You’ve probably visited a website where it asks you which country you’re in before letting you see the products for sale. That’s website localization in action.

Website localization is the practice of creating an alternative version of a website specifically for a different market’s audience. The most obvious component of website localization is translated text and prices displayed in the local currency, but there’s a lot more to website localization than this.

Read on to learn more about what website localization is, why it’s important for any website that attracts international audiences and how you can get your website localization just right.

Website localization
Design by OrangeCrush

What is localization?

Localization isn’t just something brands do with their websites. Just about anything can be localized: logos, product offerings, branding and even content like video games and tv shows.

The Office is perhaps the most well-known example of a localized tv show. After the original aired in the UK, the concept was exported to Germany, then the US, then seven more markets, each version adapted to be successful in its market while retaining some similarity with the original series.

Other examples of localization include changed sprite art for video game releases around the world and translated logos.

Localization is more than translation; it’s adaptation. When it comes to branding, localization can initially look like the opposite of global branding, the practice of creating one singular brand identity to use around the world. But many successful brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s incorporate localization into their larger global branding strategies. This specific application of localization within a global strategy is known as glocalization.

Do I need to localize my website?

It depends. In many cases, the answer is yes.

blue logo of a disintegrating elephant
Logo design by creamworkz

According to Harvard Business Review, 72.4% of web users say they’re more likely to buy a product if the available information about that product is in their own language. And 72.1% said they spend all or most of their online time on websites in their own languages.

So, yeah. Localizing your website for a specific market will increase the number of people visiting it from that market, especially if you’re selling products. Keep in mind that although language is a deciding factor for many online shoppers, localization is much more than just translating your website’s text. It’s also:

  • Adapting your design to local tastes and cultural expectations
  • SEO efforts to rank highly on searches from users in multiple countries
  • Ensuring the site loads and works properly on different networks
  • Using a secure payment gateway that accepts multiple currencies (though maybe crypto will render this one obsolete some day?)

But what if you aren’t selling products and thus don’t need to deal with things like payment gateways and displaying accurate prices in various currencies? What if you’re just running a blog?

Illustration of world with location icons
Illustration by Cope_HMC

In that case, localization might not be worth its cost for you. Localizing a website can be expensive, so if you don’t have a lot of users visiting from outside your region, or you don’t have any pressing need to change your website to connect with specific international audiences, you can probably skip localization.

Keep in mind, localization isn’t an all-or-nothing kind of thing. You can also choose to localize to just the markets you’re seeing a lot of traffic from or just to bigger markets. For example, if your blog has high traffic in German and French markets, then it’s worth considering localizing your blog for those languages.

To determine whether website localization is worth it for you, ask yourself the following questions:

How do people interact with your website?

Are they watching the videos you host? Taking a course you offer? Reading a blog? Buying products? The more “involved” users are with your website, the more important it is for you to localize it.

Which countries am I planning to operate in?

This will determine how extensive your localization efforts need to be. For example, if you’re a US-based website looking to connect with visitors in the UK, you don’t need to worry too much about translating your website’s text—seeing “color” spelled without the “u” isn’t going to cause a misunderstanding or ruin anybody’s experience.

If you’re offering products or services for sale, you’ll still want to list your prices in pounds, but you don’t necessarily have to worry about a language overhaul. Though these small things can make a difference if you really want to connect with visitors on a deeper level.

blue illustrated map of the world with markers in various cities
Illustration by Cope_HMC

How does my branding fit into each target country’s cultural associations and expectations?

Take a look at your colors and the imagery you use. While the color green is associated with luck in the US, in China it’s associated with purity and regeneration. Often, it’s used in packaging to indicate that the product inside is free from contamination.

Localizing might mean altering your designs to avoid certain connotations—especially if your original design can potentially be offensive to people in international markets, like how the thumbs up sign is a positive image in the US, but an offensive one in various West African and Middle Eastern cultures.

Take some time to work out whether full localization, partial localization or no localization is the best choice for your website. One way to do this is to take a look at what other brands in your niche are doing—are they localized? Use this as a starting point, not your deciding factor, because you might offer something your competitors don’t that makes localization necessary… or vice versa. If you determine website localization is the way to go, we’ve got some considerations to get you started on your localization plan.

Website localization considerations

Translating your text

There’s a whole lot more to localization than translation, but translating your website’s text is a big component of localization. Some browsers automatically translate text on pages, but if you’ve had your browser translate pages before, you know the translations are often lackluster and sometimes they get it wrong.

illustration of a flower with each petal a greeting in a different language
Illustration by dliew

This is why you need to hire a human translator for your website. A human translator won’t just choose the right words and structure the sentences correctly, they’ll understand the cultural and linguistic nuances at play and translate your text into readable, engaging copy that connects with the target audience.

Having natural, quality copy on your website will also boost your SEO, helping your site reach more viewers in your target market. And although high quality content is critical to your SEO ranking, it’s not the only thing that will get your site ranking higher on search engines—you also need to be working relevant keywords into your text in ways that sound natural. A professional translator can do that.

Local internet speed

Some countries don’t have 5G yet. In fact, it hasn’t even reached every major city in the nations where it is already in use. Around the world, billions of internet users are on 3G and 4G networks, and translated into experiences, this means your website loads a lot more slowly for them.

It also means big images, animations and videos will dramatically slow things down for them… and dramatically increase your bounce rate with users with slower connections. When you develop localized versions of your website, keep each country’s average internet speed in mind. You might need to scale down your site and simplify your interface in countries with slower connections.

Payment gateways and security

blue graphic showing a credit card, a website and a phone
Via Securion Pay

If you’re operating an ecommerce site, a secure international payment gateway is a must. Without one, you can’t securely accept payments from credit and debit cards in buyers outside your country. There are many international payment gateways to choose from, like PayPal and Stripe. As you work out your website localization budget, factor in the fees for your chosen payment gateway.

Cultural sensitivities and associations

infographic showing color associations across cultures
Via Colors and Materials

As we mentioned above, certain gestures that are positive and perfectly acceptable in some cultures are offensive in others. In less extreme situations, a gesture or image that almost everybody in one country might recognize can get lost on audiences from other parts of the world.

Keep these in mind as you pick the images you use on your website, like stock images of people in different scenarios, models posing with clothes and other products and even the bio photos you include of yourself and your team members. A casual photo of you giving a big smile and two thumbs up might cast you perfectly as a fun, exuberant creator with Western viewers, but undermine your credibility with visitors from other parts of the world.

Beyond gestures, research your brand colors’ associations in the markets you’re looking to get into. Color psychology is a helpful tool when deciding a color palette for your brand, but you should use it in conjunction with an understanding of colors’ cultural associations.

Also consider how specific images and concepts are interpreted in various cultures. This extends to your tagline, product names and even the tone of your website’s copy. Copy written to connect with a person from an individualistic culture might not land the same way with readers from collective cultures, so to connect with these audiences, you might need a slight tone shift.

How well your brand is known in international markets

two silhouette heads, one with a spiral inside it and the other tangles inside
Via Ute’s International Lounge

Are you already operating in the markets you’re targeting, or is your newly localized website part of a larger brand launch? If people are already familiar with your brand and your offerings, you’ll probably want to keep localized versions of your site looking and feeling pretty similar to the original. Otherwise, international users might feel they’re getting a different product than your original offering and potentially get turned off.

Conversely, if you’re just getting into a new market, you have more room to make changes. If you’re pursuing a global branding strategy, you don’t want to make extreme changes—but you can definitely play to local markets’ tastes and even establish a somewhat different niche than the one you occupy “back home.”

Getting localization just right

Localize without rebranding

Remember, localization is an adaptation, not a full-on rebranding. One of the keys to effectively localizing your website is keeping its overall look and feel the same, but creating a more familiar, engaging environment for international visitors.

This means making small, visual changes that align with local visitors’ cultural experiences and expectations. This might mean swapping out colors in certain places or even completely changing certain images. For example, you might change your graphics and stock photos to feature people who your users can identify with.

two versions of Pharmacy Online, Australian and Chinese
via Nielsen Norman Group

Change things too much and it will feel like you’ve created a whole new brand. To capture that balance between maintaining a uniform brand identity and adapting to local needs and tastes, take a look at the ways some of the world’s most successful brands do glocalization:

McDonald’s ad showing shrimp patties available in Korea
McDonald’s website example via Poponomics
Starbucks China website
Starbucks website example via Marketing to China

Create your budget beforehand

Determine an accurate budget for fully localizing your website before you begin hiring translators, developers and other creatives. How much it will cost to localize your website depends mostly on how comprehensive your localization will be—are you simply translating your existing website to a new language, or are you planning to completely revamp significant portions of it?

line illustration of people in all different interactions in gray and blue
Illustration by Anisova

Here are a few of the components of localization you’ll need to include in your budget:

  • Language translation
  • Website development
  • Compliance and linguistic testing

Fortunately, you can hire a website localization company to handle the entire process of localizing your website. By doing it this way, rather than contracting each component of the job individually, you can ensure that each of your website’s “moving parts” will work together.

Determining your localized domain structure

This one’s a little bit more technical than the other localization tips. When you have a few different versions of a website, there are a few different ways to host them both on your server—and each method has unique benefits and drawbacks.

You can create a subdomain for each localized version. In your URL, a subdomain looks like this:

image showing two urls, one labeled domain and the other labeled subdomain
via Fit Small Business

They’re considered separate websites, so having a subdomain can hinder your SEO. With a subdirectory, you don’t have this problem. A subdirectory looks like this in your URL:

Subdomain

Subdirectory

Then there’s the option of a country code top-level domain, also known as a ccTLD. This is the best option for SEO. Country code top-level domains are .uk, .ca, .de and other URL endings that aren’t .com, .org or .net.

Here is a quick guide to each structure’s benefits:

blue infographic showing different localization domain structures
via imarc.com

Here’s some more info about the pros and cons of each option.

Optimize for mobile

No matter what, your website should be mobile-responsive.

colorful coffee website on a PC, tablet and phone
Web design by Mike Barnes

This is one of the key tenets of effective web design. But when it comes to localizing your website, there’s an additional reason why making it work perfectly on mobile needs to be a top consideration: in some countries, people primarily—even exclusively—access the internet through smart phones.

Pay attention to the little things

Little things matter. The little things that can easily go overlooked, like how the € sign goes after a price in Germany and the dollar sign ($) goes before the price in the USA, are the very things your website visitors will notice when they’re out of place. When you localize your website, don’t just focus on the big picture stuff like your imagery and loading time, make sure you adapt the details too, like displaying dates in the local format and making measurements available in metric and imperial.

Your website localization company will know which small details to localize alongside the bigger, more obvious components. To get an idea of all the smaller changes that come with website localization, try this: open up a localized website in one tab. When prompted, choose your home country. Then in a second tab, open the same website, but select a different nation. See if you can spot all the differences in the details—think of it like one of those “find the differences” puzzles.

Think globally, act locally

Show international audiences that your brand is for them too by localizing your website. Although they certainly can access and use your website in its original version, they’re a whole lot more likely to visit your website and interact with your brand if it speaks their language, visually and verbally.

Localizing a website is an important part of successfully expanding into international markets, so make sure you work with designers and developers who are up to the job. Search our platform to connect with experienced web designers who can take your site around the world.

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