It’s an obvious move if you have a business with global ambitions. Your website is your face to the world. Once you gain traction in your home market, consider what’s next. Often that means opening to different languages and diverse cultures. So even though going global seems an obvious way to gain new audiences and customers, the effort it takes to achieve success can be costly and complicated. So this is a brief guide for anyone considering, or pursuing, a website localization project.
Who Performs Website Localization?
There are thousands of firms which perform the service of localizing websites, adapting them to meet the cultural and language expectation of a regional or national locale. Surveys from IDC and Forrester indicate that consumers prefer to buy services from sites that speak their language. Localization of websites is a sizable chunk of the $52 billion expended on language services. Such markets, in turn, are driven by technologies for machine learning, especially as applied to translation and interpretation tasks. Since 2015, neural networks, a key aspect of artificial intelligence, have been the engine of machine translation algorithms which drive applications like Google Translate.
Do you need a translation company to assist you?
There are two main aspects to a localization effort: translation and conversion. If your budget allows, seek out a professional translation company whose linguistic team has expertise in your market locations and the languages spoken there. Tomedes, Lionbridge and Transperfect are top-tier companies that provide the one-stop concierge service for the whole process. This includes the conversion component, where anything affected by location and local standards or measurement units.
But maybe you don’t need a localization at all. There are pools of thousands of wannabe website translators and bilingual interface designers you can hire from freelancer platforms like Upwork, Freelancer.com and Fiverr. And there are more technically inclined developers and webmasters also proposing their services to those who know they need to create local versions of their websites.
It’s easy enough to find freelance candidates: just post your job on these boards and wait for the bids to flow in. It’s easy to check profiles and portfolios, rates and ratings. You can interview them. Pose questions. You can negotiate an hourly or project fee. The platform provides a kind of escrow service, with payment pending your approval. But then you need to manage your freelancers and that can be a real time-suck relative to letting an agency run the project management.
Bear in mind that you’ll need to repeat this process with each new localization project, for each region, nation or language. Even if you’re working with dedicated localization or translation management software, that can become an onerous burden on the time of whomever needs to manage the freelancers. And the lack of coordination can also affect delivery times and, inevitably, costs. Finally, there is the need to have some auditing and supervision of each translator, or localized website. Having a second native-speaking translator or editor involved in the process provides security if the first flakes out or quality assurance for the first translator’s submission.
Website Localization: Can You Do It Yourself?
There is one other option, of course, and that is to Do It Yourself. This is sometimes doable if you need simply to add a single new language version to your website, and you have enough in-house or contract staff to cost-effectively do the translation and conversion work. There are free machine translation tools and APIs to do it all. If you’ve never managed something like this before, just forget about it. Too many things can go wrong. There are many moving parts. The risks of embarrassment and failure are high.
But if you are a DIY sort of person, localization by your dev team, supported by a translator, is doable with the assistance of a proper coding geek who just loves to get into the weeds. There is a lot of software designed to support such localization efforts, so you may as well consider the option, if only for your own due diligence.
What to prepare and clarify even before you start localizing?
The first thing you need to decide is how many and which local versions you want to create. Do they all use the same lingual characters? Are any of them right-to-left? Are any of them Asian, where linguistic expression can be much more complex and perplexing for Westerners. In any case, the more languages you aim for, the more the time and costs mount.
You should prioritize your localization efforts and determine which locales will give “the most bang for the buck” – an example of a local American expression that promises to give problems in each localization. How many people in that locale? How many of these are you likely to reach and at what cost? Are there any cultural landmines to avoid? This research by locale should be given a priority, even if you need to pay for the research or find a local partner to do it with you.
When you have results, you should select the three that you want to undertake first, typically in the first calendar year. Then, using machine translation software, do a first internal pass to create a “rough” translation of all or most of your site content. Ideally this should be in either dedicated translation management software or at least in a structured table or spreadsheet. The “rough” will let you eyeball any interface issues, such as those caused by longer words or sentences in one language compared to another, issues involving measurement or currency or date-time differences, or any text-design clash that need to be addressed at the code level.
What are the required steps in a website localization?
- Planning. Localization is a process that requires meticulous prep and project management.
- Logistics. Software needs to be installed, of if you are contracting the project, you need to understand the process the technical steps and their impact on timing and resource allocation.
- Keyword and Cultural Research. Someone who really knows the target locale, its language and culture, plus a resource that knows SEO and its tools.
- The Translation and Conversion Effort. Parts can be done with software, but human linguists and editors need to be involved in latter stages.
- Localization Quality Assurance. LQA is the last stage of any localization project, but it can take several rounds. It involves linguistic and technical proofing but also internal, then alpha-beta field testing with feedback gathered, analyzed and adjustments made accordingly.
How to assure localization on time and within budget?
This question is the best argument for working with an agency, unless you have a staff seasoned in localization projects. The agency’s account management team will manage the moving parts for you: translation, conversion and coding. But extract from your chosen localization or translation company an assurance of post-delivery support. Some offer weeks, months or even a year of free fixes of anything inaccurate, so nothing gets lost in translation.