Multilingual Website Design With Translation and Localization

We live in an increasingly global and digital society. As such, translation, internationalization and globalization through localization strategies are becoming increasingly common and urgent. The coronavirus crisis has done nothing if not hastened the pace at which people and businesses alike are moving online. Translation services may be the first thing some internet marketers will think of when it comes to expanding online target demographics, but localization, internationalization and globalization are all part of the more complete online experience to reach out to larger markets online.

The most notable benefit of the digital age and the increase of people using the internet, is of course, the ability to reach out to a more global audience from literally the very first day. However, while this is certainly possible, it also means not only getting your content out in front of everyone, but also ensuring that people from all over the world can not only discover your website, but can be influenced and informed by the content that you provide.

This means that you will likely need a multilingual website, will need to use some translation services, and must implement viable localization strategies if you want to capture a global market. You will also need to be able to get your information into all of the relevant search engines so that your potential new customers can find you amid all of the other similar websites. The first step in this process is getting a better understanding of these terms and exactly what it is that they mean to begin with.

What are Internationalization and Globalization

Internationalization and globalization are the processes through which you will be able to address a more global marketplace and to sell your products or services at the global level. In their most basic form, both internationalization and globalization are the means by which you make anything international or global in nature.

This could include website internationalization, app internationalization or even the internationalization process for hardware devices. These strategies are important for everything from the content you create to the ability to establish a multichannel user experience so that your customers can transition smoothly not only between locations, but between devices as well.

It is increasingly common for people to begin a web search at home, looking for the products or services that they are seeking out for purchase. They may then transition to a computer system that is integrated into their vehicle, and from there, move to a mobile device all before making any final purchases. This is more commonly referred to as a multichannel user experience, but must be included in the internationalization and globalization process.

Different devices will have different screen resolutions and will show different perspectives to the end users. Responsive templates should help to overcome these issues, regardless of whether someone is searching the website on a desktop at home or while viewing your website on a cell phone when they are physically entering a traditional store location.

Ultimately, both internationalization and globalization are about establishing yourself with a universal presence that will make the end user feel relaxed and at home, no matter where they may be.

What is Translation and Why is it Important

In theory at least, website translation (or any other translation for that matter) is a relatively simple concept. Words in one language are exchanged with the equivalent word in another language. Simple. Right? Unfortunately, reality is rarely as simple as theory, and rarely is this more obvious than it is in the world of translation, especially when working across unique variations of the very same language.

There are occasions when a very literal translation and interpretation is not only important, but necessary for the accurate and complete exchange of information. The most common cases such as this would be those for medical interpreters and legal document translations. Both the medical and legal fields have very specific terminology that will have an equally precise translation into any other language.

This is not always the case however, and the reason that multilingual website plugins or other machine translations are rarely an adequate tool for website translation. There are even a great many words that have no literal translation, where only the meaning and context can be translated, despite the lexical limitations of the conversational verbiage.

Conversational communications are much more subtle and nuanced. There are many different expressions and localized vernacular that would change the entire meaning of a conversation were they to be translated literally. Generational differences occur even within more localized geographical areas.

Think back to when you were a small child with your grandparents, or consider your children or grandchildren if you are old enough to have had them. Your grandparents may have thought something was “cool” or “far out” while your parents may have considered those concepts to be “totally rad dude”. Where you are from, do you drink “pop” or is “pop” just an old person or perhaps a parent?

One of the biggest drawbacks of machine translations and even online translation services such as Google translate, is the fact that they can provide little more than a literal translation. Machine translations in their present form have no capacity to understand the full concept of conversation or its context in terms of the language used.

If anything, most of the free online translation services are only worse in this regards. To be fair however, Google does seem to be making at least some major advances in this regards and even allows for humans to work and interact with Google translate. It is hoped that in this way, the free online translations will become better over the course of time.

In terms of website translations alone, these matters may not be quite so complicated, though they can still present many problems for multilingual websites and their owners. Even then however, the many different translation plug-ins for the website builders and Content Management Systems like Word Press will not often provide a satisfactory solution for website translations either.

If the intention is to learn how to build a multilingual website to attract a more global audience and expand the business to the international level, these concerns in regards to more specific translation services will come into play in terms of scale as will be seen later in this article, and in terms of localization.

What is Localization and Why is it Important

At the very heart of localization for your multilingual website will be the website translation, but that is only one part of the equation, and certainly not the sum total of the elements of localization.

Localization is more akin to translation on steroids, with not only an intimate mastery of both languages in the translation pair, but an in-depth and comprehensive cultural understanding of the different locations at the same time.

Furthermore, localization is just as important in domestic markets as it is in international markets and for multilingual websites. In the Northeastern United States, you may see references to “you’se guys” whereas in the Southern United States these same people would be addressed as “y’all”.

In some locations people prefer pizza while in others, people may be more familiar with “pie” or “pizza pie” as it is sometimes referred to in different areas. Some areas may prefer gluten-free crusts or vegan pizza. Other locations may prefer pepperoni or even anchovies. Google trends based on geographic locations is certainly a good source but not the only one by any stretch of the imagination.

What about pictures on your multilingual website? Are any of them going to be offensive to anyone who may be reading your site from a different country? Hey, it is just some people out grilling steaks and having a good time gathering around the barbecue right? Nothing offensive about that is there? Unless of course you come from some place where the cows are considered to be sacred animals.

There are areas where showing someone the sole of the foot is considered an insult. The ubiquitous “thumbs up” in the US may be seen as offensive in some locations around the world. Localization for the multilingual website involves knowing as much as possible about the local culture, sources of pride and even social and cultural taboos.

Anything and everything that could be considered so offensive in nature should be avoided altogether on the multilingual website and even in most communications and marketing efforts, as well as in any of the website content marketing.

The entire purpose behind localization is not to cause offense. Rather, you should use the multilingual website translations to speak to your new audience in a language they will understand and use the localization strategies to form a more personal and emotional bond.

Translation, Localization and Content Scale

If you have built different versions of the multilingual website with separate areas for each translation, and use IP based 301 redirects, you may be able to separate the content well enough to avoid causing offense and risk losing any substantial portion of the global market.

As this process is rather technical, it may not be the ideal solution for someone learning how to set up their first multilingual website, translation, localization and all. At this stage of multilingual website design, the scale of the content will come in to play and be a very important factor for the overall, international success of the website.

There are 54 nations that use English as an official language. Each one of these nations will also have their own variation of English, including more localized vernacular, patterns of speech, expressions and even placeholder language. If the idea of building 54 different websites just for variations does not put you off, it should.

The multilingual website should serve as the online “physical location”. The website is a large scale effort and the website translation should focus solely on the parent language. The content on the website should not contain anything that may be offensive to any of the targeted demographic, no matter where they may come from.

This same principle will remain in place for virtually all of the web content no matter how many languages the translations may include. Content that is generally available on the internet should focus generally on the broader parent language. In terms of more specific markets, the content translation should also focus on localization.

Unified localization strategies become more a part of the content marketing and translation as the focus of the advertising narrows down to a more specific audience. Some examples of this can be seen in email marketing campaigns, Google ad campaigns and other areas where the content will be restricted to a precisely targeted audience and location.

Translation, Localization and Content Multi-purposing

Content and website translations offer an excellent opportunity to integrate the localization strategies into the overall marketing mix. Cultural considerations, local landmarks and even local vernacular can be used in the overall translation, thus allowing for a somewhat more personal and emotional appeal to the target demographic. This also opens up the door to increasing the visibility of the website and expanding the target demographic even further through a process known as multi-purposing of content.

Given the popularity and efficacy of video marketing, your personal tour of multi-purposing content will begin with video translations. Given the nature of most video editors, it may be tempting to hard code the subtitles directly into the video, but this is not a good idea. Anyone can load closed captioning files with their videos, and translate that into as many languages as they want, but why would they want to do that?

Well first of all, the automated CC files for YouTube are not quite as dependable as Google Translate and errors are common. Second, a lot of people actually watch videos with no sound, and having the closed caption files from the video translation and subtitles will lower video views.

Having the CC srt files alone will allow for the video translation to create CC files for as many languages as you want to target. Since the srt files used for closed captioning are actually indexed by the search engines, including the internal Google search engine for YouTube, the keywords the video ranks for will increase in each language.

Video transcription services will also allow for the content to be used as an article on the website, or for posting on other sites linking back to the website too. The additional link love will again serve to increase the domain authority and the visibility and ranking of your website on the search engine results page.

The same principles work with podcasts, where some people enjoy reading the text of the podcast in an audio transcription file or article on site. Voiceover artists or interpreters can be used to provide the actual podcasts in numerous different languages, while document translation services can be used to create transcriptions or articles in as many different languages as desired as well.

If there is any real concern, it should be ensuring that a professional translation company that specializes in localization services be hired to do the work. There are many benefits to using professional translation services including being able to properly budget, and getting guarantees for the translation and localization work that is to be done.

One poorly translated page or one picture that seemed innocuous at first, could literally kill even the most well designed and user friendly multilingual website. When the world is literally at your doorstep, the last thing you want to do is to drive them away. Professional translation and localization services will ensure that you can build a personal and emotional bond with your target demographic, making your job of closing the deal all the easier.