Website Localization – Part 1

Nowadays, The Internet and websites in particular, represent an invaluable way for companies to offer their services and products.

The possibility of offering websites to an international audience multiplies potential clients for a company, as well as potential revenues. The relevant internationalization and localization of a company’s website is therefore not only a matter of corporate image, but also of business strategy.

Let’s introduce the meaning of Website Localization as the process of adapting it to the requirements (linguistic, functional and cultural) of the target market.

When we mention localizing a website or a webpage, we refer to adapting it to the linguistic, functional and cultural requirements of the target market. This may vary from basic translation of the online content, to completely redesigning the entire website to cope with the cultural or legal requirements of the target market.

But why should a company embark on the localization of their website? Is it really worth it? Doesn’t everybody read and understand English in this globalized world?

The website of a company is one of the main ways of communicating with the target audience and it may be a key element when entering a new international market. The International Data Corporation, a global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets, reports that web users are up to four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in the customer‘s language.

Therefore, localization of the website is an issue that has to be considered carefully as part of the strategy of a company.

But the decision to localize is not as straight forward as it may seem, and many aspects need to be considered:

  • What level of localization is going to be achieved?
  • Is all the content going to be localized?

Different content such as corporate information, product and services or service and support may need to be localized in different ways. It is often the case that not all pages of a website need to be translated, and “local” information (for instance special offers or job vacancies) might not be relevant for the main site. Therefore, as we will see, it is very important to keep this in mind when designing the website and decide which pages are going to form the central core and which will be part of the local content.

Another important decision is whether to translate into all languages, or only to the market-relevant ones? It might be a good strategy to establish language tiers depending on the goals of the company, and translate certain contents only to certain language tiers.

Finally, companies can use ROI as an indicator on whether to take the final decision to localize their website or not. In this type of analysis, the costs that have to be invested to implement and maintain the localized version measured against benefits such as higher revenues, increased user satisfaction, or other benefits such as the international brand consistency and the trust in local markets. If this analysis proves positive, the company should seriously consider localizing their website.

Let’s now explain some basic concepts in order to understand the structure of the World Wide Web.

The server is the computer that hosts (stores) the web documents and makes them available to the Internet users. Basically, Internet is a network of hosts that store data whereas clients are the computers that make requests to obtain that data.

URL is the acronym of Uniform Resource Locator and is the unique address of a resource on the Internet.

  • The URL is thus used to find the data we are looking for.
  • A URL is made up by a scheme (such as http or https).
  • Plus, the domain or virtual host on the Internet and the path of the resource.
  • The domain are the “words” used to identify a host or server (instead of using the IP address of the computer).
  • The Domain is composed by an arbitrary combination of characters followed by a dot and a top-level domain such as a regional domain or a domain such as .com, .edu or .org.

We can define a webpage as a single file that can be in different formats, but mostly in HTML. A website is a set of webpages that can also contain images, videos, animations, applications etc., interrelated by links with a common topic and hosted in the same server under the same domain.

Webpages may be static or dynamic. A static webpage contains static content that does not change on a regular basis, while in dynamic webpages, the user interacts with the website and content is created dynamically. For instance, when we are requesting flight schedules data is collected from a database and a file containing the data is generated “on-the-fly.”

The architecture of websites is becoming increasingly sophisticated. While ten years ago a website would comprise basic HTML and other files in one or more directories, a modern website may have a database for either specific (or all) content, or may use a Content Management System.

Structure of Multilingual Websites

  • Files
  • Folders
  • Content Management System(CMS)
  • Structure “Central Core and Local Market”
  • Storing of localized version
  • Access to localized versions

herefore, it is very important to design the structure of the website before translation, in order to reduce potential localization problems such as linking, references to other files or creating, deleting and updating information. Areas such as technical complexity, download times (especially considering international markets where Internet access is expensive), and the content layout need to be examined. If this job is not done properly, the process of converting a monolingual site into a bilingual or multilingual site can present difficult challenges.

When designing a website for localization, it is important to distinguish between the core content (which is relevant to all markets) and the locale-specific content, since this will imply different localization workflows. Secondly, it is necessary to establish some type of file-folder architecture, such as storing different file formats in different folders, with a folder for each language. This can help the translator, project manager or web coordinator maintain the site more easily, by being able to synchronize the updates across all languages at once. Another option is to store locally different languages on the same page, which is especially useful for countries that have more than one national language. A third approach is to store each language site in its own specific country. This makes maintenance a slower, more cumbersome procedure, but may speed up download times locally. It is especially important here to maintain a rigorous control on the locally developed content in order to avoid inconsistencies among different countries. Finally, another way of making a localized version available is to design the webpage to detect and use the language settings of the operating system where it is going to be viewed.

An organized folder structure to store translated files is especially important since there is a lot of file transfer involved in localizing a website. As the webpages are translated and the site is updated, controlling the file transfer procedure becomes necessary.

This is the end of the first part of Website Localization. In the second part we’ll talk about technical aspects of Website localization.

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