Why You Should Localize Your Website: An Introduction
Why You Should Localize Your Website: An Introduction
For this first article on website localization (localization
is making your website appropriate for a target locale, translation
is a part of this process), I thought it would be useful to provide
a general overview of the technology landscape as it exists in the
minds of non-localization industry businesspeople I’ve spoken
to since getting out from behind my computer.
Not every company that markets overseas needs their website localized,
but most of them do, and would discover vastly improved relations
with their buyers.
I hope that after you’ve finished reading this, if you’ve
ever dismissed the idea of having your website localized, you will
think about it again in a new light. If you know someone in your
organization who would benefit from this article, I encourage you
to pass it on. Here are a few statements that I have encountered
during this period that seem to be the general consensus.
Website localization is too expensive.
First, website localization isn’t the same thing as translating
your entire website. Let’s say you have a dozen pages (contact
info, company background, basic product info, etc.) of light text,
as well as 30,000 pages of technical product specs, and only a fraction
of those specs are for products marketed in Taiwan. You wouldn’t,
therefore, need to have the entire website translated into Traditional
Chinese. When considering the cost of localization, common sense
scalability of content to be localized for a particular audience
is always paramount.
Second, if you have invested in a sales representative or distribution
partnership in a country, leveraging that investment by localizing
key portions of your website for that country is relatively small
as an incremental additional expense. If you have the budget to
maintain a professional website that has its English content regularly
updated, the additional budgetary considerations (remembering scalability)
Finally, what would you have said about a competitor in 1999 that
had yet to create an English website because it was “too expensive”?
After laughing hysterically at them for allowing so many prospects
to slip past them and come to your business via search engines,
you would have said “don’t bother putting up a website,
the Yellow Pages will do.” A similar thing is happening right
now with your competition in the global marketplace.
The competition is thrilled if you haven’t bothered to localize
your website, because if they have localized theirs, and they are
getting all of the non-English search engine hits your website isn’t.
Website localization is just for the big guys.
This simply isn’t true for a number of reasons. Some of the
big guys are not practicing localization yet (at least not to the
degree that they could be)! Also, as I discussed above, localization
can be scalable—not only to the needs of your target audience,
but to be scalable in cost relative to the size of your company.
If you are in an organization that is in the early stages of going
global, take a look at some of your competitors, and see where they
are at in terms of having their websites localized. You will probably
be surprised by the number of companies similar in size to yours
offering similar products and services that have their websites
localized to some degree into major Asian and European languages.
Website localization is not in our budget at this time.
It was noted that one Fortune 500 company recently found it was
spending more in its budget for toilet paper than on website localization.
This seems to me to be an odd, yet not uncommon, state of priorities
for many companies. For most companies, website localization doesn’t
even make it into the budget as a line item, because the final cost
is so inexpensive relative to many other budgetary considerations.
Ask us for a free consultation and quote, and see if having key
pages translated isn’t in line with the cost of, say, that
full-color ad (with undetermined ROI) in a trade publication. This
powerful tool drives traffic to your site outside the U.S. by telling
prospective customers that you are definitely interested in their
Our site is already translated—you just couldn't
I am not an amateur when it comes to trying to find a company’s
website in another language. Sometimes, I have to drill deep into
the site to find the localized versions accompanying overseas sales
office contacts. Other times, I discover a few localized sites for
Germany, Japan and China buried amongst a giant list of countries,
most of which return simply the same English version of the site.
I check for IP detect/redirect functions, by searching Google for
the company name strictly within the domains of several countries.
I try typing in the company’s name with other domain suffixes.
I have to say that 99% of the time, when someone tells me that
his/her company’s website is already translated, but I couldn’t
find it, it turns out that there were a handful of PDFs and product
pages buried deep in the website translated from English into other
languages. Now, if the “localized” version of your website
is hidden from both search engines and the most intrepid of web
users, how is your average customer going to find it?
Many users who find your site by brand recognition will have to
read through page after page of English to find the few pages that
are in their language(s). A scaled down, localized version of the
navigational system and some of the main pages, as well as the relevant
PDFs and product specs, would go a long way to improving your company’s
presence in a given country.
Our regional offices take care of it—they handle distribution
of our product/services, have their own website, or translate our
content for us.
A lot of localization vendors like to offer the “bite the
wax tadpole” story as an example of why companies shouldn’t
try to perform localization on their own. One version of the story
goes like this. When Coke first introduced its product into China,
it chose phonetic representations of Coca-cola in Chinese that accurately
reflected the sound of the brand, but not the meaning. Apparently,
Coke didn’t select the Chinese characters, but the Chinese
storeowners who were selling the product did.
The result was that very few Chinese people were interested in
drinking an American soft drink whose letters, though phonetically
accurate, meant “bite the wax tadpole.” This makes for
a much more interesting and stronger case for not allowing your
regional offices and distribution reps to handle the presentation
of your corporate brand when localizing your website.
Obviously, the “bite the wax tadpole” anecdote is rather
simplistic, and took place long before the Internet existed. However,
imagine something more complex like a marketing-jargon-rich website
being translated literally by native speakers who aren’t familiar
with the original cultural context which bore the content.
You certainly need native speakers to translate and review your
website when localizing it into other languages. Translators are
charged with building a bridge between your company’s origins
and your new audience with one end firmly anchored to your company’s
cultural identity, and the other effectively inviting the target
audience to become customers.
Our global contacts speak English.
As mentioned above, this is sort of like saying in 1999 that your
existing customers all knew you, and the rest could all find you
in the Yellow Pages, so why bother with having a website?
It is certainly true that much of the business world outside of
the U.S. is rapidly becoming bilingual, with English as its second
language; however, the fact that 80 percent of Internet users shop
and buy in their native languages should be enough to rethink this
statement. Even if you aren’t selling your product or service
directly to consumers online, think of what this implies in terms
of the comfort levels potential clients have when they are seeking
out new partnerships and opportunities from the U.S.
What about your existing overseas clients? Are they getting the
level of satisfaction they deserve from the information and tools
you currently provide in English on your website? How about the
cost of a customer service phone call, where the question could
have been answered in the customer’s native language inside
a brief, one-page FAQ?
Your website should be helping you build sales rather than having
non-native English customers buy from you in spite of your website.
We use machine translation, we don’t need a human translation.
There is a lot of research and money going into machine translation
development these days, but with a few exceptions using very controlled
authoring and extensive human-vetted glossaries, it isn’t
ready for prime time in business websites.
I didn’t know your company does localization.
Whether they’ve heard of McElroy Translation or not, vast
scores of people are surprised to learn that a languages services
provider knows a thing or two about text expansion, encoding issues,
date/time formats, cultural appropriateness of text and graphics,
overseas SEO, functionality Q/A, etc. The fact is, we don’t
just take all of your English words and throw them back at you in
other languages so you can attempt to jam them onto your existing
We understand that a localization project is a tight, team effort
that requires dedicated people and can often cause a lot of dedicated
headaches. The business of coordinating a vast array of talents
and backgrounds in order to help you provide the most effective
corporate message overseas—that is my company's business,
and the translation of words is only a part of it.
About the Author
has played an integral role in the development and maintenance of
McElroy Translation's website, and has an extensive background in
multimedia design, localization fundamentals and web programming.
He's held the roles of Web Localization Specialist and Technical
Sales Support for six years at McElroy Translation.