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12 Tips for Effective Website Localisation

30th August 2023
Reading Time
8 minutes
GWS Team

Website localisation needs to be considered when a business is planning to expand into overseas markets or territories.

Localisation can be defined as adapting and developing elements of the website that are tailored for specific countries or locations.

Your goal should be to replicate the quality of the UK customer experience for a user anywhere in the world where you are seeking to gain customers. For this, it may be helpful to consider the aspects of the website that make it appealing to the UK user - and how you can deliver an equivalent quality of experience for users in other countries.

Although this can involve a lot of work, the potential benefits are correspondingly great. A brand or business that localises a website to suit the needs of customers in different countries is likely to be more favourably perceived in those countries than one that doesn’t. If a business is expanding or aiming to target more of the market in a new territory, then targeting the needs and expectations of customers in that region, based on an understanding of their preferences, could significantly increase the chances of success in that territory.

While there are many types of adaptation you can make to a website to ensure effective localisation, you may need to prioritise what you're doing and focus on the most effective measures, bearing in mind the available budget. The changes and customisations needed will depend on the type of business, and the demographics of your market in each territory.

In this article, we’ve covered 12 tips that can help to define what localisation you do to your website, and to maximise your chances of success in a new market.

1. Consider Navigation

Navigation and usability elements should be considered when you are thinking about how to localise international sites to suit different countries and regions. What may be popular and perceived positively in one country, might be unpopular in another. The different national and regional trends and preferences in your target markets should be checked, so you can consider whether changes need be made to the navigation for some countries. For example, top central, left-aligned, right-aligned, or a hamburger-style navigation may have different popularity in different markets.

2. Think About Payment options

The types of payment methods that are commonly accepted and used for online purchases vary widely around the world. What might be considered standard in one country may be rare in another. Considering the range of payment methods that is available, it is worth checking to see which types are best suited for the targeted countries and customers. Some of the options you may consider would be ApplePay, GooglePay, PayPal, Stripe, Klarna, WeChat Pay, UnionPay, mobile digital wallets such as Paytm and Mobikwik, direct bank transfer, Sberbank Online, Yandex Money, and other services which allow most credit and debit cards to be used to make a payment. Cash on delivery is another type of payment that might be expected in certain sectors and locations. In some regions, buy now, pay later schemes are commonly used. If a potential customer in a particular country is about to make a purchase, but is unable to find a payment option that they normally use or are used to seeing, that could mean a lost sale.

3. Research Website layout

Consider reading styles and in which direction customers will read text when thinking about website layout. Whilst in many parts of Europe, America and India the common writing style would be left to right, a number of languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left. When positioning a website in one of these markets, consider how the website layout can be adapted to better serve the need of the customers in that country or territory.

4. Consider Text Translation

A website needs to be adaptive and responsive in its design, in order to have the ability to adjust its layout to accommodate differences in text volume following the translation of its copy into other languages (some languages require more characters to say the same thing). Sometimes you need more than translation - you may need to have the text adapted (copy-edited) to make it more idiomatic and to suit the local market better.

When a website is created, the text is likely to have been written to fit the space allowed for by the design, which itself will have been set based on a reasonable expectation of the amount of text that needed to be included under each heading. Consider how all text areas will look following translation into other various languages.

Even if you don’t have a multi-lingual website with manually populated text fields in other languages, it pays to be aware that a lot of people nowadays use browser plug-ins that allow for the automatic translation of source text into other languages. Depending on the target language, translation may either increase or decrease the total volume of text and therefore the amount of space it takes up, which has the potential to throw off the design of any web page, if the visible text becomes too long or too short for the area it needs to fill.

Ensure that a website has the capability to adapt in design to these text length changes and is still able to deliver a satisfactory look and feel.

5. Assess Images and Video

Images and video clips that have a broad appeal to potential customers in some countries could fail to strike the right note, or even contain elements that might be considered offensive in others. Carefully consider the culture of the targeted country and what is and isn’t likely to be effective or deemed appropriate. Pictures and videos may need to be swapped out to suit the local audience. Considerations to think about include standards and styles of clothing, the register and comprehensibility of language, and any gestures and body language signals that could be interpreted negatively in some cultures. All of these variables will have a slightly different impact in different countries around the world, so make sure that the impression made is a positive one in each target region or country. Failing to do so could severely impact business reputation and brand image in territories where the original material strikes the wrong notes.

You will also need to consider dubbing and subtitles on videos which have spoken content, and if you have text embedded in images (this is best to avoid if possible) that will also need translation.

6. Evaluate Internet Connection Speeds

Content loading time should also be considered early on. Ensure that any build of a website takes this into consideration and that heavy pieces of content such as large, uncompressed images and videos are not loaded into browser memory by default when the user first lands on the page. Smaller versions of images should be the default, even if there is an option to click them and open larger, higher-resolution versions.

Similarly, try to avoid auto-play videos, and provide the user with an option to play any embedded videos at a lower resolution to suit their Internet speed, even if a higher-resolution version (such as 720p or 1080p) is the norm. While very few people still use slower dial-up Internet these days, broadband / fibre service speeds are highly variable, and users with connection speeds (for instance on a 3G phone connection) can struggle to cope with even 360p video resolution without the action constantly stopping to load the next few seconds of footage, resulting in a highly unsatisfactory experience. Longer web page load times will impact on the usability of the website at a whole, and could mean that prospective customers are faster to leave and abandon their session and any purchase they might otherwise have been considering making from you. Google also assesses page load speeds as a factor in search engine positions.

7. Offer multiple languages if necessary

Some countries, such as Belgium and India, have more than one language that is widely used, making it undesirable to use only one when targeting customers in that country. The easiest way to overcome this issue is to offer language selection, with translated versions of the content in the site, so users can switch between languages based on their personal preference. Make the option to do this easy to see and obvious for the user, so the default language doesn’t put off speakers of other languages that are widely spoken in that country when they enter the site.

Customers using the website might also be multilingual, but more fluent in one language than another, meaning that they may like the option to switch between languages if they have a preference for reading a longer, more complex section of text in their language of first choice, or even in a second-choice language if they do not find the rendering in their favourite language sufficiently clear. It's worth being aware that some browsers like Google Chrome will normally offer to translate a web page in a different language to your normal language, though machine translation has limited accuracy and it is not going to give the best impression of your website to that visitor.

8. Address Date / Time and Price formats

Remember that what is normal in some countries may have a different meaning (or be misunderstood) in another. This is true for date and time formats. For example, a date written 01.06.23 would be read in the UK as the 1st of June, 2023, whereas in the United States, it would be read as the 6th of January, 2023. Checking that your website offers the expected formats for your target countries will help to avoid confusion for visitors. For example, if you were promoting the launch date of a new product or sale in an abbreviated numeric date format, you could mislead prospective customers if the date format is not the one they are used to.

A related consideration is the currency in which prices are displayed. While within each country, even where more than one language is spoken, there is likely to be a single official currency, users with bank accounts in other currencies, such as immigrants and visitors from abroad, may wish to see the equivalent cost in those currencies at current exchange rates in order to understand the cost in their currency. Even those who have bank accounts in the national currency where the local version of the site is displayed may want to compare prices with ones offered by suppliers in other countries with different currencies, to check whether the prices are internationally competitive. Offering the ability to toggle the displayed currencies with ease will improve the visitor experience.

9. Think About Measurement and Weight Metrics

The usual metrics for weights and measures vary across the globe. In the UK, the imperial system (which includes inches, feet, yards and miles for distance; quarts, pints and gallons for liquid volumes; and +ounces, pounds, stone and tons for mass) is used as well as the metric system, which is centred upon metres, litres and grammes, respectively. In many European countries, only the metric system is used, while in the USA, in most common applications, only the imperial system is used.

An example of how usage in the UK differs from that in Europe is how speed limits and distances on roads are measured. In the UK, the standard is miles per hour or miles, based on the imperial system for measuring distances. In the rest of Europe it is standard to give it in kilometres per hour and kilometres, in the metric system. Again, to avoid any confusion here, and to save customers the time of converting any units of measure into ones they are more comfortable with, offer the information to them using the standard measurements in their country.

10. Consider Address and Telephone Number Formats

There are also many ways in which address and telephone number details can be formatted, the standard practice for which varies between countries. In the UK, we are used to the person’s title and name on the top line, house number and road (in that order) on the second line (or in some cases house name on the second line and road on the third), the village, town or locality next, the city or nearest town (if the address is in a village or in the countryside) after this, the county next, the postcode next, and, if needed, the country on the final line. This differs from Germany for example in that on German addresses, the street name always comes before the house number on the second line, and the post code comes before the city. An e-commerce business selling online would be wise to make sure the option to add the correct address details in the correct format is possible in order to ensure international orders arrive at their desired order location.

Some e-commerce systems ask for a ‘ZIP code’ when an address is entered, which is called something different in many countries outside the USA. The ZIP code format, which consists of a single five-digit number, is compatible with the format of postcodes for some European countries, such as France and Sweden, but incompatible with the more complex format and variable length of UK postcodes. Any e-commerce software programmed to detect a five-digit ZIP code or the European equivalent is likely to reject UK postcodes comprising up to four letters, three numbers and a space and request that a valid ZIP code is entered. There are other zip / postcode formats in countries around the world too, so it’s important to ensure your site will not block postcodes your customers are using.

Similarly, ensure that there is an option to select the correct country codes for telephone numbers when asking customers to input their phone numbers. Some forms reject phone numbers that do not match the format they expect and so may block users from different countries. You can allow a free-form entering of phone numbers, so that if the customer chooses to prefix their number with their national code, or an opening square bracket before their national code, this is not rejected by the software system. It will then be up to the business / order fulfilment team to interpret and store this in a standard format.

11. Explore Colour and Number Meanings

When selecting colours for a website, it is important to be aware that colours can stir an array of emotions within your audience. It is prudent to research the new market and the culture to establish whether colours of a site will evoke the feelings that you want. If a particular colour used for one country isn’t suitable for another, you may need to amend it for that local version of the site. For example, white in the UK can symbolically signify peace and purity, and is associated with wedding dresses, whereas in Chinese culture, white is the traditional colour of mourning.

Numbers can also hold different connotations with people around the world, with some being considered lucky, some unlucky, and some bad omens, in some countries more than in others. For example, 13 is considered unlucky in the UK, the USA and many European countries, but lucky in Italy. 7 is considered lucky in the UK, the USA, France and the Netherlands, but unlucky in China. 4 is considered lucky in Germany, but unlucky in China, Japan and Korea. 9 is considered lucky in Norway but unlucky in Japan and Korea. Perhaps uniquely, 17 is considered unlucky in Italy; and it is said that all even numbers are considered unlucky in Russia.

If the use of specific numbers is included in any branding or design, checking that they are appropriate for different target markets is advisable.

12. Investigate Web and Sales Copy Styles

Along with all the design aspects, your text copy will also need to be considered when localising a website. Culture will play a part in whether an informal, formal, and hard or soft-sales approach will be correct. A direct translation may not be good enough to make your website copy effective in a different market. A translation agency can advise you on the different options, ranging from direct translation with proofreading, through to copy-editing in the other language to optimise its effectiveness. You may also require a translator who has specific knowledge of your area of business, if there is technical language involved.

We recommend speaking to local staff, sales agents or experts who know the area and who can advise on the style that should be used for website copy. Specially trained translators and copywriters can help you convert existing copy into both the correct language and an appropriate style, whilst maintaining your brand voice.

We can see that that are a whole number of ways in which a website can be localised. Ticking all of these boxes would be preferable; however, this may take a while and involve significant cost overhead. If speed is needed in a business rollout, or budget is constrained, priorities should be identified. Consider which of the changes that could be made would have the most impact and ultimately make the user feel most catered for. This should be your starting point.

At GWS, we have experience in designing and developing responsive websites that can be adapted to suit differing countries’ needs. If you would like to find out more about our services or would like some advice on how to localise your site, get in touch with one of the team today.

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