Localisation can be defined as the process of translation and cultural adaptation of not only the text but also the functional elements of your website or app (Schäler, 2007). Website localisation means that a business entering a foreign market must adapt all functional elements of its website to local cultural conditions and users’ habits on the target market.
This post will focus on the 10 key elements you should consider in website localisation.
Why does your business need website localisation?
When does a business need website localisation?
After conducting market analysis and competitive analysis, it’s time to translate your website, marketing materials and possibly – if you sell a physical product – packaging, instruction manuals, labels etc.
And here’s where it gets tricky.
Translating just the content of your website (done by a professional translator – Google translate is completely unsuitable for translating content for marketing purposes! Nothing ruins brand reputation as much as glaring errors – it’s as if you came to a job interview in a stained and creased shirt. 59% of British respondents even said that they avoid buying from companies that have grammatical errors on their website) is not enough. In order to avoid brand failures when entering a foreign market (e.g. the famous case of eBay, which ignored certain cultural factors such as web design trends, payment methods etc. and failed on the Chinese market, despite a massive marketing budget) we should not only translate the content of the website itself, but also localise it.
10 key elements of localisation strategy
1. Names of products, brands etc.
Often names of products that meant something positive in the source language (or didn’t mean anything – but sounded good) may be offensive, or have negative connotations in the language of the target country and thus produce the opposite effect on the recipient to what we intended.
E.g. “Osram” – the name of the brand of light bulbs produced by an eponymous company from Germany, means “I will shit on you” in neighbouring Poland.
2. Website template
Website localisation also includes localising the template to the local web design trends! Unfamiliar design does not inspire trust and cries ‘foreign’ at a glance. Before entering a new market, it is necessary to find out what web design trends are popular there. And then, localise your website to play the part.
Ebay regretted bitterly not localising its website to the Chinese sense of aesthetics…Chinese e-commerce clients do not trust ‘clean design’ and feel more comfortable with the kind of baroque style with several boxes, popups and a lot of text that we abandoned in the late 1990s.
This contributed to eBay’s failure against its then smaller, domestic competitor: Alibaba.
In website design, culture matters. In the West, websites like Google had become popular for their clean lines and uncluttered “negative space.” But to the mass market of Chinese Web users, accustomed to pop-ups and floating banner ads, they seemed static and dull. As you can see for yourself by opening taobao.com, successful Chinese websites are typically packed with information and multimedia graphics, requiring many scroll-downs to see the whole page. From its outset Taobao has been a website built by Chinese for Chinese. And it worked.
(Duncan Clark: Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built; p. 166 (Chapter 9)
3. Content layout
The same applies to the layout of content – location of information on the site. Localising your website means adjusting the positioning of menus, calls to action, tabs, and information on different pages (home, about, work with me, praise, contact) to the local conventions.
4. Payment methods (including payments fees and shipping fees)
Failing to adapt payment methods available on our website to the local conventions can significantly affect our conversion rates. In some countries, very few Internet users have a credit card or PayPal accounts (PayPal is not available in all countries). In others, Stripe or other local online payment platforms (e.g. Alipay and WeChat Pay in China – WeChat pay is an interesting example where the payment options embedded in the social networking app took the online payments by storm). are more popular. We need to do proper research and localise the payment methods to the target market.
To take the example of eBay again: the Chinese customers were not used to payment fees for online transactions. Therefore, even the small commission charged by PayPal was enough to discourage them and switch away from eBay to the more local TaoBao, which offered a free-of-charge payment system – Alipay.
5. Measurement systems
Metric, imperial or US customary? When it comes to weight and measurement units, the world is still divided along the old colonial lines…don’t try to cross them with shoe sizes, bra sizes and clothes sizes in your online store 😉
Let’s imagine you want to buy a dress, but the online store in which you found it is only giving you the Korean sizes… you’d need to open Google in a new window, check how the sizes on the Korean scale translate into UK sizes, calculate and compare them… not everyone has *that* much patience. In fact, in the ‘attention-span-of-a-goldfish’ era, hardly anyone has that much patience. An average customer who is not yet 100% convinced to buy will most likely simply ‘abandon cart’ at this stage.
The measurements that need to be localised on your website include:
- Weight / mass
- Volume / capacity
To convert Celcius (c) to Fahrenheit, use the formula (c * 1.8) + 32
|1 degree Celesius||34 degrees Fahrenheit||1 degree Celesius|
|Distance||1 (statute) mile (=1760 yards)||1 (statute) mile (=1760 yards)||1.6093 kilometres|
|1 inch||2.54 centimeters|
|Weight/ Mass||1 ounce (oz.)
1 pound (=16 ounces)
1 pound (=16 ounces)
|Weight of a person||1 stone (=14 pounds)||1 stone (=14 pounds)||6.35 kilograms|
|Height||1 foot (=12 inches)||1 foot (=12 inches)||0.3048 metre|
|Volume||· 1 (imperial) pint (=20 fl. imperial oz.)
· 1 (US liquid) pint (=16 fl. US oz.)
|1 (US liquid) pint (=16 fl. US oz.)||· 568.26 ml
· 473.18 ml
This is also particularly important in food product labeling, cooking instructions and recipes!
Do you know that purple symbolizes mourning in Thailand? Or that in China the bride puts on a red wedding dress, not white? Website localisation must include the localisation of colours, as their different cultural symbolism can significantly affect the conversion rates from your online store. Green does not mean ‘go ahead’ in every culture. It’s not all black and white.
E.g. while in English-speaking countries the collocation of ‘blue’ and ‘movie’ means a pornographic film, the Chinese associate pornography with the colour yellow. Hence ‘yellow press‘ will have a completely different meaning in Chinese than in the UK!
7. Photos and visuals
Something that is perfectly acceptable in one country may be considered offensive in another. The innocent stock photo of a smiling can cause outrage in a lot of conservative Arab countries if the woman has uncovered hair, arms or knees. A cow is a sacred animal in India, so advertising a juicy beef burger is a no-no there. You need to take all visuals into account when conducting website localisation.
The same applies to graphical symbols. Take this into account when localising your website before entering the market. In many Asian countries, for example, a swastika is a lucky sign (in Sanskrit svastika means “good fortune” or “well-being”!), while in Europe has unambiguously negative connotations with WWII and the Nazi Party.
9. Terms and conditions, privacy policies, legal notes, cookie policies
Simply translating the legal documents and agreements available on your website without localising them to the legal requirements and regulations of the target country is mind-numb! Privacy laws have been largely unified in the EU by the GDPR (which affects all businesses handling data of EU residents!), however, you still need to adhere to local standards, especially outside the EU.
10. Your product!
Did you know that (a legacy of colonialism, again!) Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia, despite sharing a number of similarities in culture, cuisine, and even language – have different…electrical sockets?! That’s because while the former was a British Colony, the later used to belong to the Netherlands…
You get me, right? When exporting your products even to countries that seem to share a lot of similarities, you need to take every tiny detail into account when localising your website and product. Someone buying a laptop with a plug that doesn’t fit into their electrical soccer would probably get very, very angry and slam you on social media.
Same with the cow. Don’t offend by selling beef in India or pork in Israel.
This goes beyond culture: in some countries, certain food additives are allowed (in particular concentrations), in others – not. Both as a producer and distributor (even if you’re selling online!) you are legally required to comply with the local laws.
Website localisation – a conclusion
As Matt Haig said in his book “Brand Failures”:
‘Consumers make buying decisions based around the perception of the brand rather than the reality of the product. While this means brands can become more valuable than their physical assets, it also means they can lose this value overnight. After all, perception is a fragile thing.’
It is worth remembering that trying to save on something as fundamental as website localisation and market analysis may result in future losses running into several thousand, as well as a tarnished brand image – which is priceless.
How to go about localising your website?
Choosing the right expert to localise your website is a key to your internationalisation strategy success. Here are some things that you should consider when chosing the right professional:
- Is the person a native speaker of the target language?
- Have they grown up in the target country and culture? (In some countries, there may be various ethnic minorities – a native speaker of the language may not necessarily belong to the target ethnic group!)
- Have they recently lived in the target country? (this is super-important – if someone left their home country at the age of 11, they are probably not up-to-speed with recent language, fashion and culture trends)
- What is their level of education? Did they receive a degree from the target country? (a university degree from the target country will usually indicate the expert is rather well-read and well-rounded)
- Have they received formal translation and localisation training? (No, being a native speaker is *not* enough! Translation, and especially localisation – is a skill one needs to learn. Arguably, a good translator may not necessarily be a good localizer – ask them for their qualifications and relevant experience)
- What experience do they have? In what media and industry niches? (Localising a website requires different skills than localising e.g. a mobile app)
- Do they have a portfolio? (Always ask about portfolio / samples of *recent* work – skills go out of date too!)
- Do they have references from previous clients? (Never hurts to call and confirm…)
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