Five website localisation traps you should avoid

Website localisation traps“Let’s go multilingual! Let’s capture the attention of users worldwide!” – with these or similar plans in mind many companies set off for their website localisation journey. What may sound fascinating and look promising at first, may sooner or later turn into a challenging endeavour, if you get caught into a localisation trap. To make sure your website localisation process goes smoothly, try to avoid the following most common pitfalls:

1. Adapting the words only

Localisation is much more than dressing your website into a new language attire. If your only focus is on conveying the text published on the original website, you’re missing on the opportunity to truly engage with your website users and potential customers around the world. Every country, every market and every target user group may have different expectations, different habits, certain peculiarities or unique features. Displaying the same content for all users across the world shows that you don’t really know your potential customers. To avoid this trap, first decide what elements of your original website can be modified – added, deleted or rephrased – to make sure you only show the content that is relevant to your audience in the specific country. You might need to adapt your images, add extra articles or reorganise the structure to adjust to the way your target users navigate the websites and take purchase decisions.

2. Not using the power of culture
This is related to the trap above. Merely changing the words of your website into another language won’t get you far. The key to success on a foreign market is to embrace its culture, both in the online and offline activity. Knowing the preferences, popular holidays, customs and behaviour patterns is equally important in the face-to-face meetings and in the online interactions. On your website try to show that you care, by featuring images referring to the local traditions, creating special promotions for local festivities or displaying different product pictures or descriptions for different language versions – depending on what’s the most relevant and appealing to your target users.

3. Not adjusting date, time or currency formats
Speaking the language of your customers also means using their number, currency, date or time formats to make sure there are no misunderstandings. This is especially important if you run an online shop or if you provide technical descriptions of your products. To make your content relevant to your users abroad you’ll need to display the right measurements and currencies in the correct way. This is how you can gain trust of your target users and create an impression that your business really thinks locally, and not only scratches the surface of global expansion.

4. Using the same layout for all language versions
Depending on your target market, your website users will have special needs and expectations related to the layout. So, don’t present the same structure in each and every language version. In some countries website users tend to be quite sceptical and won’t trust a new company just by looking at attractive images or the correct use of language. They may need more information, such as the number of branches or shops your company has in their country, awarded certificates or pictures showing local activities. Also, your target group may expect to see specific website elements in a different location. It might be even required to flip (i.e. mirror) the whole user interface for languages such as Arabic or Hebrew. So, before you start to localise your website, research your target user group and consider any necessary layout changes.

5. Publishing untested websites
It’s difficult to resist the urge to quickly publish the new language versions, once your website seems to be ready. But hold your horses there and wait until the localised versions are fully and precisely reviewed. Skipping the testing phase in the website localisation process may lead to serious troubles. Only when the layout, text and images of all language versions are reviewed in the browsers and various devices, you’ll be ready to go online and show your work to the rest of the world. Otherwise you might end up publishing pages with glitches such as overlapping text, cut off strings, misaligned images or visually unappealing content. So, run one or ideally two rounds of functional, linguistic and cosmetic testing to make sure everything is in the right place.

There’s no one foolproof method of adapting websites to a foreign market. The localisation process will depend on your goals, your target markets, your business activity and your budget. The above list of traps to avoid will guide you in the right direction, no matter how big or small your website, business or budget may be.

About the author: Dorota Pawlak
Dorota Pawlak is the owner and managing director of Polish Localisation. She enjoys helping business enter new markets and is passionate about cultures, languages and technology.

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