Ah, the internet. We have much to thank it for. YouTube, Facebook, cheaper airfares… a plethora of startups that would never have come into being without it. But just because you have access to a global audience doesn’t mean you can communicate – not without localization that is, let’s find out more!
Why is Website Localization Essential?
At latest count, the number of internet users is about 3.5 billion every single day. That’s almost half of the world’s population online and potentially awaiting to buy your product. Or does it? While not everyone will naturally be able to buy or be interested in buying what you have to sell, your chances will be next to zero if you fail to speak their language.
If you want to gain more market share for your startup from Shanghai to Chicago, you’ll need to invest in website localization. And localization of your marketing materials as well. You’ll need to find a way to speak to your audience that appeals to them on a local level.
Why? Because if potential users can’t understand what your startup website is saying, they’ll X right out of it before you can say “page loading.” Customers simply aren’t willing to place their trust in an entity they don’t know in a language they can’t understand.
That doesn’t only go for your product pages, but for other elements, like your payment provider, shopping cart and so on. One mistake a lot of startup owners make is assuming that people will use American providers, but in Europe, names like PayPal may not be as trusted as local versions, such as WireCard.
You’ll need to invest in localization for your audience, so your French people in France feel like they’re being spoken to in French, the Spanish in Spanish, and so on – not a translated message, or being forced to convert from their currency into dollars.
Localizing your website, especially when you’re a startup with a small budget is a big deal and can be a sizable investment. But that’s exactly what it is – an investment. Because one thing is certain, if you fail to get your website localized, you’ll lose out on millions of dollars of global business.
So, without further ado, check out this ultimate localization guide for startups, that will take you through the localization process step by step.
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Step 1: Research & Analysis
Before you get your startup’s website localization rolling, you’ll need to perform an in-depth analysis and research. There are certain markets out there where your product will be more popular, based on cultural similarities, purchasing power, utility, or a myriad of other factors. And you have to find out where they are.
Study your international buyer personas and try to put yourself in their shoes. Literally. For example, if you sell winter boots, you’re not going to get much uptake from countries on the equator.
Try to ask as many questions as possible before you decide on the first market for your startup. Start asking about product interest within a certain market, growth rate, competition, purchasing power, local preferences, legislation, barriers to entry, and more.
Don’t be swayed by the numbers either. For example, China is one of the world’s most lucrative markets. Yet, according to research by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) 95 percent of Chinese online shoppers prefer to use, or will only use websites in their own language.
So, if you aren’t localizing for your Chinese customers, you aren’t making the most out of a potential gold mine. Interestingly though, besides the gigantic population and market potential in China, only one percent of US retailers have China-specific website versions.
Why? Because China is a notoriously hard market to crack. Drastically culturally different and with plenty of legislation and barriers to entry. Try starting with a culture closer to your own.
Step 2: Define Your Project Scope
Once you’ve carried out the research, set your project scope by deciding on how many languages you’re going to localize for your startup and in which order. Select a localization services provider to carry out the project for you and let them know how many words need to be translated.
If you’re keeping the project in-house, be sure that your programmers understand different programming languages, and that not all counties use the same search engines or criteria when it comes to design, marketing promotions and SEO. Let them know how many pages they will have to code as well.
Just as your translators need to fully understand and speak the local versions of the language, your programmers must fully understand the preferred technologies where you want to do business. Carefully planning and setting the scope will avoid issues with legislation or compliance, or making monumental errors in your translations.
When you’re clear on the requirements of your localization project for your startup, you can set a budget realistically.
Step 3: Time to Internationalize
Your website localization for your startup should be factored in from the start. This means that you’ll need to plan your website for localization and internationalize it. That’s the process of preparing your original site version for translation into other languages. And it will make it easier to add more and more languages as you go.
Your developers will know about internationalization. They will need to work hard on the coding of your website and make sure that each version is suitable for each country. They will add Hreflang tags that indicate not only the language, but the country.
This is important because Spanish is spoken differently in Spain as it is in Mexico, and you’ll need localized versions for both countries. Even the design of your website can be created with localization in mind. This means leaving space for language variations and avoiding too many images or images laden with text.
They will also use Unicode (UTF-8), which is the industry standard when it comes to supporting different languages. It supports all characters, even from Arabic and Chinese.
Your programmers will also need to divide the source code that needs to be translated into strings. The content will then be separated from the strings and stored, so that you don’t have to break strings each time you start a new language.
Internationalization of your website is hard work, but it will pay off, as it will make the whole localization process flow much simpler afterwards.
Related Post: What is Internationalization?
Step 4: Consider Your Design
Remember that space is important when it comes to your website design. It’s not just that some languages are longer than others. Chinese, Japanese and Korean are vertical languages, so you’ll have to make significant changes to your website to add them. If your site is cluttered and your content only just fits in, it’s likely to go outside the boundaries for German or French.
The trick when it comes to localization and design is to maintain a consistent brand image, while catering to local tastes. It’s not always easy as you may have to get your startup name translated. The biggest brands to a good job of using colors, icons or typography to keep the look and feel despite the name change.
Using global gateways will allow immediate access to any version of your website. So, if you’re planning to localize into many languages, providing a dropdown menu is the best way to let your customer pick their location and language preference.
Finally, be sure to optimize your website for mobile, as internet usage is increasingly mobile these days. In fact, just last year, mobile internet surpassed desktop usage globally. So, you need to pay attention to how your site loads on different devices.
Step 5: Get Translating
Arguably the most important part of the localization process for your startup, you need to ensure that you have the best translators for the job. The right images, coding and design will matter nothing if the words fail to resonate with your audiences.
So, be sure to use native translators who understand not only the language, but the culture, humor and local vibe. You may want to look for transcreators, who can take your original message and translate not only the text, but the ideas of the original. They can add their own brand of wit and wisdom to the message.
Be sure to keep your translations organized and create translation memories as you go, to make it easier as you localize into further languages. Using a translation management software will be the best way to keep things organized and allow your translators to type directly onto the web, so they can see where the words should go.
Step 6: Forget About SEO at Your Peril
SEO is still a vital part of your website localization. If you have the budget, consider working with a local marketing specialist who can let you know the most searched-for terms and keywords in the target country.
Even when selling in languages that speak the same language, the keywords may vary. Just consider the difference between US and UK English. When British people search for “pants”, they’re looking for underwear, not outerwear.
Your translators will need a list of keywords that have to be included from the beginning so that the translation appeals to your audience and to search engines as well. You’ll also need to build new links to your website, to make sure that your SERP ranking increases locally everywhere.
Also, keep in mind that different countries use different search engines, so you may not be optimizing for Google only. You’ll have to get familiar with the requirements of Yandax, Baidu and others.
Related Post: Add Hreflang Tags to Localize Your Website
Step 7: Choose the Right Images
The main issues when it comes to images are to ensure that they are culturally sensitive and that they are not full of text. Depending on the country your startup is aiming to do business, there may be different issues to avoid.
In the Middle East, for example, images of beach makers in swim suits is a big taboo, while in India, white is the color of mourning. In Iran, the “thumbs up” sign is considered vulgar. You’ll need to know about these things when selecting your images.
From a practical point of view, try to avoid images with text and infographics. You will have to get the text lifted from the image and given to your translators. The text may not fit the boundaries in the target language and may go outside of the image.
Step 8: Make Sure Your Site Speed is Fast
Remember that not all internet speeds are created equally and there are different standards for different countries. No one likes waiting for a website to load and will X out of your site if it takes too long.
To keep your startup website sprightly, avoid too many images and heavyweight videos that take time to load. Consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) if your website depends on speed and you plan to do business in places with slow connections. A CDN will ensure that your site works equally as fast around the world.
Step 9: Test, Test, Test
The importance of testing before launching can’t be stressed enough. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And customers are unforgiving. It’s better to delay the launch date than to roll out a version with errors and flaws.
Testing involves localization testing, which checks elements such as hardware compatibility, hyperlinks, broken strings and form functionality. And linguistic testing, to look for grammatical issues, typos and cultural taboos.
Website localization is a huge project, so if your startup has a small budget, start small. Aim for markets with a similar culture that show an interest in your products. You can always roll out to more languages later on, when you have internationalized your website and built up your experience and expertise.
And if you need a hand with your localizing your website, be sure to get in touch! Not only do we have a team of native, experienced translators, but our programmers are ready and able to localize your website into any language.