Coinbase: The secret to a successful localization strategy


How do you redefine a language that already exists…and then translate it at scale? That’s the reality in the crypto industry and a challenge that localization experts must find answers to.

During a fireside chat with Michelle Wu, Senior Manager of Enterprise Localization of Coinbase, Michelle answers the questions about Coinbase’s globalization strategy, including how glossaries and centralized processes have been key to putting Coinbase on the fast track for global growth while scaling translations amidst crypto’s ever-evolving language.

What’s unique about Coinbase’s approach to localization?

An industry like crypto is being defined as we speak, and the English terminology we use to describe crypto concepts is constantly evolving. So with localization, our goal is to work through those complexities to translate our content that’s relevant and resonating for multiple markets.

How do you translate in the crypto industry, which is always taking on new English meanings?

When trying to run a thriving localization program in the crypto world, there is an additional layer of language we need to consider. This means making sure our glossaries and style guides include crypto jargon and serve as a resource for a crypto understanding.

For example, “wallet” has a different meaning in the crypto world. How do you translate this in different languages when their versions of wallet has varying connotations? We always have to recognize what’s new and evolving in the space. Centralization of the localization process and assets was critical in making sure we have alignment with all of our vendors so they can work out of one consistent source of truth.

What is Coinbase’s globalization strategy like, and how is it being executed at scale?

Coinbase’s overall mission has always been about providing access to crypto. To do that, we need a global strategy that’s in line with our overarching mission to increase economic freedom. It’s about making sure our messaging is translated to make that customer experience clear and usable.

Having that economic freedom through crypto is only possible if you have access to information. We want more people to access that experience and the ability to utilize the right tools like Coinbase to trade and dive into this new world! And one way to do that is to make sure our translated content is really easy to understand for any native user wherever they’re in the world. We really appreciated the help from our language vendors who understand crypto to help complete this experience for our global markets.

What challenges have Coinbase faced during localization processes?

Defining crypto jargons, especially in the marketing space, was a big challenge. Because Coinbase is a leader in this industry, we often set a precedent for translating terms in certain ways. We always try to ensure our translated content is relevant, inclusive, and true to the crypto personality and nature.

What successes has Coinbase experienced?

We recently translated our content into 21 languages with quality assurance in less than two months. The project involved high word volume and complexity, and we achieved it with agility. It would not have been possible without the centralization of our translation processes.

What terms does Coinbase keep in English, and why?

NFT is an excellent example of one that we would leave untranslated. It means non-fungible token and is not very usable in English, much less in another language. There are words similar to that we think through and try to keep their original usage. Some crypto memes only resonate for a given market, so we try to keep those in English as well.

How can one obtain knowledge in crypto localization as a project manager or a translator?

I think crypto in itself is really easy to dive in. There is so much content out there. If you’re interested in getting started with cryptocurrency, I recommend heading to Coinbase’s “Learn” articles. We have a lot of great information and videos that make it easy to consume crypto knowledge.

When we hired internal linguists, we looked for someone with a deep interest in crypto rather than professional experience. Maybe they have read up on their own, used Coinbase, understand some of the nuances, etc., so they’re not entirely new in crypto when they start.

Start by understanding the basics. I think a lot of inherent crypto background comes hand in hand when working with localization.

How does Coinbase handle compliance requirements? How has using Smartling helped?

Crypto is a highly compliance-regulated industry, and one of the things we care about the most is staying truly compliant with what we do. Having centralization of our core components like glossaries and style guides, mostly around terminology, ensures that we’re not mistranslating and redefining things in a way that will make us non-compliant when it comes to our languages and copies.

We also have an incredible team of UX writers who carefully think through the source content creation process. We ask ourselves, “how do we do that at scale and also with those nuances needed for the market?”

We also prepare specialized, nuanced content specific to each new market, especially considering regulatory requirements to ensure that we’re compliant. That’s one layer of the source content side. Then when we put it through the translation process, we work with the right legal and compliance stakeholders to ensure all of our content is up to codes.

How did Coinbase perform LQA on all languages?

We used a combination of LQA linguists internally hired to ensure we had crypto/Coinbase embedded expertise and then third-party services and vendors for scaled testing.

How big is the localization team in Coinbase, and what does the team structure look like?

The current team of full-time employees includes eight. We are currently split between a delivery program and an operations/quality program.

In-house reviewers vs. vendors?

This really depends on the complexity of the space you’re in. For Coinbase, given we are in a really new industry in which we are the leaders, finding scaled vendor knowledge in crypto is difficult. When hiring in-house reviewers, you can look for that specific talent to bring in and add further layers of contextualization. Crypto transcreation should be its own area of focus.

How do you help translators handle dynamic placeholders for better translation?

We do have dynamic placeholders for market-specific components (ie. currency), as well as placeholders for regulatory-based specificity. We partner with our product teams to ensure all partners are aligned.

Is there any difference in Coinbase’s language approach with respect to marketing to women and men?

We would be doing a disservice to this lovely world to approach it in such a binary way. It’s not about marketing in language to men vs. women, but more about user segmentation and looking at specific corners of a market to understand that user’s journey.

How do you have successfully integrated cultural nuances in marketing, given the increased crypto market regulations and activity across investors?

We are linked arm-in-arm with our legal and compliance teams to ensure that any content, however it’s crafted, is compliant with the markets we operate in.

Hear about Coinbase's globalization strategy and how they’re scaling translations amidst crypto’s ever-evolving language: