What’s the difference between website translation and localisation?

Published on February 24th, 2016

If you’re targeting audiences from different language backgrounds in your marketing efforts, then you’ll probably understand the importance of website translation. What might not be so obvious is that it takes more than translation alone to make your website suitable for multilingual audiences.

Localisation moves beyond the words on a page to create a more engaging website for multiple audiences – one that keeps people on your site for longer and ultimately leads to more conversions. So let’s take a look at some of the key roles that localisation plays and how it differs from translation.

Localising web designs

Aside from translating your web content and setting up a way for visitors to select their language, you’ll also need to localise the design of your website. From the colours in your design to the fonts you use – and even your choice of hosting provider – you need to rethink every part of your website and ask if it’s accessible to each audience you’re targeting.

You also have the question of design trends to think about – emerging markets like Southeast Asia and South America are driven by the mobile web, for instance. Many of these people will never own a computer or feel the need to; therefore, a Spanish speaker in Colombia may have very different design expectations to a citizen of Spain, for example.


Localising images

Images are one of the most important elements of website localisation and they’re one of the first things a visitor will notice. You don’t want to target business owners in Dubai with a website that uses background images of London scenery or British models using your products. You’re trying to establish a connection with this new audience, so use local shots and people in your promotional images.

Try to avoid fixing text overlays onto images. This not only causes potential translation issues further down the line, but it’s also bad practice from an SEO perspective. You can achieve the same results with simple coding, which keeps text editable for translation and indexable for search engines.

Branding and localisation

This idea isn’t limited to your website, but applies to your entire brand when you market yourself overseas. However, two very prominent branding features on your website will be your logo and your company slogan. Your logo is an interesting one, because it once again brings up the question of colours; you also need to think about symbols and any implications the design of your logo could have in your new target markets.

Then we have the tough topic of translating slogans. Just take a look at these 20 Epic Fails in Global Branding to see how slogan translations can backfire. Much of this comes down to localisation and understanding the corporate and cultural climate in your target countries. However, slogans are linguistically complex by nature and sometimes you need to call on transcreation to capture the same impact of your original slogan, without causing offence.

Localising content

We’ve talked about translating written content already, but to really engage your audience you need to speak their language. We’re not talking about English, Spanish or Chinese here – we’re talking about conversational language, using the same words your audience speaks and thinks with. Dictionary English wouldn’t convince you to buy much online and you can’t expect overseas audiences to feel any differently about their own language.

We’ve already mentioned images, but it’s video and rich media that are driving the content revolution. Much like your images, you want local scenery and actors in your footage, wherever needed. Not all videos have people or places in shot, though, in which case your priority is to decide between voiceovers and subtitles to translate your video dialogue.

We also have to consider how the subject matter of your content will be received by different audiences. Models in skimpy clothing might sell products in some parts of the world, and outrage audiences in another. That’s an extreme example, of course, and you’ll have to be aware of the more subtle implications of crossing cultures with content.

This gives you an idea of the wider concept that is website localisation. It’s a huge topic, though, so don’t take it for granted. Every detail needs to be considered, down to how you format dates, telephone numbers and addresses on your website. You also have to consider the technology environment of different audiences – which devices they use, how reliable their connections are and what internet censorship or laws exist in their country.

The small details can have a major impact on how your brand is received by international audiences. Correct website localisation ensures that these finer details are used to your advantage, rather than landing you on a list of epic fails in global branding!

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Posted on: February 24th, 2016