If you’re getting ready to start your website or mobile app localization, there are a few things you should know. First of all, it’s not easy, so don’t expect it to be. Secondly, you need the right localization team with experience and cultural sensitivity. And third, there are a lot of localization errors you need to avoid to streamline workflow and reduce costs.
Also, to avoid a costly lawsuit or get banned or laughed out of a country.
If it sounds intimidating, relax. Lucky for you there are many companies who have gone boldly before you and made localization errors of their own. Even the likes of Coca-Cola and Ford have majorly missed the mark in global marketing. And as for Google? Well, we all know how the Chinese feel about them.
So, how can you ensure you go about this right? With a compelling message that resonates around the globe, your brand intact and optimum conversions? By avoiding localization errors, of course. Here are seven of the top ones and how you can stop yourself from making them.
Related Article: How to Localize Your Website the Right Way
1. Running out of space
Space is the final frontier, right? One of the most remarkable and unfathomable concepts known to man. So, don’t underestimate its power when it comes to website, software or mobile app localization. Space is your ally, so be sure to treat it well and use it in abundance.
Running out of space in your website design or mobile app is a common and frustrating issue. If your source language just barely fits into your site design. If your CTAs are hard-coded and your images captioned with just the right amount of characters; you’re going to hit a wall when you start localization.
Why? Because different languages take up different amounts of space. In French, for example, the word 'search' is 10 characters long. But in Japanese, it’s only two. ‘Basket’ in English is six characters long, but in German a whopping 13! You’ll need to consider these differences when going multilingual, or your design will break and fall apart.
Amazon, for example, removes the words ‘wish list’ from their search bar for languages that need more space, like Italian and German.
Then there’s the issue of languages that read from right to left, like Arabic and Hebrew, and Asian languages that read vertically. When your website breathes, and has space to be flexible, it will be much easier to localize into these languages.
If your design is inflexible, and you’re working with rigid parameters, this is one of those localization errors you’ll wish you’d avoided from the start.
2. Linking Strings Together
Here’s one of the developer team’s most commonly committed localization errors. Linking strings together has been the downfall of many. Otherwise known as “concatenating” your strings, linking them together might seem like a good idea to start with. But when you start switching to different languages, the problems will begin to appear.
What’s the big deal? Strings linked together in your source language may make no logical sense in the target language. Just as languages take up different amounts of space; they don’t all follow the same sentence structure.
This means that when your translators get started, they will need to create a faithful translation that will pull your nicely linked strings apart.
This is one of the localization errors that occurs due to inexperience, or a lack of developers understanding how translators carry out their work.
Each string needs to be separately coded, so that translators can work with them as they need to and create a fluid translation in any language version.
You may get some developer backlash in the beginning, because coding each single string is a lot more work. But as you move on with localization in multiple different languages, you’ll be so glad you put the extra effort in.
3. Not Using Unicode
To be honest, if your developers aren’t using Unicode, you probably deserve all the localization errors that come your way.
Unicode is the programming standard for dealing with multiple languages. Not every platform supports Unicode, but almost all modern ones do.
So, if you’re dealing with a range of new languages and language characters, Unicode will stop your translations from breaking with unusual characters.
You can avoid such localization errors by applying UTF-8 to every layer in your stack. Because this works to standardize your encodings from browser to server, you’ll avoid Chinese viewers seeing their version broken or full of strange characters.
59 percent of people won’t go back to a website after having a bad experience. So, you can’t afford to serve new customers with broken forms, collapsed designs or strange-looking text. Localization errors like this are not easily forgiven and they will be costly in the end.
4. Missing the Small Details
Rolling out a successful website localization campaign requires immense attention to detail. With linguistic testing and localization testing, you should ensure that your site works on multiple devices and browsers, in different countries. And that there are zero flaws, not only in your text, but in the small details.
The goal of your website localization is to deliver a seamless user experience in every market you do business.
This means a website that feels like it was created just for your audience. Not a poorly or partially translated version of the original. No one likes a fake Fendi right?
So, you’re going to have to get detail oriented, or find people who are. If you’re proud of your compelling message and your design looks great, congrats! But it’s not time to rest on your laurels. Go over every detail with a fine-tooth comb.
Something small, but simple, that doesn’t feel right can be enough to lose a customer. Look at it through your user’s eyes. They’re interested in your message, feel like you understand them, and start building up to convert. When suddenly, they come across something that jars.
Why are the prices not quoted in their currency? And what’s up with the date format you’re using? Something feels a little off. They decide they’d rather buy from a local competitor who really knows what they need.
This could be localization errors as simple as not using the 24-hour clock, or putting the month before the day in your format.
If you describe products by size and your users go by metric, a 6-oz bottle will mean nothing to them. So, make sure that you have a team of localization experts ensuring the right systems of weight and measurement, date and time, are used in every country you break into.
Resolving the date issue is actually easier than ever before. Your programmers can simply use a program like Java or jQuery date picker. Either of these will ensure accuracy in each country and overcome pesky localization errors like this.
5. Specifying by Language and Not Locale
This is one of those localization errors that can upset the apple cart. Specifying by language and not locale is a great way to alienate potential customers. What’s the problem with creating one Spanish version for all your Spanish speaking customers? They don’t all talk the language in the same way.
The don’t all live in the same climate, region, or even hemisphere, and they don’t hold the same collective beliefs, or celebrate holidays on the same dates. If you specify by language and not locale, you’re making it very hard and cumbersome. You’ll have to go through and change the URL structure when you want to roll out for Spain and then Argentina or Peru.
Make sure that your developers are as meticulous and precise as possible when it comes to URL structure. And that they use a full locale property instead of a language. This means specifying both the country code where the language is spoken and the language itself. Such as en-Gb versus en-US, and fr-FR, versus fr-CA.
This will allow you to create the right content, target your offers and roll out your site without running into localization errors that can slow your whole project down or limit your market reach.
6. Using the Wrong Images or Images with Text
You don’t have to be a cultural attaché or even language enthusiast to know that the cultural issue is fundamental.
Failing to underestimate the power of culture is one of the worst localization errors you can make.
What works well for an English audience may fall flat with the Chinese, or cause offense in the middle east.
If you can’t go live in the country in question (try convincing your boss it’s essential), it’s good idea to research as much as possible. If your budget allows, hire a local marketer on the ground who can help you with valuable insights.
They can guide you on the appropriateness of colors schemes, icons and images. Images are a huge issue and have different connotations wherever you go. You may be selling beach vacations, but women in bathing wear simply won’t go down well in Saudi Arabia or the UAE.
Remember, that your audience are located in different places. It’s of no use to Mariela living on the equator in intense year-round heat to be sold you winter woollies. The key to avoiding localization errors like these is to use as few images as possible. Just look at Google, you can’t get more minimalist than that!
This will keep your costs down, as well prevent any potential problems. And where your images contain text, keep these down to an absolute minimum or keep them out.
Separating text from images can be a difficult task. It will almost certainly require extra work and extra costs. And if you’ve tripped up on the issue of space, you’ll have to design the whole thing from scratch. Not something you want to be faced with and one of the localization errors you can avoid when planning for localization from the start.
7. Cutting Corners When it Comes to Your Team
Your localization project requires dedication, patience, coordination, and a stellar team who can work well together. You’ll need project managers to keep everyone on point. Translators who understand how to work with strings, and developers who get how translators work.
You may have marketing specialists and local testers to contend with and need to coordinate with many people spaced out over different tie zones. With approaching 4 billion internet users worldwide and untapped potential revenues, cutting corners when it comes to your localization project is simply not an option.
You need the right team, not the cheapest. You need localization experts who understand language and culture. Who work with natives and whose developers know how to get the job done. Localization errors occur when you try to run your project cutting corners.
Localization errors can be avoided
These are just seven of the most common localization errors that companies make when they decide to go global. But there are many more, and you’ll likely discover new ones for yourself.
Half the battle is going into localization with your eyes open and making sure you’re prepared. If you put in the ground work and are sure to avoid the above localization errors you’ll be on your way to global success.