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5 things to consider before localising your website content

1. Who are you doing it for and what are their needs?

Localisation doesn’t just mean translation. Does your current design and tone of voice speak to the audience you want to reach? Are there graphics or images which could be adapted to better reflect your audience? Do you need to translate the whole website, or could you start with a few core pages, and add more content over time?

Sometimes an idea gets filtered down from above and we’re so focused on execution that we forget to consider the end user. Your boss might say, “We need a new website for Germany”, but that doesn’t mean getting the existing one translated word-for-word and not asking any questions. At least, you’d hope not!

Instead of treating your localisation project as a copy/paste exercise, ask the questions that will help you better understand the purpose behind it. What is the audience like? What do we hope to achieve? What do others do in this space and in this market? This will help you to set your strategy, and to keep focused on the end user.

2. Who will translate the content?

Once you’ve decided on the content you need for your target market, you need to find someone who speaks your target language to translate it! You have several options, including getting a machine to do the job (to potentially disastrous effect), using a professional, human translator, either directly or via an agency, or enlisting the help of your existing team members who happen to speak the required languages.

All options come with varying levels of quality and budget attached. Clearly, using a machine saves a lot of time and therefore cost of ‘man hours’, but you risk the text containing inaccuracies and sounding unnatural, which, in a marketing context, is unacceptable if you want the customer to be left with a positive impression. Getting help from your existing team works too, because along with their language skills they will also be very familiar with the products or services you sell. However, they are not professionally trained, may not be native speakers, and you are usually at the mercy of their existing work schedule and commitments.

Using a professional translator, either directly or via an agency, may cost you more upfront, but will pay off further down the line thanks to the high quality of your content. You’ll also get the job done faster, meaning your project doesn’t drag on for months. Essentially, you get what you pay for!

3. What do you actually need to be translated?

One way to keep costs down when buying translation services or to make the lives of your in-house team easier, is to be super-organised with your content. Lay out a map of all your existing website content either in a simple spreadsheet or in an online tool such as GatherContent, and work out where there are overlaps and repetitions in the content.

Things like addresses or URLs should be removed if possible, so that they don’t count as a word to be translated (most translators charge by the word). Platforms like Drupal will have a list of ‘translatable strings’, so you only need to translate ‘Buy Now’ once, rather than every single time it appears on the website.

4. Does the rest of your marketing collateral match up?

Do you have a style guide or simply a list of phrases or terms that you use consistently throughout your sales and marketing materials? It’s important to make sure this carries through to your localised version, and is adapted to the target culture. For languages with formal and informal ways of saying ‘you’, for example, it’s important to decide upfront which one you will use.

Are there any other complementary materials you’ll need to launch at the same time? A website is not the only window to your company! It’s worth considering localising your printed materials and other online content such as social media.

5. How will you keep it maintained?

Localising your website may be your pet project for this year, but who will maintain it in the years to come? How will you generate new content to add to your blog, for instance? It’s also a good idea to ensure your company has the sales and support staff in place to deal with inbound as well as outbound communications with your new target audience, especially once you start getting sales.

Those with the right language skills might find themselves wearing a few different hats, or helping out as a favour at first. But once again, preparation will be your friend in this case. If you already have a brochure at the ready, and a list of FAQs with standard responses, this should serve to decrease the burden.

There are, of course, many more aspects to website localisation, not least the technical considerations, but hopefully this will enable those of you with limited experience to tackle your project with some degree of confidence!

Feel free to contact me if your business has a German or French website and you need support with localising your content for the US or UK markets.

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