A Guide to Website Internationalization and Localization

Posted on by Ali Darwich | Updated:
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Approximately 75 percent of consumers prefer to make purchases on websites in their language. China and India dominate online presence with the largest number of users, and English isn’t the primary language in either of those countries. Trends like these demonstrate that you must communicate the same language as your target markets if you plan to internationalize your website. This guide provides a deeper look into website internationalization and localization.

What is Website Internationalization?

Website internationalization is the design and development of a website that allows easy localization towards different cultures, regions, or languages. It generally implies that:

  • A specific international site design removes obstacles that could prevent the international distribution of the content, including Unicode and controlling concatenation of strings (sentences or commands).
  • Inactive features are enabled when it is time to localize the content. For example, adding tags into the document type definition enables ​​bidirectional text or language identification, or making your CSS compatible with vertical text.
  • The code supports local, linguistic, or cultural preferences — for instance, date and time formats, numerical systems, etc.
  • The code or source content is separate from the localized elements so that alternatives can be selected or loaded upon the user’s choice.

What is Website Localization?

Website Localization is adapting a site’s content towards the cultural needs of a particular market or locale. Localization may require a complete rework of the logic, visual design, or presentation, depending on the difference in origin and locale to which the content is presented.

Localization is more complex than a mere translation, as it involves adapting the content related to:

  • Numeric formats, either date or time.
  • Currency symbols.
  • Keyboard use.
  • Sorting algorithms.
  • Use of colors, emojis, icons.
  • Texts and images that are misunderstood in different regions.
  • Accessibility or legal requirements.

Website Internationalization and Localization vs Translation

Internationalization and localization are not new concepts, but they still get confused with translation, which is changing text from one language to another. Localization and Internationalization are far more wide-reaching. They help adapt web content and applications for regionalized consumption, appealing to the audience’s cultural backgrounds in their languages.

Localization has a more significant impact on your website than translation. For example, visual elements, such as buttons, might need to change to fit different word or character lengths. It could also imply navigation updates to make it easier for international visitors to use. 

Understanding these processes helps reach new and unique visitors more efficiently and profitably.

The Importance of Website Localization

With current technologies, users find products, services, and content quicker, and they look for it in the languages they speak. So if your site content isn’t localized, you are giving your competitors an advantage and missing a chance to grow your audience and business. For example, according to Forbes, a previous customer is 50 percent more likely to try new products and spend an average of 31 percent more compared to new customers.

Imagine you have a substantial number of visitors from Italy. Suppose you promote your Christmas sales to them in the same manner as you do to your users from the United States. The primary dates of the holiday season in Italy go from December 8th to January 6th, not merely December 24th and 25th, as in America.

Such an oversight debilitates marketing efforts in other countries, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the market compared to other businesses. When your content is localized, you show interest and care for the audience and understand them.

How to Begin Website Internationalization and Localization

The clear place to begin is translating your content for the desired audience. However, since internationalization and localization do not involve translation only, a few other implementations make a difference in your reach.

Use Images Without Text

Images should be companions to text without additional information. The added text represents an extra translation effort.

Translations Shouldn’t be Mixed with Code

  • Text changes don’t require recompilation.
  • Text changes don’t break your code.
  • Therefore, less testing.
  • Easier for your translators to use.
  • Translators can focus on strings and not worry about code.

Reconsider Plurals

Some languages like Japanese don’t have plurals, so their grammar handles these instances differently. For example, they have unified counters for certain types of objects. However, Spanish has gendered plurals. Therefore, offer separate strings (translations) when localizing sentences or words containing variable quantities for each plural form.

Set Character Encoding to UTF-8

Of the three variable-width character encoding standards available (UTF-8, UTF-16, and UTF-32), UTF-8 is designed specifically for web content. In January 2012, Google found that over 60 percent of the Web was using UTF-8. Encoding such as UTF-8 supports pages and content in mixed languages. Its use eliminates the need for server-side logic to determine the character encoding for each page served or form submission. As a result, it dramatically reduces the complexity of dealing with a multilingual site or application.

Ensure Layout Supports Different Lengths of Text

Localizing web content is as complex as translating a movie, so ensure that the space available for text is also adequate for other languages. For example, the words add to cart only take 11 characters in English. However, in Japanese, the characters are longer and can overflow outside of the button’s boundaries.

Website Internationalization and Localization is Ongoing

This article is a starting point for website internationalization and localization. It outlines quick and low-maintenance changes to consider for your site today. You can execute other processes on your site to ensure a user-friendly experience for your international visitors, reduce visitor loss, and turn them into customers or subscribers.

While you concentrate on website internationalization, Liquid Web handles your infrastructure. Check out our lightning-fast VPS and dedicated server products today. Contact our sales team for more information.

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About the Author: Ali Darwich

Ali is a Customer Support agent at The Events Calendar. She has been working with WordPress products since 2008 when she created her first blog to fangirl over Asian pop idols. She combines her career in web design with her love for learning languages and helping people communicate.

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