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The differences between translation and localization—and why you can’t have one without the other

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According to the world’s economic leaders, that old buzzword “globalization” is dead. As of last year’s World Economic Forum, it appears we’re talking these days about Globalization 4.0.

In other words, globalization is still a thing. Actually, it’s even more of a thing—four times as much of a thing, if you will—than it was even in 2018, apparently. 

Does this make a tangible difference as far as the Internet is concerned? The short answer is, absolutely.

The long answer is, absolutely, and here’s why.

From globalization to “glocalization”

Globalization=localization. Sound like a paradox? Stricto sensu, it is: globalization implies increased connectivity and exchanges between people in geographically disparate locations—exchanges of goods, cultures, languages, and everything in between, right down to memes

Localization refers to keeping in touch with the smallest units of community around you. For scale, if Amazon represents the acme of “globalized” commerce, your local mom-and-pop bookstore is the “localized” equivalent.

There are magnitudes of difference between Amazon and your local bookstore, to start with the fact that, for example, Amazon sells books in pretty much every language that’s spoken on Earth—whereas your local bookstore most likely only sells books in the local language(s) of your country or region.

So what’s glocalization? Pretty logical: it’s a compromise between globalization and localization—a sort of in-between. 
Let’s take our Amazon-bookstore scenario: we can see glocalization in action on Amazon’s behalf in the ways that the ecommerce megalith differentiates its site for each country in which it is present.

Not only are Amazon’s international sites automatically set to each country’s official language, but they also offer country-specific content and offers.

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The Amazon France, USA, and Brazil sites have the same basic structure and Amazon branding—but their content is country-adapted. This is a prime (no pun intended) example of glocalization online—which Amazon is able to back up with an offline glocalization component, offering faster delivery of items ordered from within one’s own country.

“Globalization 4.0:” a return to hyper-localization

Perhaps the WEF attendees who proposed “Globalization 4.0” as a new paradigm for thinking the global economy simply felt that “glocalization” has become passé

Whatever the case may be, the guiding principle behind “glocalization” remains valid today. One of the web’s big buzzwords of 2019 was “hyperlocal”—it’s a pretty self-explanatory term, but let’s say that people are fiending for more tailored experience, and this often means bringing things “closer to home” (i.e. to their own culture, or even geographical location).

What’s translation got to do with it?

Basically, translation falls under the umbrella of localization. It plays a big role in the overall localization process, since—logically—adapting your site to different countries implies taking into account the local language

Translation is what bridges the language barrier – it gives the exact possible meaning for the reader and allows them to actually understand your messaging. However, translation is neutral to cultural differences. 

So whilst it gives you a way to speak to new markets…localization focuses on words, colors, clothing, cultural symbols and everything else that will make your brand fit in with your diverse new customer base. 

Let’s take a look at  the main processes that lead to successful localization, and which steps require translation.

The Localization Checklist (and where translation plays in)

1. Translate your website for your local audience

‘Locale’ is a term used to describe a combination of both language and the place where it’s spoken. It essentially goes even further than localizing as it considers how some languages are spoken in many places around the world, for example Spanish. 

In that case, localized content for Colombia would be different than content created for Spain etc. So if you choose to translate your website into Spanish but you’re targeting a specific country in the LATAM market, then fine-tuning your translations to meet certain language nuances will make you stand out and speak to your audience in a better and more localized way. 

We’re pretty big advocates on localization here at Weglot, we’ve gone through the process ourselves, of course. We love the speed automated translation can bring, coupled with how a professional translator can enhance and localize those translations with just a few tweaks. 

It might even stretch further than nuances. Think about cultural differences such as humour. What might be considered funny in one country can certainly not be in another. Even etiquette differs – in many languages there is a formal and informal way of saying ‘you’. 

2. Doubling down (well, kind of) on domain names

Using dedicated URLs that include a language indicator is key to localizing your site. Not only do your website visitors know which language they can expect, but it’s also key to maintaining a good SEO score, too—we’ll go over why in a second.

⚠️Don’t panic: ⚠️distinguishing your domain names does not mean having to make a brand new website.

You can do this, but it will be painstakingly time-consuming and cost you more money (running separate websites is never going to be cheap).

Double down on subdirectories and subdomains

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(Figure: Multilingual websites, Author: Seobility, License: CC BY-SA 4.0.)

There are two surefire ways to stock your content on separate spaces within your domain name, without having to buy and maintain new domains for each language. And, the good news is, if you use Weglot as your translation solution,  you’ll automatically have subdirectories or subdomains without having to do any of the behind the scenes work!

Subdirectories

What it looks like: www.mywebsite.com/fr for a French, www.mywebsite.com/de for German, etc.

What it means: If you think of a domain name as a big mega-folder for your website pages, each subdirectory is a subfolder that contains its own pages. Everything is considered part of the same website by search engines.

Advantages for international SEO: There’s no risk of a Google penalty as the folders are part of the same subdomain.

Subdomains

What it looks like: fr.mywebsite.com for French, de.mywebsite.com for German, etc.

What it means:
Subdomains of the same website are actually technically separate websites, at least from an SEO standpoint.

Advantages for international SEO:
Subdomains are easy to set up and are well received by Google. You also only need to pay for one domain name – bonus! 

With your content on distinguishable, separate subdomains, you can be sure that the search engines in each market you operate in—different countries, linguistic zones, regions, etc—will identify your content as relevant to their users.

3. Localizing your images

It’s not just the content of your website that plays a role in your localization strategy. Changing images or even videos for your different chosen markets is an essential part of localization. 

This can be both culturally and contextually. You’ll need to research what is culturally appropriate for each new target market and also take into consideration different seasonal differences e.g. Christmas in Europe will usually mean images of snow but that wouldn’t make sense if you’re targeting the Australian market.

4. Calculating currency and processing payments

In a way, converting currency constitutes a form of translation: moving content from one cultural context for another. This is, evidently, mostly only an issue if your site is commercial in nature.

Think of it this way: if your international customers don’t know how much they’ll be paying, in their own currency, for what you’re trying to sell them…they’re unlikely to hit “Add to cart.”

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Weglot client Crabtree & Evelyn edited their language switcher to include the currency of the country you’re buying in.

No matter what site-building platform you use, there are plenty of third-party apps—and plugins, if you’re on WordPress/WooCommerce—that make currency conversion a breeze. 

5. Scaling your support

Whatever your product or service is, you most likely offer some form of customer service (it’s essential to pretty much all businesses in this day and age).

Of course, unless you’re a high-powered global business, it’s unlikely that you have 24/7 support across all of your markets, in all of your customers’ languages.

But, translating your help centre is just one of the easy ways to offer some form of customer support in the language of your customer (made possible by Weglot in just a few clicks).

Translate but always localize

The differences between translation and localization are clear. And, what’s certain is that you can’t have one without the other if you wish to truly personalize your customer experience per market.

Let’s quickly recap:

  • Language is neutral to cultural differences – using professional translators to fine tune your automated translations gives you clearer messaging 
  • Your URL matters both for SEO bots and your customers 
  • It’s not just words – translate your images for even better localization 
  • If you’re selling online adapting your site to show the right currency per country will lead to a higher conversion rate
  • Customer support – translating your help centre will give a better user experience to your new markets

Also, make sure to check our video for a quick sum up!

Interested in how Weglot can give you the tools to both translating and localizing your website? Try our 10-day free trial!

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