What is website localisation and why you need it

website localization

Do you know that only 30% of Internet users speak English as their native language? And over 70% of users prefer to spend time on websites in their local language?

These numbers show how important it is to create multilingual websites to target non-English speakers. The first step towards this goal is website localisation.

Let’s have a closer look at this process.

Website localisation is the process of adapting your website to a specific locale and goes far beyond mere translation of text. Localisation also includes customising images and changing colours to make websites more relevant for the target audience, modifying layout to adjust it to the length of the text, using proper data, time and phone format or referring to local traditions and habits. The main goal here is to create a website that looks and feels like a locally made product and to account for differences in distinct markets and cultures.

Benefits of website localisation

There are many ways in which you can benefit from localising your website. Apart from reaching a higher number of customers and users, your localised website will also help to:

  • gain the trust and loyalty of website visitors
  • enhance corporate image and branding
  • boost sales of products and services
  • increase the comfort level of the international visitors
  • increase website interactivity and accessibility
  • increase web ranking on foreign search engines
  • stand out from your competitors who don’t provide multilingual websites

All in all, a properly localised website opens doors to successful customer relationships and helps to build a truly international company. Before the localisation process can begin the website has to be internationalised, which means it has to be generalised to handle multiple languages and cultural conventions.

Starting at the source: website internationalisation

Website internationalisation usually takes place during the design and development to avoid time-consuming redesign at a later phase. Some changes may be introduced when the product is ready, but definitely before proceeding to the localisation level. Here are few examples and best practices of website internationalisation:

  • choose Unicode as a character set to support multiple languages and bi-directional text (e.g. to enable localisation for languages that read from right to left)
  • use graphics with as little text as possible to make localisation easier
  • don’t embed data such as JavaScripts or SQL queries into the main document, otherwise the code may be overlooked in translation tools
  • consider text expansion in the layout, as a translated text may be much longer, for example German is usually about 30% longer than the English original
  • separate code from the content, e.g. by using cascading style sheets
  • enable code to support local date and time formats, local calendars, numeral systems, number formats, etc.

These are just some of the steps that have to be considered when preparing a website for a global market. Enabling future changes and modifications in the layout will make the localisation process faster and easier.

How to make the content local?

Another important step before localisation is to determine the website’s level of localisation. Your website may contain pages that need heavy cultural and regional adaptation, pages that require only translation without any content changes and pages that don’t require translation. Pages requiring adaptations to regional standards may have to be rewritten, especially if it’s a marketing text or if the page (e.g. online shop) has to meet local legal requirements. Texts full of metaphors, colloquialisms and local references will have to be adapted for international markets to make the content clearer and more relevant. It is also important to include information on local payment methods, local distribution of products or the company’s activity. For example, when localising a website from English into Spanish it may be useful to add more content on the company’s activities in Spain, references from Spanish clients or information on local offices. Examples of pages that don’t need cultural adaptation may include technical product description or the company’s mission statement. Finally, pages that don’t require translation into another language are for example pages with local news or local office data that may be replaced with pages containing news from another country. This classification of your website content will definitely make the localisation process smoother and will provide a clear overview of the workload.

A handful of tips

Localisation proceeds swiftly when the source product is submitted in its final form and no changes are introduced during the localisation process. Otherwise, the workflow may come to a halt, which leads to unnecessary delays. Even one minor change in the English source may result in numerous and time-consuming adjustments in other languages. So make sure you deliver the final product.

Another good practice is to double check the text on the website and review it for any misunderstandings or errors. A good quality source text with clear message will definitely contribute to a high-quality final product.

Similarly, review the graphics and icons used on the website. Some symbols and images may be culturally related and will need to be changed in the localisation process. Certain icons and colours have different meaning in other countries or may be even viewed as offensive or inappropriate. Therefore, it may be necessary to replace some graphics and colours while localising your website.

If your website contains button names that are not clear without context (e.g. “Up”,”Go”), consider adding comments within the code or in a separate document to make sure that the translation will be correct.

Finally, the best practice for a language selection menu is to place it not only on the home page, but on every page, as visitors may enter the website through various sources. Also, don’t use flags as a symbol of languages, rather the fully translated names of each language. Flags won’t be an effective solution in countries where more than one language is spoken (e.g. Belgium or Canada).

As you can see, website localisation may be a complex process, but it’s definitely worth the effort to reach global users, attract more customers and ultimately grow your revenue.


By Dorota Pawlak – English and German into Polish translator and localiser

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