet of your website and the results of a new designed and ‘colour-localised’ page will be worth the time you spent changing its appearance for your target audience.

colors in countries

Cultural Context

We have already touched upon this issue in the Images paragraph. But, I believe it is important to insist on this topic. Ignoring or neglecting the culture of your audience may stain the reputation of your company abroad. Humour, etiquette, references, holidays, religion, and events are aspects to consider when you localise your content and marketing strategy in a foreign market.

For example, a few years ago, GAP make a big entrance with their 1969 Jeans brand in China.  1969 is the year of foundation of GAP, but they did not consider that 1969 was one of the bloodiest years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

On the positive side of localising your brand abroad, we find McDonald’s shakes up their menu in India to approach a Hindu audience.

India McDonald's

The McDonald’s regular menu in India with no beef in it.

Translation for Website localisation

You are preparing the launch of your products on a new market. You have probably done all your research to find the right areas and audiences to target. Your designers are working on localising the pages of your websites. It is time to translate your content.

Patience

Understandably, after months of research and study, you are looking forward to reaping the fruits of your labour. However, you need to be patient. The agency you chose knows how long it will take to translate your content in a foreign language.

This may vary according to several things, from word count to the sector of your content and business or implementing keywords and other SEO aspects in your text. Do not rush the agency to deliver the project faster than what they estimated. They may face your requests; after all, you are the client, but the quality of the translation may be affected.

patience

Define a style guide

Working closely with your linguistic partner can give you the chance to improve the quality and consistency of content in target language. Provide as many reference materials as you have to the agency. A professional translation agency will ask you to create a style guide for any language you are translating your content to communicate correctly with your audiences and to face cultural differences.

In the style guide, you may include elements you believe are essential to have consistent content. The standard aspects of a style guide are: Terminology, Linguistic register, Punctuation, and Formatting.

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Do not use a Machine Translation

When businesses are looking for new methods to cut their costs, improve their services, and speed up production and marketing processes, technology is their best friend. However, a software or a machine cannot substitute humans, yet. What makes the difference between a successful localisation and a bad one is the ability to communicate with foreign audiences effectively.

A machine translation could provide target text without grammar mistakes. However, the content will not have that flair and seduction needed to engage and arouse potential customers’ curiosity. If you are trying to localise your website on a budget, my suggestion is to find a linguistic partner, offering Post-editing Machine Translation services.

A professional will edit text, translated by a machine, getting rid of weird translations and mistakes done by the software. The result will not be as good as a transcreation project. But, at least you will communicate correctly with your target audience.

Plan your content

If your website needs constant updates or if you maintain a multilanguage blog, a content marketing plan is necessary. You should have one for content in your native language (if you have to create it ex novo, you may read this guide); you can implement the new steps in the existing one.

Discussion and meeting with your linguistic partner and any other part involved in your localisation is important to allocate tasks. In case of regular content updates, you may also consider the application of a process to verify constantly that pages in different languages are updated and contain the correct content.

Design and Languages

One important aspect you and your designers must consider is the different nature of languages. The two main points to pay attention to are: verbosity of languages and writing directions. It may seem something simple to solve. But in reality, you may find your layout or theme presents many more space restrictions than you expected.

Writing directions

You only have to worry about this issue if you are planning to launch a website in Arabic countries or Israel. Here, find a theme that supports Right to Left language in their code. If you are using WordPress, it is very important to find a theme that supports Right to Left language in their code. In my experience, Divi by Elegant Themes works well. But you can find more themes on this article: http://wpdean.com/best-arabic-wordpress-themes/.

RTL layout

The layout of the United Nations website changes depending on the language

Verbosity

Content expands or contracts, according the language you are using. Content in Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) is 20-25% longer than English. Texts in Arabic and Chinese are usually shorter than the ones in English. If you do not pay attention to this important aspect, the user experience of your website can be damaged in other languages.

Miscellaneous

Unprepared and unambitious companies usually leave their localisation projects half done. Once the main pages and the ones describing website products are localised, they think that the job is done. They are ready to launch themselves on the new adventure.

Social Media Optimisation

Through Social Media, your business gains exposure and gathers a multitude of potential customers in one place. A correct international social networking strategy is one of the keys to be one step ahead of your competitors. You are probably used to social channels that dominate Western world, and you know how to communicate effectively with your customers.

However, if you are planning to increase your market shares in new countries, you will soon find you have to use new social media. Just to name a few, in Russia VK (originally VKontakte) has more than double the users of Facebook; in China, Wechat, the local version of WhatsApp, has 650 million monthly users, and businesses promote their products on the microblogging platform Weibo.

international social media

Choose the correct CMS

A multilingual website can be complicated to manage, and it is impractical to load content in different languages individually. You will need a Content Management Systems (CMS) that supports localisation and a website in different languages.

You can read an exhaustive post about Multilingual CMS on globalizationpartners.com.

Test your content

Once your content is ready to go online, it is always a good idea to verify the effectiveness of it. You may ask your native employee for feedback and their opinion. I should have mentioned before, but I strongly recommend taking advantage of employees from the countries you are targeting. You should not ask them to translate content or to proofread it. They are not professional translators, and they are trained in other sectors.
But, their opinions and comments can be very helpful to improve the quality of content for a particular target market. You don’t have a native speaker of the language you are localising content in? Presumably, if you are targeting a specific market, you already have a few customers and users from that region. You may ask them to provide their opinion about the new website and the new content.

Monitor the success of your strategy

Once you have launched your multilanguage website, it is necessary to monitor and assess the content and pages that work and the ones that do not grab the attention of your customers. Understanding preferences and trends of a particular audience will help you plan a targeted marketing strategy and offers for your clientele.
Beyond that, you can use the data you gathered to improve the usability of your website to get more visits on the website. Google Analytics can help you to get all the information you need to refine your localisation strategy.

Comply with legal requirements

Often, SMEs and start-ups do not consider local requirements that regulate privacy, terms of service, refunds, taxes, etc. You have to make sure the content you are translating for a target audience complies with local regulations. It may add a further cost to your localisation, but it is advisable to hire a local legal specialist. Consider it as the best option you have to avoid fines or trials for not complying with local laws.

Customer support

You may think that it is not necessary to translate the entire website and the content that you have in the original language. To some extent you are right, but you should not forget that your main aim should be to communicate with your potential and existing customers. A very important section of your website to translate is the F.A.Q., a place where your foreign audience can find the answers they are looking for.

But, this is not enough—your clients may need ‘after sales’ support, as well. Ignoring this point will lead customers to believe that you do not have any intention of helping them if an issue arises once the purchase is completed.

The obvious consequence of your negligence will be a decrease in the number of your recurring customers and an increase in money spent to find new potential customers. If you are unsure as to whether you should hire a team for customer support abroad, you may wish to consider a forum managed by a native speaker with the appropriate experience in this field.

Conclusion

When you have to make your business global, there is no space for improvisation and hurriedness. Your aim must be to communicate and engage new potential clients in new markets. If your website is localised correctly and effectively, then you will be one step ahead of your main competitors in that market.

Now, I would like to hear about your experiences. What kind of results have you had from your business website localisation? Is there any tip or point that I forget to mention in my post?  Leave your comment and let me know!

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