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What is localization? And how to get started

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What is localization? And is localization the same as translation? And how does localization work in the globalization mix? Let’s find out. But first, let’s look at what localization is.

We’ve all been there. You’ve landed on a website and it just doesn’t ‘speak’ to you. It’s not in your native language. It displays products in a different currency. And perhaps even images just fail to connect with you. All in all, it’s a pretty alien experience to most of us.

If you’re a business owner, you won’t want your potential customers to feel the same way either when they land on your website! And to avoid offering such experiences, you need to invest in localization.

Today we’re going to talk about what localization really is, how to create localized user experiences, and what quality assurance steps you need to take to maximize your return on investment when localizing your website.

What is localization?

Localization (also referred to as l10n in some business contexts) is defined as adapting a product, service, or offering to meet the needs of those from a particular market or locale. 

Why l10n? That’s because localization is just one of a range of different forms of language services businesses hoping to expand their reach globally need to get to grips with, collectively falling under the acronym GLIT (globalization, internationalization, localization, and translation).

  • What is globalization? Globalization is the increasing interconnection of the world through trade, communications, and travel. Think of how you can buy products “Made in China” anywhere in the world, or how no matter where you travel, you’re almost certain to find a McDonald’s.
  • Internationalization (i18n), on the other hand, is the strategy of developing products and services to be as adaptable as possible across different cultures. For example, this might mean:
    • Creating marketing materials without written text so they can be understood wherever they’re offered.
    • Building user interfaces that have enough space to accommodate the different script styles of the world’s languages.
    • Building electrical products with transformers so that they can be used in any of the world’s different electrical systems.
  • In contrast, localization (l10n) is the strategy of adapting products and services for specific locales and cultures. Localization services can include anything from software localization (localizing the user interface of a software for a new audience user base), simple written text localization (like personalizing a product page’s copy for a certain language), or projects like localizing mobile apps. A single localization project for a software company might include all of these.
  • Finally, translation (t9n) is the conversion of written, spoken, or signed text from one language to another.

As you can see, the GLIT family are not independent of one another – rather, they make up aspects of a coherent whole. Translation, internationalization and localization go hand-in-hand as part of a successful approach to globalization.

The main goal of localization is to give your product, offering, service, or even just simply your content, the look and feel of one created specifically for your new target market, irrespective of their native language, local culture, or religion. 

Clearly, one of the main ways you can communicate with local markets in different countries is by translating your content into your target languages. However, localization is not just translation. Whilst you’d be right in thinking translation plays a key role in the localization process, there are also other crucial aspects that include:

  • Adapting images, videos, graphics, and even emojis 😉 to resonate with the target culture
  • Finetuning content to suit cultural, religious, or general preferences 
  • Modifying website design, layout, and formatting to allow for translated texts that read from right-to-left
  • Offering local currencies and units of measure
  • Localizing date formats and phone numbers
  • Using the correct naming conventions, as different languages put first and last names in different orders
  • Adhering to local regulations and legal requirements

Essentially, successful localization encompasses all the steps taken to improve the user experience of a given consumer group in a specific locale.

What is localization? To make your product experience feel native to anyone who interacts with it.

What is the purpose of localization?
Why is localization important? 

Localization is offering your users a localized business experience: one that they can seamlessly understand. If you’re preparing to take your company global, you need to localize. Localization helps you communicate with your new audience on a meaningful level, rather than simply through translation. This, in turn, leads to deeper connections, more loyalty, and greater customer satisfaction.

Entering new markets 

Not every product or service, in its original form, is an automatic good fit for new markets. McDonald’s would have struggled to enter the Indian market, in which the majority of consumers don’t eat beef, had it not prioritized chicken and paneer burgers. Starbucks weathered a costly failure in Australia by not paying attention to local coffee tastes.

By paying attention to the needs of your new target audience and using good localization practices, you can ensure you hit the ground running in new markets. Good localization means you’ll avoid any potential cultural misunderstandings that could have a big impact on your brand.

Consumers are more likely to buy from stores that use their native language.

Competitive edge 

Businesses that localize their offerings are more successful than those that choose to ignore local cultural norms and needs. With localization, you can ensure your business stays dynamic and competitive in a crowded market.

Improved Customer Experience

No one likes going to a website only to find it full of missing characters, text displaying awkwardly, and graphics in a foreign language. Visitors used to English pubs will be confused that they can’t order at the bar if you open a branch of your Spanish bar chain in the UK. Shoppers interested in your clothing line will be put off if they don’t understand the sizes you’re offering.

Localization offers you the chance to ensure that, wherever they are, consumers always have a positive experience with your brand, which leads to…

Customer Loyalty

People are most loyal to businesses and services that they feel care about them and their needs. Another interaction with Faceless MegaCorp (TM) doesn’t inspire loyalty; an interaction with a brand that understands local customs, holidays, and other quirks, will feel much more “right” and encourage customers to return again and again. And this ultimately leads to…

Increased revenue 

Selling in new markets, to new customers, means that, if you’ve done localization right, you’ll have no trouble growing your revenue.

After all, the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) even released a study showing that on average, every €1 spent on localizing your website yields €25 in return.

So what’s the difference between localization and translation? 

We’ve added this here because often, both translation and localization can be misunderstood and get used interchangeably, but these terms actually mean two completely different things. 

Localization, as we mentioned above, is the entire process of adapting a product and service for a particular locale. Translation, however, is simply the process of translating text from one language to another.

Don’t get us wrong, translation is a crucial part of any localization process because it simply bridges the language barrier, so whilst you can now talk to your new target audience – further localization of your products or services is advisable to take into account cultural and societal attitudes too. 

The difference between localization and translation

Next steps for localization 

So, what’s next? If you’re ready to start your global expansion, applying localization to your overall business strategy will help you with this exact process.

Understanding the importance of localization is just the first step – next, you’ll need to find the right technology to help you along the way and make the process as easy as possible.

But we’re not done yet, as we’ve got some important further reading to get you started:

What is localization? Check out this quick video:

Localization will ultimately help you expand your reach and make your new customers feel more at home. Discover Weglot and try our 10-day free trial to help kick start your localization project. 

About the author
The best way to understand the power of Weglot is to see it for yourself. Get your website multilingual live in minutes.
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