Three components that can make or break a website's localization

A simple translation is not enough – effective localization relies on a strong user interface to support its culturally sensitive translations

24May

Localization is an essential and ongoing process to ensure the international appeal of a business's digital presence. In 2014, Common Sense Advisory surveyed 3,002 people from 10 countries, to evaluate the commercial impact of not translating a company's site. 75% of those surveyed said they strongly preferred products offered in their native language, while 30% said they never invested resources in websites that were exclusively in English. But localization goes beyond culturally-sensitive adaptation.

According to Sean Hopwood, CEO of Day Translations, an international language services provider, "Localization is a multidisciplinary effort, it can't be handled exclusively by programmers, translators, or marketers. It relies on different types of expertise. That's why it can't be assigned to a single freelancer or a company with very limited resources."

When it comes to localizing a website, there are three key components that will guarantee a smooth UX and make it effective from a commercial standpoint.

Copy tone

A business's website is its first approach to potential customers. Effective copy should both convey expertise and set the tone for the business's relationship with its clients. Of course, this tone will not only depend on the features of the target demographic in question but also on a set of customs and cultural norms.

In 2015, Donnel Briley of the University of Sydney and Jennifer Aaker from Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB) conducted a series of studies regarding how the target audience's culture determines the best approach to advertising a product.

One of the studies was conducted at an American university with Anglo and Asian American students. A diverse focus group was asked to view advertisements for Welch's grape juice.

Half of the ads promoted the benefits gained by drinking the juice (its taste, its nutritional value, etc.) while the other half focused on Welch's capacity to reduce the risk of some cancers and heart diseases, as well as its role in keeping arteries clear and maintaining the consumer's general health.

"Asian American participants heavily favored the preventive messages; Anglo Americans had the opposite reaction, rating the promotional messages as more effective", Alice LaPlante reports on the Stanford GSB blog, "This tallied with the researchers' theories that Americans, who value achievement, accomplishment and independent thinking, would focus on the positive consequences of their purchasing decisions. On the other hand, Chinese subjects, who tend to value protection and security and have more interdependent ways of viewing the world, were expected to concentrate on the negative consequences of their actions or decisions."

A well-made localization is able to reproduce a copy's tone and adapt it when it conflicts with cultural norms, without betraying the company's identity.

Calls to action

Calls to action (CTAs) are essential for the customer to transition to another step within their journey. They clearly present the option of advancing towards requesting a service or purchasing a product and make it not merely desirable but urgent.

Keeping the CTAs short and crisp is part of keeping a site effective as a marketing device. This will partially depend on choosing the right words to trigger an action and partially on choosing words that fit the context within the website.

The challenges of translating CTAs do not differ significantly from those of translating general copy in that it is essential to blend into a new culture without losing identifying factors that might be a direct consequence of the culture in which the brand originated. However, as CTAs are intended to elicit a direct response from a website's readers, the brevity and tone of the message is a priority.

Adaptable UI

Translation involves constant decision making. There are multiple ways to word a single message. A successful localization is made with a clear awareness of where the text will be placed within an interface.

This is a priority, as shown by this example from an entertaining industry giant: To guarantee a top-notch user experience in every language, Netflix went beyond merely localizing their interface and made a change in their programming workflow, implementing "pseudo-localization" – that is, replacing text in English (which conditioned string lengths, line heights and glyphs) with readable, easily identifiable placeholders. As Tim Bradall, Netflix's international product experience manager explained in a blog post: "We correctly assumed that architecting and implementing the solution would not be half of the battle, I would argue it was even less. The real work starts while advocating, influencing, educating and convincing development teams to fundamentally change the way they work. We did this by showing the impact that pseudo localization can have and the amounts of defects it can eradicate, that they fix a UI layout issue once, instead of 26 times."

Translating a company's site is a great place to start. But in and of itself, a translation is not enough to effectively approach a new foreign audience. UI and cultural norms must also be considered to create an effective website localization. 

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