Updated: Mar 26, 2022
If you're a business owner thinking of expanding to foreign markets, you need to make sure your local customers will see, hear and understand you. This is where you need your website localization, to make sure that:
You speak to your customers in their language;
You address them in an appropriate manner (some cultures are extremely cautious about formal/informal person addressing);
You respect their culture (no jokes about mafia for Italy please!)
On the surface, it’s a purely linguistic task: translate or trans-create (basically, re-create with the local flavor) your content into non-English languages, considering the appropriate tone of voice, customer persona, and regional culture.
However, a startup localization journey also implies a big chunk of technical and organizational work. No matter if you have a simple landing page or a complex online store - before any translations happen, you'll need to find your answers to the following questions:
Which languages do you need?
This one is pretty easy. Define the target markets (countries, regions) you’re going for and take it from there. If you have a long list of potential languages to support, prioritize them and start with a few. Later you’ll add or remove them, depending on the metrics you’ll use to define a language “successful”.
How to enable new languages on your website?
Here, the answer depends on how your website has been created. Did you have a team of developers who created your website? If yes, add a respective milestone to your engineering team roadmap: Support X, Y, and Z languages by the end of Q3.
If your website has been created using some website builder, you’ll need to check your website builder settings for languages configuration.
Note: Not all online website builders support multilingual functionality. In some cases, you’ll have to migrate the whole website to an alternative platform, in other cases you might try installing additional modules or addons for multilingual support.
Where do I translate all the website menus, strings, and buttons?
Adding a language switcher to your website doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to translate every line of your content right there on the website (though it would be nice, hehe). Translations are typically handled separately, via the website admin panel or visual editor. Some website builders (like PrestaShop) allow doing translations in the admin panel. There you can manually translate every single string into every language you need.
Some website builders (like Webflow or WordPress) have integrations with translation management systems (TMS). It means that you can translate all your website content in a professional translation tool, using translation memories, termbases, hotkeys, and even machine translatio. This is a professional setup and an industry standard.
Check available integrations for your website builder. if it has an integration with some TMS, you can handle all your translations needs there in one place (mobile, marketing, and customer support content, too). Integration with a TMS also means there’s an automated flow of English strings export to TMS and translations import to your website.
No strings copy-pasting! You do have better ways of spending hours of your life.
Speaking of export and import, some website builders (like Wix) can export all your website strings for translation to one file. Check if this option is available, too. In this case, you can just send all the strings in just one file to a translation agency, and then easily import translations to your website.
Which exactly content do you need to be translated? Which pages? Why?
Think of the metrics you’ll use to define which content needs to be localized and which not. Which pages generate the most traffic, conversions, or revenue? Which pages can you translate technically? Which pages you’re legally obliged to have available in every supported language? Which pages are barely seen by users? Which pages are so old you’ve already forgotten you have them? Do a little revision of what you have, and set the priorities to start your localization journey.
Note: translation of every word will cost you money. Think about what you really need to get translated, and what can be skipped.
How will you keep your website up-to-date in all the supported languages?
Every time you publish some updates on your website, you’ll need to update all the lanague versions, too. Think of how you need these updates to be published: simultaneously in all the languages or not? Perhaps you’ll want to release all the updates in English first (or your other main language) first, and then do the other languages later?
Remember: Translation always takes time. If you want your website to be always up-to-date in all the supported languages, plan some time for translation before you publish new content in English.
Where do you get the translations?
There’s a common belief that anyone natively speaking some language, can translate into this language. For simple texts like buttons “Done” and “OK” this might be true. For anything more complex, you’d better deal with a good translator skilled in your specific domain. Quality is never cheap, but it’s worth it. You can hire translators directly or start ordering your languages from a translation agency you trust.
If the budget is tough, you can of course try to do some translations yourself, or maybe ask your employees or friends to do it.
Pro tip: Make a list of key terms and concepts specific to your website and agree on how exactly they will sound in every target language. And make sure you stick to this agreement, for the sake of consistency and good user experience.
Who will do all the language management? Languages, deadlines, releases, costs, quality, etc?
Regardless of your role in the company (founder, CEO, Marketing or Product Manager, etc.) you already have a lot on your plate. Localization is a niche that’s better to be given to professionals who’ll solve all the organizational, technical and linguistic questions. If you’re not interested in counting characters in translated email subject lines, testing your website in all the supported languages, or in searching for good linguists to do the translations, you should probably consider hiring a Localization Manager.
Note: Localization Managers specify in managing localization projects, coordinating translators, validating the quality, collaborating with engineering, product, and marketing teams, budgeting, reporting to stakeholders, and saving the world.
If you’re not sure about hiring a full-time specialist, start with a consultant to find out the best options for managing localization of your website and all the other content. You send emails to your customers, right? :)