Localizing a website requires more than simple text translation. Unfortunately, fast-moving international marketers often learn this lesson well into their first website localization initiative.
Landing pages get redesigned after realizing that local customers aren’t searching for any of the expected keywords. Shopping carts get rebuilt after recognizing that currency confusion is increasing abandonment rates. Stock photos get replaced after reading social media feedback claiming cultural insensitivity.
Suddenly, what seemed like a straightforward task becomes a company-wide controversy.
How can growing brands maintain their momentum without suffering a similar fate? The answer lies in preventative action. Whether international expansion is on the agenda for next month or next year, there are several moves you can make today to simplify the work of website localization in the future.
Start Studying The Audience ASAP
Audience understanding is not a test you can pass with a few days of preparation. Examination is continuous, and customers are especially thorough when grading the work of emerging brands. As a result, success is often determined by the depth of market research conducted before website localization ever begins.
This commitment to letting data determine action should start at audience selection. Before finalizing a destination for international expansion, there must be clear evidence of market demand.
An unusually high proportion of website traffic coming from a foreign country is often a strong indicator of existing interest, for example. Companies focused more on market creation than traditional market penetration, however, may need to dig much deeper when building their business case.
Once the target market has been identified, the mission then becomes learning all about what makes the local audience unique from its global neighbors. For website localization managers, some of the most impactful questions to ask include:
- What is the search engine of choice among local customers?
- Which currencies and payment methods do they prefer to use?
- Which customer service channels do they access most frequently?
- What cultural conventions define their local business practices?
Gathering all the right answers — or even asking all the right questions — may not be a realistic goal. However, the ability to avoid mistakes previously made by other companies and the desire to keep learning local values will immediately increase the odds of international success.
Form A Consistent Brand Foundation
Customization may be the driving force behind website localization, but that doesn’t mean you should dilute your brand in the process. In fact, customers may doubt the legitimacy or security of a localized site that differs too much from its parent site.
From a development perspective, committing to a common domain structure across all your (existing and future) websites is one of the most important ways to ensure brand consistency in a digital world.
There are several naming conventions to choose from based on the scope and complexity of your unique online footprint, but consistency is more important than method. It provides a predictable user experience and keeps SEO momentum rolling.
From a design perspective, more companies are deciding that a template-based approach is the best way to strike a balance between customization and consistency. Maintaining the same basic pillars of navigation across each site assures UX best practices for every audience. But leaving enough flexibility to accommodate text variations and visual substitutions is critical to template success.
Identify And Prioritize Core Content
Audience analysis and brand building create valuable context, but translating website content remains the most labor-intensive aspect of localization. Cataloging and prioritizing your content early, however, makes the process much more manageable.
Applying this advice requires acknowledging that some content assets are more valuable others. This may seem like a given, but many brands still treat website translation as an all-or-nothing proposition. Either they commit to translating every web page at once, or they postpone their localization strategy altogether.
By objectively identifying content that is crucial to the buyer’s journey, successful companies put themselves in position to serve their customers sooner and capitalize on those connections quicker. Translating enough top-tier content to facilitate purchasing empowers localization managers to demonstrate value even before their entire budget is committed.
Navigation elements, checkout procedures, and product descriptions are among the most commonly prioritized assets, but analyzing conversion rates may ultimately be the best way to confirm asset value. In any case, the testing performed on this initial batch of content will yield insights that can be leveraged for smarter execution throughout future localization campaigns.
Download Forrester’s Seven Must-Haves For Successful Website Localization to see how brands like Walmart, Etsy, and Lenovo set their strategies for global success.