Small Is The New Big With Website Localization

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Synopsis — The Internet has brought about a revolution in sales and marketing, and along the way has blurred the traditional lines between what a large company can expect to achieve as far as success is concerned and what a small company’s aspirations may be. In many respects, it has leveled the playing field, such that a small, mom-and-pop operation can effectively compete for market share with a large conglomerate, albeit with skilled manipulation of the online space.

In his article, “Small Is The New Big With Website Localization,” Christian Arno explores the issue, explaining why and how small companies can indeed compete on an international basis. For example, in China, Alibaba.com helps connect small and start-up businesses with manufacturers to help them get to market quickly. To take advantage of these opportunities, businesses need to choose markets carefully and then be diligent about localization of their website. Dialect differences need to be considered (even if your site is in the same base language as your chosen market), as do such details as how to present numbers in pricing, etc. Keywords need special treatment.

Arno includes a case study involving two hotel chains in the United Kingdom as an example of what can be accomplished, as well as information on the state of translation tools for assistance in website localization.

The complete article follows …

Small Is The New Big With Website Localization

Anyone who saw 2008’s Flash of Genius, a true story about one man’s fight against the Ford Motor Company, can be excused for thinking we live in a world where corporate conglomerates always have the upper hand over small entrepreneurial start-ups. In the movie, Robert Kearns patents the intermittent windshield wiper in the 1960s, signing an agreement with Ford to manufacture them. Ford pulls out of the deal, but later releases an intermittent wiper, and years of legal action ensue. Without revealing the ending, the point is that big money talks. Or at least, it used to.

The Internet’s Level Playing Field

Luckily, the story of Flash of Genius stems from a bygone era. The Internet has helped level the playing field so that home-based businesses lacking start-up cash can set their manufacturing wheels in motion quickly, before their ‘flash of genius’ is exploited by big-buck businesses.

One of the Internet’s biggest success stories — Alibaba.com — is helping this process along. Started initially as a bulletin board service for businesses seeking to establish trading links, it’s now an online behemoth helping to connect businesses of all sizes with manufacturers in China and further afield. Even the language barrier is circumvented thanks to a built-in instant messenger system that translates real-time between English and Chinese. Since English is only spoken by a quarter of the Earth’s population (well over 90% of whom have English as their second language), a functioning instant translation feature is vital to Alibaba’s success. By using Alibaba, small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) don’t have to set up their own manufacturing facilities to make their dream product a reality. Now it’s easier than ever to outsource this to dedicated manufacturers with the existing technology and knowhow to turn your ideas into prototypes and shelf-ready products.

Multilingual Marketing

Of course, it’s not all about manufacturing. The Internet has opened all sorts of doors to the smallest of home-based businesses. In the same way as Alibaba helped facilitate cross-cultural communications with its automated instant messaging system, companies need to find ways to talk to target markets in their own language. Since Alibaba is a “C to B” venture where customers search for manufacturers, machine-generated language translation probably works fine, as the communication doesn’t have to be 100% grammatically correct. The gist of the message is fine in this atmosphere.

For marketing purposes, however, businesses can’t use simple, basic tools like Google Translate for language translation. When looking to draw revenue from foreign markets, you need to adopt a fully localized approach. This may sound daunting for businesses still finding their feet in their domestic market, but the simple fact is that the second you launch your website, anyone anywhere can find you. Forty percent of the world’s Internet users are in Asia, and China has 30% more Internet users than the US. So much commerce takes place online that you can’t ignore the need to localize your website for the over a billion online consumers who don’t speak English.

Which Markets To Target?

So how do you identify which markets to target? After all, there are hundreds of countries and thousands of languages and you can’t target them all, especially without stacks of cash at your disposal. Brazil, Russia, India, and China (collectively called the BRIC countries) are normally grouped together and cited as examples of fast-growing, developing economies — in other words, emerging markets. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately start thinking in reales, rubles, rupees, or yuan. The markets you target will depend on what your service/product offering is.

Your best bet is to focus on one or two key markets that you know have a demand for your product or service. To do so, simply research online and see where companies similar to your own operate. Find as much information as you can about them — when they were established, what their turnover is, and where they export to. You can also see if there are any obvious gaps in their service offering that you can exploit. Be wary if there are too many businesses operating in your target country, as penetrating an already-saturated marketplace can be difficult.

The Business Benefits Of Localization

Your choice of markets should reflect your offering. Overall, the top ten importers in the world are the USA, Germany, China, France, Japan, UK, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and South Korea. Notice that English is a native language in only two? You can’t ignore the potential of the others just because they require localization work.

For example, China has the world’s biggest export economy in the world, amounting to almost $2 trillion US dollars each year. It’s also one of the world’s largest importers, after the US and Germany, with about $1 trillion dollars worth of goods and services imported last year. China imports almost $2 billion dollars of electrical machinery each year, with petroleum and related products and scientific instruments also ranking high on their import repertoire. With online connectors like Alibaba accessing China’s hive of manufacturing activity, for budding businesses looking to take a product to market, China is where it’s at.

Going Local: Dialectal Differences

If you have narrowed the field to one or two countries, the next step is website translation. However, full localization means not only sticking to the official language of your target market, but also the local dialect. The French spoken in France, Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland doesn’t differ by much, but there’s no room for complacency with international communications.

The word for “email” in France is simply email, but in Canadian French it is “courrier électronique” (literally “electronic mail”). With some nouns — and “email” is one of them — Swiss German uses a different grammatical gender to standard German (i.e., “das E-Mail” instead of “die E-Mail”). In Spain the word for car is “coche,” but in many Latin American countries, “coche” is a baby stroller. UK readers might be unfamiliar with “baby stroller,” and would be more likely to use “pram,” “pushchair,” or “buggy,” while a “buggy” in Canada can hold groceries rather than infants.

That’s not to say you should build separate websites in US and UK English or European French and Canadian French. It just means you should be aware of the differences, even if targeting English-speaking countries outside of the US. Avoid slang, colloquialisms, and culture-specific references that a consumer in Louisiana may understand, but someone in London won’t.

The Nuance Of Numbers

Countless examples highlight the importance of businesses properly localizing their website and other marketing collateral for international markets. Numbers, for instance, are structured and punctuated differently across the world. In the US and the UK, decimal commas are used as thousands separators, with a dot before the last digits (e.g., 1,000,000.00). In parts of Europe (e.g., Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Sweden), this is reversed to “1.000.000,00.” Other countries (e.g., France, Croatia, Poland, Finland) don’t use the thousands separator at all, resulting in “1 000 000.00.”

Multilingual SEO

If you translate and localize your website into French, German, Spanish, or another language, you will need to optimize for search engines too. To avoid an SEO disaster, the one golden rule with multilingual SEO is this: never translate your keywords. Always research the key search terms used locally within each country. A linguist can translate all your content effectively, but they probably won’t know which words people commonly use to search for your product or service in that country. And, unless they have SEO experience, they won’t know how to find out. As well, local consumers may use abbreviations, synonyms, or other variations of the search term.

Case In Point: The ROI On Localization Spend

The UK hotel chain X developed a new website in January 2007. A large part of the new site’s purpose was to increase the hotel’s revenue from key markets within Europe. Lingo24 and Internet marketing company Occupancy Marketing combined forces to localize and optimize the website for Germany, Spain, Italy, and France. Twelve months later, hotel chain X had experienced significant growth in online traffic and bookings from these countries. With the introduction of paid search campaigns in 2008, hotel chain X has sustained year-on-year growth levels.

By way of comparison, another UK hotel chain — Y — of a similar size to hotel chain X, did not invest in website localization, but did use the same SEO service as hotel chain X. The comparable growth in traffic and bookings points to the benefits of website localization.

Hotel Chain X vs. Hotel Chain Y: ROI On Localization Spend (2008 – 2009)

Percentage Growth in Traffic:

Hotel Chain X                         80%

Hotel Chain Y                         46%

Percentage Growth in Online Bookings

Hotel Chain X                         190%

Hotel Chain Y                         156%

Technology And Localization

Translation and localization technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. Most of the top translation companies use what are known as CAT —Computer Aided Translation — tools. CAT tools don’t replace skilled human translators, but augment the existing skills of a professional translator. This streamlines the translation job, ultimately improving the quality while reducing the client’s costs.

However, CAT tools can display some human-like characteristics, most notably, the ability to remember. By building a translation memory over time as it picks up repeated segments within any given text, CAT can apply previous translations to its recent match. A translation memory can learn, and 100% matches and near matches (termed “fuzzy matches”) can increase over time. Subsequently, if a high proportion of repeated segments exist within a text, then the cost of the translation is reduced.

Conclusion

Done right, the smallest of home-based businesses can compete effectively on a global scale. A simple laptop and ADSL router can reduce oceans to streams, making website localization and SEO the most powerful sales mechanisms available to business in the 21st century. The Internet is a gateway to global commerce. Small is the new big, thanks to the wonders of modern technology … it’s just a shame Robert Kearns isn’t around to benefit.

About the Author

Christian Arno is founder of Lingo24 (usa.lingo24.com/), a professional services provider with clients in over 60 countries and a turnover of $8 million in 2010. Follow Christian on Twitter: @Lingo24chr.

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