How to create a localization strategy

Learn what a localization strategy is and the impact it can have on business results in foreign markets. Plus, get our 10-step process for localization success.


The ultimate guide to an effective localization strategy

If you have a proper localization strategy in place, your business can successfully enter new markets.

What is the difference between a company that merely does business in other countries and a company that has successful and long-lasting growth? It all boils down to your localization strategy.

What is a localization strategy?

A localization strategy is your company’s market approach to translating content to connect with a new audience in a voice that feels local and familiar to that region.

With a localization strategy, your business will determine and define both the markets to enter and the overall goal for content in those markets.

Why do you need a localization strategy?

Fully localized content resonates with users because it incorporates relevant cultural nuance, as opposed to simply replacing English words with translated text.

With a proper localization strategy, your brand can execute a tactical plan to successfully enter new markets.

What’s the difference between translation and localization?

Localization and translation are often used as synonyms. While they share similarities—most notably that localization requires content translation—they aren’t precisely the same thing.

Translation is about converting your content, app, or website into a desired language.

Localization is broader. It requires adapting an application or website not only to the language that the target audience speaks but to their cultural differences, buying habits, and payment methods.

As it specifically applies to translating content for foreign markets, content localization also pays greater attention to:

  • The use of slang and idioms that may or may not apply to the local culture
  • Slogans, symbols, and icons
  • Text length and direction and subsequent user interface changes—as with converting Hebrew, which is written right to left
  • Date, time, and currency formats

Global brands that are looking to provide a more personalized customer experience should be more concerned with localization than translation.

How to improve your localization strategy

Here are 10 must-have tips for localization that you can apply to your business:

1. Partner with local translators Who knows a given culture better than a local? Tap into local experts—staff, agencies, or in-country partners—from each of your target markets. This way, your team can ensure the most accurate localized experience for users.

This is perhaps the single most important element of any localization strategy. Don’t forget about the “local” in localization.

In fact, do a bit of preparation work up-front to truly make sure that you understand the local market dynamics, preferences, competitors, channels, promotion strategies, and so on. The content and marketing tactics that you use in one country often won’t work in another.

2. Base your localization strategy on memorable experiences When people hear your brand name in each market, what attributes do they associate with it? Do they think of reliability, ease of use, and quality?

Perhaps you have built a great brand in your home market, but how does that brand identity carry over into other markets? You need to create a strong image from the start.

If you clearly define and communicate what your brand is — its style, personality, and colors — potential customers will think of your business first when it comes time to decide between you and your competitors.

However, remember that each market is different, and even your company’s name could have an unintended meaning in another language. A large part of determining your localization strategy is researching the regions and markets that you will be entering to offer them a personalized experience.

Do a quick study in each market to find out what customers think of when they see your logo and brand name and if they have any concept of your identity. You may find that your brand identity has a different “flavor” in each market.

As a result, you may need to work harder in some markets than others to create a new, memorable story for your brand.

3. Focus on localization, not just translation For a truly successful localization strategy, your company must work to adapt its business to each target market’s culture.

Consider this quote from Uber founder Travis Kalanick: “Each city is unique in its transportation pain points, its density, its transportation alternatives, regulation, even its transportation culture.”

Knowledge of local markets is obviously critical for a company like Uber, but the same lesson applies to your business. What pain points do your customers experience? What alternatives to your product or service exist in each market? What local subculture does your business fall within? Incorporating this knowledge is critical for your localization strategy.

4. Leverage global marketing language A frequently overlooked advantage of localization is that it can inform your overall market positioning strategy and enrich your core brand, even in your target market.

As you execute your localization strategy, make sure to keep track of your successes and roll them back into your brand marketing strategy.

Nearly every business begins as a company that serves a local market, but as you move into international markets, you’ll need to modify your language to make it clear that you’re international. However, you can still keep your local roots, even as a global company.

5. Design a unique localization strategy Though local markets may be saturated with competitors, that shouldn’t hinder your progress. In fact, high competition can be a sign of a healthy market.

Consider ways that you can one-up your competitors by adding features that they don’t have. Including extra value-added services can set you apart and draw customers to you.

Do some simple market research to test concepts ahead of time and make sure that they are both locally relevant and culturally appropriate. Roll this information into your website localization process as well to create sites that resonate with each target market.

6. Cater your offerings to each location Many companies mistakenly assume that their pricing in a new market should be the same as the pricing for their home market.

Such companies always struggle initially because local competitors may offer more attractive prices. You can adapt by repackaging your product or adjusting your prices in specific markets where supply and demand warrant it.

Consider the differences in each market you enter and adapt your offerings accordingly.

7. Become a part of the community If you enter a new market, make sure to show your presence there. Seek out moments where you can connect with customers and give back to the local community.

Also keep abreast of current events and help communities in times of need. For example, during a natural disaster or a time of need, consider donating your local staff’s time or your unique services and products to help in a way that is genuine and will be appreciated.

8. Optimize for a mobile audience Though translating the content on your desktop website is likely a large part of your localization strategy, an equal focus should be given to pushing content out on mobile platforms, including smartphone apps.

Creating localized content for apps presents a unique opportunity for growth. Omitting app development in your localization strategy can severely hamper growth, especially in markets where mobile usage is surging, such as in Africa and the Middle East.

9. Consider social components Although mobile platforms should make up a large portion of your localization efforts, it’s important to keep social networking trends in individual markets in mind.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are popular on a global scale, but local networks should be used where appropriate.

For instance, China’s Qzone is the world’s third-largest social media network. Businesses that want to succeed in the Chinese market need to have a presence on this network that includes localized content and links to app downloads for that specific region.

10. Factor in the technical side of localization There is a lot more to localization than just translating website content. Several technical components need to be considered as well, such as font size, website layout, and design.

Consumers will be looking for information when they find your content, so it is vital to present this information in a way that feels natural and familiar to them.

Imagine that you are launching a site that is localized for the Chinese market. Though the content has been thoroughly crafted, your site is using the same layout that was launched on a recent Russian site.

Because Chinese characters need to be larger than Russian characters for readability purposes, much of the text spills over the menu bar, which makes the content impossible to read and turns away potential customers.

If your translation technology provides translators with CAT tools that include a visual preview of your website as they’re translating, it’s easy to see where your page layout needs to change to accommodate different languages.

Measuring localization success: KPIs to monitor

Engaging in localization activities, from adapting website layouts to translating content, is an investment. And as with any business investment, you’ll want to measure your return on that spend.

Here are some of the most commonly used key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure a localization strategy’s success.

Qualitative measures

Website traffic Website traffic tells you how many people visit your site from social media and search engines like Google each month.

You can track traffic growth from different localities. If your site traffic from target regions is increasing, your content localization efforts are effective.

Conversions Conversion rate is a good KPI to use to determine your localization’s effectiveness for websites and apps.

For example, if you’ve recently expanded into Japan, you may compare your conversion rate there against your established rate for the US.

Differences in conversion rates may reflect localization effectiveness and can be used as a jumping-off point for further investigation.

International market growth rate Tracking global growth in revenue is helpful, but it is more pertinent to compare growth rates across different markets.

Revenue growth is the most common metric you’ll use, though market share can also be insightful to understand how well the new market is adopting your product or service.

Quantitative measures

CSAT Customer satisfaction score (CSAT) is a short survey that can be used to see how happy customers are with your localization efforts.

This is easy to implement. As a site visitor is about to leave, you can set up a website pop-up box to trigger with the following question:

“On a scale of 1–10, how would you rate our website’s content in terms of its use of local language, slang, and idioms?”

NPS Net promoter score (NPS) helps you understand the likelihood that local customers will refer your brand to a friend, colleague, or family member.

You can send out a brief survey to your customer base asking just that. Improvements in content localization should yield an increased NPS, so track this before and after you make any changes.

Operational measures

Turnaround time Turnaround time is the measure of how fast you can translate and produce marketing materials to serve a global audience.

This is an important metric for businesses that are looking to expand into new markets. The more quickly you can turn localized content around, the more quickly you can launch landing pages, app feature releases, and email and social media marketing campaigns.

Percent first-time quality Whether you’re using a human-led localization approach or taking advantage of modern systems like machine translation, quality is a critical concern.

Percent first-time quality is a metric that measures the percentage of translated and localized content pieces that meet quality standards the first time around—that is, they don’t require any edits.

Translation error rate The translation error rate is the percentage of issues that appear in translated content.

For example, an error rate of 1% would mean that for every 100 pieces of content you translate, one piece has an error.

This rate is important for comparing product service providers and holding vendors accountable for producing high-quality localization services.

Translation tools for executing your localization strategy

When it comes to delivering on localization needs, speed, scale, and accuracy all matter.

Assembling a localization team with language experts from all regions might tick the accuracy box, but it's certainly not going to help you scale quickly.

For that, you need an AI-powered machine translation tool, one that can help you streamline workflows by accepting multiple content formats and document types and delivering high-quality, on-brand translations instantly.

Powered by Smartling’s LanguageAI™, our translation platform can create compelling and immersive local user experiences by not only translating your content into the desired language but also taking brand voice, style, and terminology into account.

Learn more about creating a localization software tech stack.

Partner with Smartling for strategic success

Once you incorporate these techniques into your localization strategy, you’ll be on the fast track to international expansion.

The key to your company’s continuing success is localization — understanding and adapting to each target market’s culture and going beyond merely translating words.

Don’t forget that a cloud translation management system can take care of the localization heavy lifting to help you transform your business into a more successful global company.

Craft your ultimate localization strategy with Smartling’s complete guide to translation services.