Brick-and-mortar shops spend a lot of energy on making their windows and storefront as appealing as possible. Whether that’s arranging fantastical tablescapes, gorgeous jewelry displays, or making sure every passerby can smell what’s cooking — your front door matters.
The same is true whether you’re running an e-commerce store, personal website advertising your freelance work or your company website. Consider your website as your digital front door for your global audience. It’s the first place people interact with your business. Do they feel welcome? Have you grabbed their attention?
As you look to build a multilingual website, consider how that applies to your website so that all of your customers — no matter where they are from — feel welcome doing business with you.
75% of consumers have said they’re likely to purchase goods and services if the product information is in their native language. And 87% of consumers who don’t speak and can’t read English won’t even consider buying from an English website.
You need to be understood literally (as in the words you use) and culturally (the way you say them). This is where website localization comes in.
You might be also interested in our “How to successfully translate a website” article.
What is website localization?
Website localization is the process of adapting your website’s content, design, and functionality to meet the linguistic, cultural, and other unique requirements of your target audience.
When localizing your website, you’re adjusting every aspect of it to cater to your audience, from payment processes that fit customer preferences to layout that has enough space for different languages to using images that accurately represent the market. Translation is only one part of the website localization process.
We’ll walk through what that looks like, and the seven steps you should take if you’re ready for website localization.
7 steps for a seamless website localization process
1. Define your localization strategy
Before you begin the process of website localization, determine your localization strategy.
This refers to the overall plan for how you’re adapting your offerings, messaging, and content to new countries and markets in a way that aligns with your brand, and how you measure the success of that plan. This requires market research to determine which different languages you want to create a localized version of. You’ll need to determine your target markets and consider different languages, cultures, and social norms.
That’s because expanding your global presence doesn’t just mean translating the words. It’s about how you present the information, and whether or not potential customers will be likely to purchase your product as a result for the international markets.
When putting together a localization strategy for your website, you’ll want to:
- Understand which markets and countries you want to target, and the culture, purchasing behaviors, and payment options of those markets.
- Determine how your brand translates into local languages, from tone and voice to mobile versus desktop designs.
- Know who on your team will be responsible for localization, from designers to developers.
- Set KPIs to measure your localization strategy (incremental sales, SEO rankings for keywords in other languages, page views and more).
- Include international SEO: Optimize your website for search engines in your target markets by conducting keyword research, creating unique content, and implementing hreflang tags. Building links from relevant websites can also boost visibility.
2. Design pages with localization in mind
Traditionally, companies would first design websites with only one language, and start thinking about adding more translations only after development. This often sounds like common sense, considering that deadlines are often tight.
But this only increases your costs and slows down your localization process in the long run. As you increase the number or length of your web pages, you also increase the chances of introducing bugs or translation errors. You can prevent this by translating your website as early as the design process, rather than waiting until the last moment.
This means not only accommodating for text expansion and contraction — languages like German can expand text up to 35%, while Swedish can contract it by the same amount, while non-latin languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cause vertical expansion — but designing with images and layouts that make sense regardless of language.
3. Internationalize your website
Internationalization (i18n) involves designing and developing your website so it can be adapted and localized to different cultures, regions, and languages. Internationalization and localization may seem interchangeable, but they’re really complementary — and inseparable.
I18n is usually executed once, at the front end of the software design and development process. Rather than hardcode each individual language every time you want to translate a given piece of text, internationalization prepares your codebase to receive different configurations based on your target language(s). It replaces code with key placeholders that — when localized — automatically retrieve each foreign language without requiring fundamental engineering changes.
In addition to creating placeholder keys, internationalization involves some other best practices like enabling cultural formatting, including number formats and systems, time zones, personal information, and text formatting.
To internationalize your website, you’ll want to inject a piece of code into your website that can automatically detect system preferences, domain, or location settings for target audience so you know which language to fire — and if it’s not supported, what fallback rules are in place, such as defaulting English speakers in European countries to UK English rather than US.
Most website building tools and CMS like WordPress, Contentful, and HubSpot already have this covered. You’ll only need to do this step if you’re not using an established CMS. When in doubt, reach out to your CMS support team (or read through documentation).
4. Create a localization workflow that works for your team
Depending on the size and scale of the website, the localization process can involve up to four main groups of collaborators: developers; product managers; copywriters, marketers, and translators; and QA specialists and reviewers.
Localization workflows tend to follow two main processes: waterfall and continuous (agile).
- Waterfall localization methodology is a sequential workflow where localization takes place after the website with the base language is completed.
- Continuous localization methodology (sometimes also called Agile localization) is a continuous workflow where localization takes place in parallel with the website development and content updates. Meaning whenever there’s an update (big or small) it is automatically getting translated as well.
Incorporating localization into your website development in an agile manner has several advantages. Translations aren’t just done once and delivered at the end of the development cycle. Instead, they are translated as the web pages and content are being developed. This means that once new updates are released, translators or localization teams can simultaneously work on the localization of the changes happening on your website.
The easiest way to incorporate website localization into your workflow is through integrations with your CMS. You’re probably already using CMS for your blog or other parts of your website, like WordPress, Contentful, Hubspot or Webflow.
- With WordPress, setting up your integration is as simple as downloading the Lokalise plugin. Import the content for translation from WordPress to Lokalise in a matter of seconds, and pull it back once the translation is ready. No more spreadsheets or tons of emails – assign tasks and automate notifications when certain actions are completed.
- For Contentful, you can sync Text, Symbols, and RichText by going to the “Integrations” section of your “Project Settings” and connecting the two platforms. Here’s the full how-to.
5. Translate your webpages
But isn’t localization the same thing as translation?
Website translation is one part of a localized website, and if you’re operating with an agile method, can occur concurrently with design and development.
The term “localization” stands for adapting a product or content to fit a specific market or country and adjusting its functional properties to accommodate the linguistic, cultural, political and legal differences. Localization is often confused with translation, the process of converting text from one language to another. While these terms might be somewhat similar, translation is actually just one aspect of localization.
After you’ve set up your code, design, and processes to handle website localization, the next step is to begin translation. This can be done in three ways:
- Machine translation, which is a software-based process that translates content from one language to another without human intervention. MT systems use a combination of algorithms and rules to translate one language to another automatically.
- Human translation, which involves a native speaker translating content from one language to another, usually through a TMS tool or professional translation services.
- AI translation, using the latest genAI tools to translate your content with context at speed. The results are a lot more accurate than traditional machine translators because they use your style guide, glossary, and understand context in a similar way to human translators.
Machine translation is best for situations involving simpler ideas and sentences, or phrases you use consistently and often (like “Sign up”) as it lowers cost and increases speed. However, for more complex ideas and sentences, idioms or creative language, industry- or business-specific communications, or any sensitive or critical data, a human translator or generative AI tools are best.
6. Measure your website localization quality and strategy
Finally, after you complete translations, it’s time to test and iterate. This verifies the quality of the localization in a particular target market, checking for usability, market-friendliness (things like color, layout, and word choice), and any linguistic or typographical errors. Luckily, tools like Lokalise have an integrated QA checker that automates most of this for you!
Then, create a set of measurable and comparable success metrics — key performance indicators (KPIs) — a metric that signals how well a project or company is achieving their business objectives.
You can measure:
- Incremental sales in new locations
- SEO keywords in other markets
- Market share
- Translation cost
- Pageviews from other markets
- Conversion rates
- Social media engagement from other languages
- Customer support cases
7. Localize with the right software
Localization is especially challenging if your website is just one of the many digital assets in your company, built on multiple different platforms, say, your company website on one platform, your support center on Intercom, and your blog on WordPress. Keeping consistency and ensuring the same level of quality becomes a real problem.
To do website localization successfully, you’ll need the right tools:
- A single source of truth for all of your translations by using a translation management software (TMS) that organizes the localization workflow and tracks progress of different translation and localization projects.
- A continuous localization platform (CLP) that allows you successfully integrate localization into your web development process.
- Integrations and plugins with your existing CMS and other tools you use.
- Translation memory and glossary, which stores previous translations for access later, as well as any specific industry or company vocabulary. These are known as CAT tools and are often incorporated within your TMS.
- Quality assurance tools that correct any typos, spelling, or grammar mistakes, often incorporated into your TMS.
In-context editing tools that give your translators more context by showing where and how the translations will be used.
Not sure where to start? Book a chat with one of our product specialists and learn how to setup a seamless website localization process at your company.