A bunch of 10s: multilingual websites that get it right

There’s a lot to think about when localizing your website. Even if you stop at translation, you’ll find the differing word lengths and space requirements of various languages may make your pages look funny. And – naturally you shouldn’t stop at translation. 

Because the goal of localization is to make every website visitor feel you understand their dialect, their culture, all the nuances of habit and custom that vary from city to city. Because that’s how you create the trust that builds customer relationships. Now, it’s easy to point out flaws in many “internationalized” websites that stop this happening – but we’re not going to wag fingers. After all, effective localization is a hard job that needs expertise, time, and a budget.

Instead, let’s take a look at examples of where localization worked. Integrated yet customized multilingual website examples whose owners did everything right, following best practices and making use of local knowledge to build a user experience their entire global market can appreciate, Berlin to Bangkok. But first: a definition. 

A word on website localization, and why it matters for growth

Website localization is the process of adapting your store to suit a different language and culture. (“Localization” comes from locale, which refers to the language a customer speaks combined with where they are from.) 

Think of how much communication is nonverbal,  and how much of culture is about expectations. You could translate a multilingual website to be word-perfect … but what if its prices are still in US dollars, or its date formats aren’t the local norm? To say nothing of legal compliance and standards. (Some countries don’t let you compare your product with named competitors, for example.) 

The good news: paying attention to these details brings plenty of benefits. Some are: 

  • Tap into a larger, more diverse global market. When you can reach consumers in countries outside your home, you’re ready to tap into the $5.5tn global ecommerce market.
  • Build competitive advantage in your sector. Localization efforts can help you enter a new market, gain market share, and entrench your position as the established and preferred brand.
  • Protect against home-market economic fluctuations. Everywhere suffers recessions. But they don’t all happen at the same time. If you’re active in other markets – the more different from your own, the better – you can smooth out the ups and downs of your local economy. 
  • Increase market share worldwide. By investing budget in local content marketing, local SEO, advertising, or community building you can maximize consumer share-of-mind and stay ahead of your peers.
  • Increase conversion rates. Most people prefer to shop in their own language, using their own currency. When you truly localize your store you’ll be ready to serve them, with a personalized experience that increases conversion rates and customer satisfaction.

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Six great multilingual websites that won at localization

Pleo: business spending localized worldwide

First up is spending and expenses app Pleo. While it’s only available in the UK and the EU, they focus on deeper localization rather than purely translation content. 

What matters most: in each of the European languages it uses, the website maintains a consistent “feel”, with the same messaging and tone of voice – but adapted for local tastes. It does this by making use of local talent in each market – local content managers and marketers – to keep each experience absolutely consistent: no sudden links to English pages from the Spanish one, no Swedish euphemisms a Dane wouldn’t understand. In other words, Pleo has gone global – by being truly local. For all its 25,000 customers. 

“It’s not easy! But with tools like Lokalise, it becomes a whole lot easier.” – Neil Brennan, Content Lead, Pleo

Notion: collaborative workware across Asia

Notion offers a connected workspace that brings together people, projects, and documents to enable better collaboration – so localization was never an option. It’s available in 28 countries, with 80% of its customer base outside the US; while its founders are American, it found its first successes in Japan, with South Korea an early market.

Japanese and Korean take up very different amounts of onscreen real estate to English – and complicating the matter was Notion’s large number of Japanese users using it in English. Localized sites – including straight translation, “transcreation” for cultural nuances, and web design tweaks to keep everything looking good – let the company get to the next level, with millions of users today.

“We want Notion to feel like it was built in every country where people use it.” – Katsukiyo Nishi, General Manager, Japan, Notion

Revolut: gaining traction from automation

Efficient online banking needs scale – and that was the goal for neobank Revolut. As you’ll see from its site, their image is clean and welcoming – but what you won’t see is that the same UX has been rolled out in over 26 languages to date, with even more planned.

A key success factor was an early decision to automate as much as possible, using strict processes, integrations with outside translators, and screenshots to communicate needs clearly, meaning large parts of the process could happen quickly. By making these choices early on, Revolut has successfully made its website and mobile app feel like home to 12m customers worldwide.

“It probably takes longer for Apple to review the app than for us to roll out a new language with Lokalise.”Edward Cooper, Head of Mobile, Revolut

Gymshark: maintaining brand across borders

Fashion sportswear brand Gymshark sells to customers in 180 countries – and offers its website in 13 languages to accommodate them. Like many apparel vendors, its site is heavy on the visuals – which means the words have to do more work than usual … and the images have to  be appropriate for the customer’s home market. 

Browse Gymshark’s site in other languages, and  you’ll soon see how the product mix and imagery are rotated to suit different markets, from sizings available to the mix of human models. And again, different languages require different amounts of space in the design. 

“I’m a massive fan of connecting with the customer in person. We connect with our consumers in many ways – through our athletes, through our partners and other mediums.” – Ben Francis, Founder, Gymshark

Netflix: localization all the way down

Netflix needs no introduction; we’ve all got it. But offering content across all but four countries means more than translating words – you’ll see from its site that the product mix is the bigger factor.

Due to licensing restrictions and local tastes, Netflix doesn’t offer the same programming in even two neighbouring countries; its algorithms mix and match content to local preferences (what’s most likely to be watched!) in very, very fine detail. Yet to a traveler visiting another country, the Netflix experience – whether on mobile, desktop, or the big screen – remains consistent, pleasant, and instantly recognizable. They even offer “price localization”, giving customers a range of payment options – even allowing other currencies. It’s a huge localization task – but a genuine website localization best practice.

“We think of subtitles and dubs as really enabling access to the story, and so our goal is to use creative intent to really create culturally relevant and resonant translations for the content so that it has a wide global appeal.” – Denny Sheehan, Director of Content Localization and Quality Control, Netflix

(And a last word on localization: the case of HBO)

Netflix competitor HBO has the same challenges, but in a more constricted marketspace: it has far few local sites, but it localizes its content for distribution on other platforms, like Sky in the UK. This takes its localization “way beyond the website”. 

As a multi language website example, HBO illustrates that even translation isn’t limited to what you put on your web pages – it’s something you apply to all content wherever it’s accessed, whether that’s a teaser trailer,  programme subtitles, or signup form. 

All these sites (and apps, and channels, and everything in between!) are terrific examples of what it takes to localize successfully – they’re among the world’s best multilingual websites. Next, let’s look at some of the practices they put in play to do it.  

Website localization best practices to follow when going multilingual

So much localization, so little time. So what should you focus on? Here’s a blow-by-blow list of what to localize … first. 

  • Localization of domain. Whether you go the yoursite.com/gb or yoursite.co.uk or another option is a technological choice that has consequences. 
  • Translation and localization. Don’t go all-in on Day One: choose which markets you want to localize for carefully. This will help you build up skills and formulate best practices. 
  • Currencies and payment methods. It’s about more than changing a $ to a € symbol. If your price in the USA is a round $99.95, Europeans will instantly guess you’re not a local site when they see €94.61 as your sticker price.
  • Imagery and video. Diversity and inclusion are big issues in America and Europe, less so in China and Japan. And people’s ideas of appropriate settings – the beach? The mall? The office? – carry subtle differences. Looking at the best multi language websites will help you get ideas.
  • Customer support. The Service Desk is a big enough expense as-is; what happens when customers want to call in using their own language? Automation, chatbots, and multilingual Help resources can assist, but think carefully about the depth and detail of support you’ll need to provide to your new international customers. 
  • International SEO: To maximize the impact of your localized website, it’s crucial to optimize it for international search engines. This involves conducting keyword research in each target language, using hreflang tags to indicate language and regional targeting, and ensuring that your website’s technical structure supports multilingual content. Check out our guide to crafting an International SEO strategy.

(For more on this topic, take a look at website localization in seven steps.)

Best practices for local customer experience

Let’s look now at some website localization best practices. We’ve found at Lokalise that some decisions matter a lot more than others – start with this list.

  • Consider cultural differences. As localization is not just about translating words, your design might not be suitable for other markets for cultural reasons, which can lead to low adoption. This means your store might have to be changed entirely for right-to-left languages to accommodate your user experience.
  • Take different naming customs into account. In much of Asia the family name comes first; Chinese speakers often “localize” their given names when addressing foreigners (Lee Yun-Fat is also Harry Lee); in Indonesia many people only use one name. Make sure your forms and pages address this. (As if that wasn’t enough, actual addresses use different conventions, too! Would you want to write “Setagaya 4-12-3 Tokyo-to” on a US formatted address form?)
  • Offer the right shipping options. The most important factor to consider with shipping is the proximity of your target market to your home market. If your plan is to target similar, neighbouring geographic regions, the cost of setting up an international warehouse far outweighs international shipping costs.
  • Check your payment options. Some cultures haven’t yet adopted credit cards; Grab drivers in southeast Asia often take cash; in parts of Africa phone credit is currency. When localizing, make sure you know what the local options are.
  • Separate text from images. It’s still common practice among web designers to integrate text (in one language) with a graphic, so it becomes part of the image. This means you can’t reuse the photo in a localized site. Avoid. 
  • Make image source files easy to access. Asset management can help your local content managers access appropriate imagery when they need it. We suggest a “bank” of suitable images organized by market to make this even easier. 
  • Test cultural imagery. To do this, of course, you need to know what customers in each country like and expect. The more context and cultural familiarity you’re able to provide, the higher the value of your product will be. A last note on image localization: a delightful customer experience largely hinges on how quickly and easily a customer can understand and interact with a given page or screen.

Above all, remember this statistic: 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. This means you don’t want to confuse, or (worse) outright offend your customers with your localized content. The solution? Adjust your content and UI/UX on a cultural level. Test it with select customers, champions, and native speakers of the locale you’re targeting in Beta before fully releasing it. 

Best practices for website language localization 

At Lokalise we see the same mistakes across the web and mobile apps, again and again. So here’s a quick checklist to keep handy. As with all tasks, hope for the best – but plan for the worst.

  • Assume text will grow or shrink. The Gymshark example above is a great one: it found translating from English to German can result in a 20-35% text expansion, whereas translating from English to Swedish can result in a 20-35% text contraction. Avoid autoselecting language for shoppers. Don’t assume everyone in Sweden is  native Swedish speaker. In fact, Sweden is home to more foreign learners of Swedish than any other country, due to recent immigration! Make it easy to change language.
  • Give context to translators. Your localized output is only  as good as the translator’s knowledge of what you want. So make sure he/she knows what your needs are, where the pitfalls lie, and what impression you want to create in the customer’s mind. The best translators are deeply culturally aware. 
  • Don’t fix your web design. Different languages take up different space, yes, but some languages operate completely differently to English – like  the vertical way much Chinese and Japanese appears on a page, or the right-to-left orientation of others. 
  • And remember it’s about locale, not language! Make sure your site uses 4-letter ISO codes: these denote not just country or language, but region and dialect too, differentiating (for example) the Arabic spoken in Bahrain from Modern Standard Arabic (which almost everyone speaks as a second language, but virtually nobody as a native!) While the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan sounds very different to that of Beijing. Be alert to locale … always.

And what about multilingual customer service?

Last, let’s remind ourselves again of the most important differentiating factor for multilingual websites today: aftersales support and service. In a world packed with great products  and  services, your friendly CSA (whether it’s human or a chatbot) often makes the difference between a loyal customer and a churn risk. Fortunately, Lokalise can help here too; it’s even possible to translate your service responses in real time.

Cover all the bases of multilingual websites, with our global marketing playbook

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From the above,  you’ll see the size of the challenge – but also (we hope) the immense potential of getting it right. A vast base of new prospects, higher sales in more countries, greater profits worldwide, and satisfied customers that keep coming back.

FAQ

1. What is website localization?

Website localization is the process of optimizing your website for best performance in each market you trade in, paying attention to language, local dialect, cultural expectations and nuances, and “hard differences” like payment options and date formats.

2. Why Lokalise your website?

There are so many great reasons to localize, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. But some concrete benefits include an increased audience for your products and services,  greater growth potential for your business, a more satisfied customer base with reduced churn and more Customer Lifetime Value, and a larger valuation for your company as a whole.

Speak your customers language
Translating to 12 languages will allow you to reach 90% of the world’s population in a language they speak, often natively or officially: Chinese and English, plus Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Urdu, French, Japanese, and German.
Sell more
78% of people are more likely to purchase from an online store that speaks their language.   40% of online shoppers will never buy from websites whose content they can’t understand. 60% of non-English customers rarely or never buy from English-only websites.

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