Digital globalisation has dramatically lowered the barriers to entering new markets. But creating a successful multi-lingual site is far more complex than you might think.
Visit the regional versions of the McDonald’s website and the pages you see will have numerous differences – and not just in the language used. Everything from the layout to imagery and symbols will have subtle variations.
There’s good reason for this. McDonald’s, like most successful global brands, understands the importance of tailoring their content to each of their international audiences – a process known as localisation.
Here are five essential tips for a successful localisation strategy.
1. Cultural Context Is Everything
When it comes to creating a multi-lingual site, cultural context is everything. From colloquialisms and humour to business etiquette and colour associations, every culture is unique, and consequently, a page that works well in one language could have a completely different impact if it’s translated for a new audience.
Image from McDonald’s –Caption: the McDonald’s North American home page, featuring an image of a double cheeseburger
For example, the image of a double cheeseburger on the McDonald’s American home-page wouldn’t go down well in India, where 80% of people don’t eat beef. Consequently, visit the brand’s North and East India home page, and you’ll find very different imagery.
Also, ignoring attitudes to business etiquette could cause a localisation strategy to come unstuck. In countries such as Poland, business style and language is more formal than in the UK, where a more relaxed approach is largely acceptable.
Consequently, a direct translation of your site could come across as ‘unprofessional’ to Polish business prospects or consumers. You can find out more about international business etiquette with our interactive map.
2. Don’t Cut Corners On Translation
This point links into the one above – no language translation will be successful if cultural context isn’t taken into account. Think about all of the things that make your content specific to your audience, such as slang, turns of phrase and references to popular culture.
All too often, businesses attempt to use free translation tools, such as Google Translate, to localise their site’s pages – and the results are painfully obvious.
Google Translate is a clever tool – but that’s all it is, a tool. It can’t take cultural context into account, and the result will be content that doesn’t resonate with its intended audience.
A good, if slightly extreme, example is the use of idioms. For example, the French version of the English phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’ is ‘peigner la giraffe’, which literally means ‘combing the giraffe’. A direct translation of either of these phrases would make little sense to a foreign audience, who were unaware of their associated meaning.
3. Ensure Branding Conveys the Right Message
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business. Essentially, it’s your promise to customers, telling them what they can expect from you and how you’re different from other companies – so it’s very important that this messaging is consistent.
However, ensuring that your branding conveys the right message in different cultures can be tricky. As we’ve discussed, symbolism, language and imagery can all have very different connotations overseas.
To be successful, you need to make culturally appropriate changes to your branding, whilst ensuring that your brand’s values are faithfully recreated.
4. Ensure the Layout Will Work for Everyone
A layout that works well in one culture may make your content inaccessible in another. In the West, people read in an F-shaped pattern, from left to right. But in the Arab world, people read from right to left – something that would need to be addressed if the audience formed a core part of your market.
Image from the BBC – Caption: The BBC’s Arabic homepage, which has an altered layout to make it accessible to an Arabic audience
5. Carry Out Localised SEO and Keyword Research
If you’re creating multi-lingual versions of your site’s pages, monitoring local keywords and carrying out localised SEO is something that you can’t afford to overlook.
It’s all very well translating your site, so that it will make sense to a foreign audience – but if you don’t optimise it with the words and phrases they’re using, they won’t be able to find it!
It’s important to remember that optimising for Google may not be enough, as foreign audiences may use different search engines. For example, in China, the most popular engine is Baidu, whilst in Russia it’s Yandex.
Localised link-building should also be an important part of any multilingual SEO strategy. If done properly, this can help to boost rankings and increase visibility in localised searches.
Digital globalisation has lowered the barriers to entering new markets. But creating a multi-lingual site that reaches and resonates with the right audience, involves more than just bunging the text into Google Translate.
Getting it right requires an in-depth understanding of local culture, customs and language. Get it wrong and the consequences can be hugely damaging to your brand.
Here at K International, we can advise you on every aspect of the website translation and localisation process.