Companies are leveraging the power of the web to present themselves and their products to new sets of international customers. They're also realizing the value of having a localized web presence to reach specific ethnic markets more effectively right here in the U.S. In both cases, the web is certainly a matchless tool for delivering information to new customers, wherever they are.
- Web users are four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in the customer's language.
- Over 100 million people access the internet in a language other than English.
- Over 50 percent of web users speak a native language other than English.
- Visitors stay for twice as long if a website is in their own language.
Translating a website from English into another language is not as simple as it may appear. There are numerous factors that have to be taken into consideration when localizing a websites' content.
Preparing your content
Maintain your global branding. Make sure all your corporate information (company information, mission, history, and culture) is localized but kept constant throughout the site in order to maintain consistent identity and branding.
Write your content with an international audience in mind. Don't assume that all content on the English site should automatically be transferred over. First, evaluate the target culture. Is it a culture that relies on information-rich writing to fully understand a concept or product, a culture that relies more on images, or one that needs little text to grasp ideas and concepts?
Be careful to avoid slogans and messaging that are confusing, as well as colloquialisms, idioms, humor, and ethnic references that are difficult to translate and/or may not be relevant to people of other cultures. Take the classic -- and humorous -- automobile faux pas Nova ("doesn't go" in Spanish) that Chevrolet will long have to live down among Spanish-speaking populations.
Avoid overtly culturally biased photographs, graphics, or expressions. Images carry many subtle cultural messages within them. Make sure you have a good stock of photographs that represent the different ethnic groups within a particular country, as well as the different social situations they may typically encounter.
Also, keep in mind your use of color. For example, the color red means happiness in China, but in the U.S. it means danger or stop. In France green indicates criminality; however, in the U.S. we equate green with safety or "go".
In the above example, San Francisco Health Plan maintains its brand identity, but makes cultural adjustments by using appropriate imagery and messaging adaptation.
Navigation, internationalization & search engines
The more you do up-front to prepare your site for localization, the less you will spend, both in time and money, as well as fixing issues that affect your ability to have a fully functional, localized site.
Designing a navigation scheme with localization in mind. There are three common ways to set up the navigation: country specific URLs, link from the homepage, and a gateway page. The latter is often the best option, because users select their language preferences from the home page, and a cookie recording that preference is stored on their computer. The next time the user accesses the site, they will go straight to the localized material without having to go through the gateway again. Users should be able to change their language preference from the homepage again, if they so choose.
Microsoft using a gateway page
Internationalize the code. Ensure that the programming of your site will be able to properly handle the input, storage, retrieval, sorting, and display of different character sets, as well as time/date/currency formats. Unicode is the best choice for problem-free character encoding for current and future browsers.
Optimize your localized site for search engine visibility. While you're still at the design stage, it's the perfect time to put together a search engine marketing (SEM) strategy for your soon-to-be-localized site. You've no doubt put the time and effort into driving customer traffic to your existing site and -- if you plan to get the most out of your localized site -- it's time to do the same there too.
- Make sure you don't underestimate the role of culture here. Understand how users search for information on the web in the country you're localizing for. How your industry or product is categorized and referred to will change from country to country and culture to culture. Knowing what these differences are and building them into your SEM strategy will pay big dividends for your localized site.
- You also need to remember what's under the "under the hood." Although title tags and metadata aren't seen by the user, don't plan on simply transferring over the existing set of English tags from your current site. As you build the structure, tags, and metadata of your localized site, they should be consistent with the translated content.
- Play to the search engine winners. Decide which search engines are popular in the locales you're entering and design your localized content to address those engines' specific search algorithms.
Examining your content in any localization process is critical for presenting the correct image. The impact of culture on website localization is huge. The above few examples are literally the tip of the iceberg. The number of variables that have to be taken into consideration requires the expertise of both a website designer along with a global localization expert. In tandem they can identify the issues that will impact the successful localization of a site.