December 10, 2018
Localization: More Challenging Than CEOs Think
One of the mistakes many companies make during expansion is putting up foreign language web sites and thinking this is the end of their localization initiatives. I once worked for a large school district outside of Chicago with 50 schools and 35,000+ students. I was responsible for all web development across the district. In the first year I redesigned every single web site (55) all by myself because I had no team. In the second year, we created an ability for teachers, administrators and students to add moderated content to their school web sites. I’d won a Webby Award. Everything was going great. Then the Superintendent asked me to explore making duplicate sites in multiple languages.
I knew how much work that was going to be because when I worked at Lycos, we had an entire localization team building out sites daily across the world. I asked him what language he wanted to start with and he stated that there were statistics somewhere as part of the admission of a new student as to what language was spoken in the home. So I explored who might have this information and found the one guy with the data. There were over 140 languages spoken in the homes of our 35,000+ students! Armed with this information, I approached the Superintendent and explained the situation. He agreed with me that making foreign language sites for all would be unrealistic, so we decided to stick with the English version and facilitated forms and other downloads in Spanish only.
Imagine walking down the street in New York and a guy in a hot dog costume hands you a flyer in Spanish with a call to action. When you pick up the phone and call, what language do you expect the call to be answered in? Spanish, right? In India, I had to create a Marathi version of our logo, which was required by law in the state of Maharashtra:
Once you start down this road, by putting up your first Spanish web site, you have set expectations to your visitor that you will support their language across all of their touchpoints:
- Your Company Branding
- Web Site Content
- Sales Literature
- Tech Support Documentation
- Customer Support Personnel
- Invoices and Billing Information
- Sales Proposals
- Technical Documentation
- Installation + Maintenance Manuals
- Social Media
- Blog Posts
- Print and Online Advertising
Develop a cross functional team and list every deliverable to be produced, staff to recruit, procedures and approval processes. Finalize your budget and determine what it will take to establish return on investment (feasibility). Implement one language at a time, doing milestone reviews and documenting any improvements that could be made to streamline processes, decrease costs, improve quality.
You will also need to set up a process flow that facilitates communication between teams so that every time something is updated in your primary site, the rest of the versions know what has changed. A feedback loop needs to be established so that the person leading localization is notified when each other language site has been updated.
Also bear in mind that local languages come in all different flavors. The Portuguese spoken in Portugal is very different from Portuguese spoken in Brazil. For some languages, like Spanish, classical versions MAY enable you to serve more customers across the Spanish-speaking world, but maybe not, especially when it comes to contracts and other legal documents. Also, if you’re selling products, you’ll need some sort of programming to ensure your pricing is in their currency and you have the most current exchange rate. The best way to do this is through geolocation.
Localization is critical for large companies operating or serving customers in several parts of the world. Programming the site using geolocation and automatically bringing up the right language is a hugely positive user experience. It builds a bond between you and your consumers in a way that makes them feel valued. Because your web site is in their language, it will feel less foreign and more familiar. If you do localization right, ensuring all touchpoints are in their language, you’ll most likely see an increase in traffic and sales conversions. Get started by prioritizing your language choices by markets and potential reach, and then start building. Its a lot of work, but well worth it for expanding into new markets and turning challenges into new opportunities.