If you’re sitting down to design your website, and you’re thinking about appealing to international clients, then you’ll need to consider localization from the start. Localization is more than just a buzz word these days. There are many reasons (and even more languages) to support the fact: Localization isn’t just a good idea – it’s a necessity. But, slapping up multiple language versions of your site, or using a machine-based plugin isn’t a good idea.
Messy, sloppy translations, or a site that feels robotic to your customers won’t generate more sales. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to alienate potential buyers for good. Why should they invest hard earned dollars in your company, when you clearly haven’t invested in them? The arguments for localizing your website are pretty conclusive, but if you want to localize it the right way, make sure you read this first.
1. Get the Timing Right
Timing is important. Slow and steady may win the race, but you don’t want to be a tortoise or a hare here. Trust me. I worked for a company where the owner was so painstakingly perfectionist that it took a whopping FIVE years to launch the new website.
By the time the site came out the design was already outdated and customers’ wants and needs had changed. The Flash Player wasn’t compatible with iPhones and much of the site was hard-coded and couldn’t be picked up by search engines.
We’re living in a fast-paced digital age where standards in technology, coding and design are changing quickly. Get a move on! But, don’t go the other extreme either. If you have a huge site to localize, remember that there are a lot of stakeholders involved. A lot of writing, translating, coding and designing.
If you don’t want to kill your employees and fix multiple errors on the fly after launch, here’s my advice. Don’t scramble things together in a rush and risk broken forms, site speed and spelling mistakes turning potential customers away. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right?
And don’t look at this as if you’re crafting Michelangelo’s David either. You aren’t. You can change what you don’t like. You can carry out A/B testing to compare different versions of pages to see which one has higher conversion. Your website isn’t carved in stone.
2. Design for a Global Audience
Where are you current customers from? What markets do you want to break into in the future? Who are your buyer personas? What motivates them when they get up in the morning? What holidays do they celebrate? What colors do they like? What languages do they speak?
If the answers to these questions are “I don’t know,” then now’s the time to conduct your research. Whatever your findings, it’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t all be the same. Even if your customer base is largely in one place, you’re still covering a large spectrum of tastes, religions, minorities, cultures and beliefs. So, design for a global audience. How do you do that with just one website? Well, you don’t. That’s where website localization comes in.
3. Leave a Lot of Space
When you start designing your website or upgrading your existing one, here’s a big tip – leave a lot of space. Even if you don’t start translating and localizing right away, you can plan for localization from the start. Not all languages were created equal and they don’t all take up the same amount of space. German, Italian, Portuguese and French translations… they all take up to as much as 30% more space than English.
That means that you’ll need to leave space to accommodate these language differences when you localize into different languages. If you’re working with space restrictions in your banners and CTAs, your design will look broken and unattractive in other languages. Also, remember that some languages read from right to left (RTL) and others read vertically. This is important when creating your strings, as they will need to be flexible enough for translators to work effectively.
4. Think About Your Images
If you look at some of the most successfully localized websites, like GoDaddy and Google, you’ll see they share a common thread. They don’t contain many (or any) images. Why is this important? Images present a two-fold problem. Firstly, you’ll need to be very selective when it comes to choosing appropriate images for all markets, and secondly, image-heavy sites load slower.
Seeing as, just like languages, Internet speeds were also not all created equally, if you don’t want Alexa telling you that 84% of other sites load faster than yours, cut down on your images. And leave out videos completely. Or, better yet, leave them for your YouTube Channel.
5. Make Sure You Use Unicode
Unicode is a computer industry standard, so if your programmers don’t understand you when you mention it, then fire them on the spot. They’re not the right people for this task. Unicode isn’t perfect, but it does allow for consistent representation of text, regardless of the script in question. Have I lost you? Let me explain:
Unicode caters for all languages, from English to Russian, Arabic and Chinese; regardless of the special accents and characters, or the fact that they read upside down or right to left.
With over a hundred thousand characters, Unicode also caters for over ninety different scripts. UTF-8 has become the default encoding system for most websites. So, when your programmers adopt Unicode, you’ll be designing with a global audience in mind, making sure that you cater for language differences.
6. Hreflang Tags
Hreflang tags tell Google what language the page is in from its URL. Let’s pretend that your website is called http://www.welovetoparty.com. You decide that you want to launch the German version of your site for customers in Germany. Make Google’s life a little easier. Tell it that this page is the German version of your English equivalent in any of the following ways:
- HTTP Header – For non-HTML files, like PDFs, use an HTTP header to demonstrate a different language version (in this case German) of any given URL:
Link: <http://de.welovetoparty.com/>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="de"
- HTML Link Element in the Header – In the main HTML <head> section of http://www.welovetoparty.com/ you can add a link element that points to the German version at http://de.welovetoparty.com/, like this:
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://de.example.com/">
- Your Sitemap – This is a simple way of showing Google that you’re localizing your site. If you don’t want to use hreflang markups, then you can simply submit the Sitemap in its different languages versions.
7. Site Speed
As I mentioned previously, site speed can be a pesky problem, especially as you don’t have control over internet speeds around the world. Or, do you? Actually, there is a way that you can ensure your site loads just as quickly in Bangkok as it does in Bangalore, and that’s by using a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
CDNs can be expensive, but especially if you deal in e-commerce, the extra spend will be well worth it, when the customer purchasing experience is made as simple as possible. CDNs are all about improving the user experience, and as any UX Manager will tell you – it’s all about the user experience! Ditch the corporate video, or leave it on YouTube. Videos sap all-important band-width and will probably not load in some regions, which makes your company look unprofessional.
Localizing your website might seem like a massive project, and that’s because it is! But, more than 5 billion mobile phone subscribers are predicted globally by 2017. There is an increasing worldwide demand for everything apps and mobile. Failure to localize your website is like planning to fail. Or something like that.
So, stop procrastinating. Don’t be a tortoise and don’t be a hare – but don’t be an ostrich either. It’s much easier if you start out thinking about your global possibilities from the beginning. Don’t bury your head in the sand and forget about the rest of the world – localize your website the right way.