If you’re doing business internationally, the concept of having a website available in only one language is a thing of the past! To establish a powerful digital footprint and effectively showcase your business to potential customers in different regions, your website should be available in the languages of all your target markets. 

Whether users are visiting your website to gain intel, enjoy your content, research a product or service, or make a purchase, they are likely to be satisfied if your website is in a language they can at least partially understand. After all, 65% of internet users prefer content in their language, even if it’s of poor quality. 

The process of making a website available in different languages is called localisation. If you’ve never ventured into something similar, localising your website can feel like a daunting task or incur significant expense if not managed properly. That’s why, in this blog post, we’ve condensed all our experience into nine practical steps for you to follow. 

 1. Know your Content Management System 

Your first priority should be to get a grasp of your CMS and the options it offers for creating and managing multilingual content. Some platforms like HubSpot have readily available solutions for translating content, whereas others like WordPress require you to install third-party plugins. 

If you’re using WordPress and you’re serious about your international marketing strategy, we recommend using the plugin WPML, which makes importing and exporting your files for translation extremely easy. 

If the budget or scope of your intended localisation process is limited, you might want to opt for the free version of Polylang – but bear in mind that this would impose limitations on your strategy if volumes increased or if you decided to add more languages. 

What is a CMS?
A Content Management System (CMS) is a software application that allows you to create, edit, update and publish web pages without the need to alter the code. WordPress is the most popular CMS, powering around 43% of all websites on the internet.

2. Define your target languages 

Figuring out which languages you should localise into isn’t always easy. In most cases, this decision will include a myriad of aspects, for instance the sales potential in the target market or your existing international customer base.  

You might also want to consider your current web stats – you can use the location report function in Google Analytics to see where your current visitors originate from. So, if 30% of your web traffic comes from Germany but your default language is English, this might be another influential factor in your decision-making process. 

3. Select the pages you want to translate

The next step in your website localisation journey is understanding which content you want to translate. Ideally, and for the sake of a positive user experience, it’s always best to localise all your web pages. However, time and money might play a role in determining whether this is possible.

If you have to prioritise certain content, we recommend selecting a range of the most relevant pages for your business (homepage, solutions or product pages). In the case of an ecommerce website, we suggest localising your best-selling products first.

What does coverage mean in localisation?
Just like network or area coverage, it’s important to consider coverage in localisation. While some of your web content helps you increase your brand awareness, other elements, such as case studies, help during customer deliberation. When it comes to web localisation, you’ll need to consider whether you’ve offered potential customers in other regions enough content to confidently move through all the stages of the customer journey – from awareness to consideration to purchase.

4. Identify other assets that require localisation

Modern websites are full of images, graphics and diagrams. It’s important to remember that these resources also require localisation!

First, we recommend always splitting your graphic artwork between those with and without embedded text. For those with embedded text, you’ll need to translate the content and then have a graphic artist recreate the image for the target culture.

What about the artwork without embedded text? As always, it depends on how comprehensive you want the localisation to be. In some cases, the imagery on your website might not be the best match in terms of social, ethnic or cultural norms in the potential target market – if so, we recommend fundamentally adapting your graphic artwork.

If you’re unsure about how to handle the localisation of graphic assets, it’s always best to consult with a localisation provider.

5. Clarify terminology with your localisation provider

If your web-based content contains technical terms or expressions, it’s best to compile a glossary of all these terms and their respective definitions. This will speed up the translation process and will ensure that your translations are consistent across the different pages and languages of your website.

6. Plan the process with your localisation service provider

Once you’re familiar with your CMS, have defined your target languages for localisation and selected the content you want to translate, it’s time to reach out to a language service provider.

Can’t you just hire a freelancer? Technically that’s an option, but it’s important to consider that website localisations are among the most complex projects in the translation industry, so we recommend partnering with a company that has a proven track record in this field.

Once you’ve chosen your partner, we recommend having a chat about the localisation process itself. Beyond translation and revision, will it also include steps such as multilingual keyword research or in-context review? It’s best to clarify all these points at the very outset.

7. Avoid sending your content as a Microsoft Word file 

This point has made it onto our list because there is a common issue faced by localisation providers – some clients send their web localisation request together with a single Word file containing all their content from every single in-scope page. Unfortunately, this is bad practice as it creates two major hurdles:

  1. It’s far trickier and more time-consuming for you to reimport the content upon completion than if the content had been provided in an XLIFF – this can be downloaded directly from your CMS (or a suitable alternative) and reuploaded once translated.
  2. A Word file is often created by copying and pasting content from the website’s user interface. This doesn’t include metadata, which is extremely important for creating translations that retain value when it comes to SEO.
What’s an XLIFF?
XLIFF is short for XML Localisation Interchange File Format. It’s an incredibly useful format created to standardise the way that localisable data is passed between tools during the localisation process. XLIFFs are widely used and supported by most translation tools nowadays.

8. SEO & keywords 

When it comes to multilingual SEO, one major consideration worth highlighting is that the SEO of your translated pages can only be as good as the SEO in your original content. In other words, if you haven’t optimised your source content for search engines, it is very unlikely to be optimised once translated. If the preparation is in place, though, we recommend submitting the following metadata together with each of your pages:

  • Focus keyword
  • SEO title
  • SEO metadescription

It’s crucial that your content is translated using the right keywords if you want to leverage the benefits of organic traffic in the long run. If this all seems a little alien, we recommend visiting this blog post, where we explain everything you need to know to nail your SEO strategy for international markets.

9. In-context review

Once the initial translation process is complete and you’ve imported the translated content into your website, it’s time for a final test. In this phase, we check how the translated content looks and functions in the end user interface.

How does this work? Best practice is to provide your language service provider with the URLs of all localised pages. This way, they will be able to check layout, fonts, images, headings and figures to guarantee that everything has been implemented as intended by the linguist. They will write a report listing any errors or issues, which will allow you to delegate to a relevant expert to make any necessary edits on the translated pages.

And don’t forget that the in-context review needs to be carried out separately on desktop and mobile devices!

Web localisation