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Top 5 mistakes when localising your website

Many marketers underestimate the challenges involved in localising a website to chase conversions in more than one market. Once an attractive design and compelling English-language copy are in place, it might seem logical simply to translate that text and start selling in other countries.

Unfortunately, this attitude can be dangerous for your brand. An English-market website should not be a blueprint version – it is a market in its own right.

It’s very easy to make major errors of judgement in the website localisation process, presenting your company or product in a way that isn’t appealing – or is possibly even repellent – to the target audience.

In this guide, we’ll be discussing common mistakes made by marketers when adapting web resources for use in new markets. Some of these are based on bad business decisions, while others are innocent oversights. However, all of them are capable of damaging your company’s chances of success in a region.

Using a word-for-word translation

Consumers and businesses alike should be aware through first-hand experience that machine translation is rarely 100% accurate and certainly isn’t acceptable for marketing copy. Your website content needs to be free of grammatical and spelling errors, or else potential customers will be turned away in droves by your unprofessional appearance.

However, it isn’t machine translation alone that poses problems for localisation. Even if a website’s copy is grammatically perfect, it can still be second rate if the translator hasn’t taken into account cultural differences in the target market.

Take the distinction between formal and informal personal pronouns. In English, this linguistic phenomenon has long since passed from day-to-day discourse, but in German ‘sie’ and ‘du’ persist, while the French still distinguish between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’, to name just two examples.

What’s more, while English business culture allows informal modes of address, such as use of a person’s first name, this would be considered overly familiar in Germany.

Failing to localise your SEO strategy

If you’re localising your internet presence in the hope of capturing web traffic and eventually online sales in another country, it’s important to remember that there’s more to this task than making your website reader-friendly. You also need to localise your search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy so that people can find the copy in the first place.

Unfortunately, directly translating keyword phrases is rarely effective. Different markets often use radically different search terms, even when they’re looking for the same product or service. Carrying out the right amount of market research will help you to gain insight into these discrepancies and adapt your SEO strategy accordingly.

Also, you should be prepared to engage with your new customer base through the internet, which might require the production of content – such as blog posts, videos and infographics – that takes their cultural expectations into consideration.

Furthermore, not all countries use the same social channels. Facebook marketing will get you nowhere in China, for example.

Not considering the impact of translation on design

In an ideal world, website localisation should begin during the design process. Why? Because language often expands or contracts in translation. That is to say, the on-screen dimensions of certain words and phrases change when an idea is expressed in a second language.

In short copy, you might need to come up with a new slogan so that your current strapline doesn’t become overlong in translation. Longer paragraphs, however, can vary hugely in size when localised, which could be a serious problem if your web designer has set static sizes for text boxes.

Focusing on text without considering cultural interpretations of images

Website localisation involves more than just rewriting copy to suit a new market. Images are a critical part of a company’s web presence, whether in the form of graphics – such as logos – or stock photography used to sell a self-image or lifestyle. Once again, these can carry completely different connotations in one country compared with another.

Take online dating as an example. In the past few years, such matchmaking services have become more widely accepted by consumers in many markets, but that doesn’t mean they all see dating in the same light. Karl Gregory, managing director of Match.com, drew attention to this in a 2012 interview with the Marketer. “Every territory we operate in approaches its market differently, which is why we have developed local teams on the ground with local expertise to run our international businesses,” he said.

This involves images as well as text-based marketing materials. Australians, according to Mr Gregory, are attracted to fun, upbeat depictions of dating, rather than images of settled, happy couples. People in the UK want an element of humour from matchmaking websites, while in Germany and the US connotations of a person’s success are all-important.

Ignoring a target market’s regulatory requirements

Finally, it can be easy to overlook the fact that website localisation involves paying attention to legal mandates, as well as matters of marketing. Take the so-called ‘cookie law’ as an example, which in 2011 made it a legal requirement in the UK for websites to notify users when they store browsing data in local files. These files, called cookies, are fundamental to the world wide web and now every company that does business in the UK needs to visibly disclaim that they use them.

As this example shows, it’s important that before beginning a website localisation project, you familiarise yourself with the relevant legislation in the target market, no matter how trivial those regulations might appear. Otherwise, you could be risking a legal challenge, not to mention damaging consumer trust by neglecting the requirements of their lawmakers.

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