Software companies have long embraced a two-stage process of taking software global — a process that applies equally well to web globalization.
The first stage is internationalization, which involves redesigning your website (and re-engineering underlying software) so that it can be easily localized to support any potential market. After your website is world ready, you will then localize it for one or more markets. It is during the localization phase that translation, if needed, occurs.
This article includes tips that fall in the internationalization phase — a phase often overlooked by many companies in their rush to go global. But by taking care of these big issues now, you’ll find that localization is much easier and more cost effective down the road.
1. Design with the world in mind.
You need a web template that is flexible enough to allow for local content while still maintaining global consistency. Shown here are the home pages of Amazon.com and Amazon.de. Notice how the layout remains consistent, but it also displays locally relevant content.
Tip: Plan for text expansion. Flexibility is essential for a global template, particularly in the header and menus. That’s because text may expand as it is translated into another language. For example, the phrase “How to Buy” may double in length when translated into German: Informationen zum Kauf. Shown below in this menu, the text requires two lines in German:
English text can expand by 150% or more when translated into German and other European languages. When translating into Asian scripts, your text may actually contract, but you may need to increase the point size by a point or two to ensure legibility.
2. Make your website translation-ready.
If you’ve ever tried Google Translate on a web page, you may have found that some content remains un-translated. Odds are this content has been embedded within images.
Tip: Keep text out of images. As a general rule, try to avoid embedding text within images. Not only do you prevent users from self-translating your website using Google Translate, you make it more challenging to translate your own website. Translation vendors can easily localize these visuals by opening the images in software like Photoshop or Illustrator, but this is expensive and time-consuming. And for each additional language you wish to support, these images can quickly get expensive to localize. Instead, rely on style sheets to overlay text on top of images.
3. Avoid visual pitfalls.
By editing the text to be world-ready, you’re halfway towards avoiding any “international incidents.” But you also need to take a close at your visuals. All cultures have their “hot button” visuals that, at a minimum, be controversial, but at worst inflame customers. Hand gestures, for example, carry significant cultural meaning. The two-finger peace sign is a popular and peaceful hand gesture, but if you reverse that sign, you send a very negative message in many countries. (See 10 Things that Americans Don’t Realize Are Offensive to Brits.)
Tip: Avoid stock photos of people. For example, hand gestures, postures, and clothing can all offend someone somewhere. So if you can avoid using stock photos of people on your website, do so. If you must feature photos of people, focus on creating locally relevant photos so as to truly appeal to the market.
Thinking globally requires stepping outside of your own cultures and viewing your website and content through the eyes of people who have an entirely different cultural background.
4. Make your text translation ready.
If your website proclaims that customers will “hit a home run” with your product, keep in mind that this line may be meaningless in markets where baseball is not a major sport. It’s important to audit your English “source language” text before sending it to translators to ensure that it is translated effectively and efficiently. Professional translators will often query culturally specific phrases and terms, but this can be time consuming.
Also know, as “universal” English, this process entails removing any culturally specific terminology, removing humor, and keeping sentences short and direct (to enable more efficient translation).
Tip: Avoid humor. Humor is extremely difficult to translate into other languages, let alone other cultures. If your company’s writing style tends to be humorous or silly, you don’t have to change styles for your domestic market. But this is where you’ll want to first internationalize your text before sending it to translators.
So what if you like the humorous way your US website addresses users? That’s fine. Leave it as is. But you’ll want to build in a process of English Internationalization.
5. Develop a global gateway strategy.
It would be a tragedy if you invested so much time and money localizing a website and nobody could find it. But this often happens when companies don’t develop effective global gateway strategies. A global gateway strategy ensures that people can find their local websites easily, particularly when they land on the .com website.
Tip: Register country codes. Country codes, such as .de for Germany or .jp for Japan, function as local “front doors” around the world.
And keep in mind many people around the world will first visit the .com home page, and you’ll want to direct them quickly to the localized website. Ideally, you’ll want a link to the localized websites in the header of your website. A globe icon is the ideal icon to link to the global gateway menu; shown here is the icon used on the GE.com website.
While these tips are by no means comprehensive, they will help you get started on the right foot. The more “world ready” questions you ask early on, the fewer localization mistakes you’ll make later on.