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Increased globalisation has presented brands with huge opportunities to expand into new markets and the internet has drastically lowered the barriers to entry.

This has resulted in increased global competition. So brands need to ensure that their multi-language websites are properly localised in order to succeed internationally.

I regularly advise clients on the best approaches to website localisation in various different regions around the world, and perhaps because of this, I can’t help but analyse the websites that I come across to see how well they are localised for their target markets.

In this article, I’ve identified some critical success factors to site localisation and highlighted some sites that, at least in my opinion, do it particularly well.

Transcreation

David Ogilvy, the 20th century advertising executive widely hailed as 'The Father of Advertising', famously stated:

I don't know the rules of grammar... If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.

He was referring to the language people use in everyday conversations with each other. If a customer has to work to translate your message, you’ve lost them.

Therefore, communicating in your target market’s everyday language is key to achieving commercial success.

Transcreation, the process of adapting your brand’s identity and message for different cultures and audiences, is extremely important as different groups react differently to various symbols, messages, cues and even colours.

A message that has been successfully transcreated will directly translate into other languages and cultures, evoking the same emotions and carrying the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.

Transcreation is an extremely important element of website or app localisation and brands that successfully transcreate their content typically have higher user engagement and conversion rates.

Country & language combinations

Where a user lives does not necessarily determine their native language. For instance, there are large expat communities in many countries such as Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Monaco.  

These users may want their content in their native language but with prices displayed in the local currencies. Similarly, many countries such as Belgium, India and Switzerland are officially multi-lingual.

So, localised websites should allow for the country and language to be specified independently to suit the user’s preferred language.

Dates & times

Displaying dates and times in the preferred local formats is also recommended as it avoids confusion and allows for an improved user experience.

An obvious example of this is the difference between UK and US date formats. If your site promises to deliver goods on 11/12/13 then UK users would expect this to be 11 December 2013, while American users would think the delivery date is 12 November 2013.

Similarly, in Japan, the date is written with the year first, then month, then day, so presenting the date as shown above to a Japanese user would make them think their goods were being delivered in 2011.

Currency & payment options

For transactional ecommerce stores or sites that offer membership subscriptions, it is really important to display prices in the local currency.

When users arrive at your site, the last thing they will want to do is convert all the prices into values that they can use to make decisions.

Users in different countries also have different payment preferences. For instance, iDeal is the preferred payment method of online buyers in the Netherlands while users in China prefer Alipay, Tenpay and many prefer to pay cash on delivery.

If you don’t offer local payment methods on your transactional site, then you’re going to lose sales to your competitors.

International shipping

It stands to reason that if you want to sell goods internationally you need to offer international shipping.

However, the process of shipping goods internationally is not always straight forward. Many countries have complex regulations regarding customs and duty.

If retailers choose to offer international shipping, it is important that they have clear pricing which includes the cost of shipping and any charges associated with export duties or other taxes.

Local customer service

Businesses often fail to consider customer service as part of their site localisation strategy, often with tragic consequences. When users shop, they often have to request information about products and services and may have to return items after a sale has been completed.

In these situations, it is extremely important that these customers can communicate with a native speaker of the local language.

Local addresses and telephone numbers can also help customers feel confident that they have the necessary local customer service support to make purchasing decisions.

If your site has live chat installed on it you need to make sure that chat agents are native speakers of the customer’s language.

Finally, if your brand is successfully using social media for customer service, then your communities should be managed and moderated by staff with an intimate knowledge of local customs and practices to avoid any miscommunication and associated mishaps.

SEO

In order to successfully compete globally, your site should be well optimised for local search engines.

Site owners should ensure that they are either using the appropriate ccTLD for the target country or if they use subfolders or subdomains, then they should ensure that they use the geolocation targeting features in Google or Bing Webmaster Tools to specify the target country.

Pages should always include titles and meta descriptions in the local language, optimised for the key terms most likely to be used by customers in the target market. Pages should also include the appropriate language meta tags and where appropriate, the rel="alternate" hreflang="x" tag for links to articles or pages in other languages.

Canonical tags are recommended for pages likely to contain duplicate content (for instance American and British English language equivalent pages).

Brands should perform keyword research for every region and language separately. The keywords used for on-page SEO should be based on terms that customers are using to search for products and services within a given region, rather than literal translations of terms in the source language.

Here are some great examples of best practice localisation...

Apple

Transcreation

As can be expected, Apple does a great job at localising its site. The company maintains its brand values of innovation and simplicity across the different languages.

However, there are some strange translations of the key message for the iPad: “what will your verse be?” (Quelle sera votre rime?).

Here it should have used the correct translation of ‘verse’ which is ‘couplet’ in French.

apple france homepage

Country & language combinations

While the options to change country and language are hidden in the footer and take some time to find, once selected the site is available in over 120 different countries, grouped into regions such as ‘Europe’, 'Africa, Middle East and India' and 'Asia Pacific'.

For countries where more than one language is spoken, different language versions are presented. For instance, users in Belgium can choose between Dutch and French and users in Canada can select English or French.

apple choose region

Dates & times

Apple displays English dates in a format which makes them easy to understand for both UK and US customers, e.g. 19 Dec 2013.  

Japanese dates are delivered in the format that Japanese customers are familiar with (YYYY/MM/DD).

apple japan delivery options

SEO

Apple probably doesn’t have to rely much on SEO to drive sales, and it shows.

The site displays the brand name (Apple) and product names (e.g. iPhone 5) in most titles and meta descriptions are functional marketing messages much like you’d find in offline marketing material.

However, where appropriate, all titles and meta descriptions are translated into the local languages.

The site architecture is well structured for SEO with search-friendly URLs. However, all of the URLs are in English. For instance, the ‘Built-in Apps’ page (http://www.apple.com/fr/ipad-air/built-in-apps/) for the French market would be better presented in French with the keyterms ‘apps intégrées’ or the best performing related terms to capitalise on local searches in French.

The site includes canonical tags for pages that may contain duplicate content (for instance in UK and US English). Every page on the site includes the appropriate language meta tag.

Currency & payment options

Apple doesn’t offer the ability to specify country and currency independently. For instance, users who select China are presented with pricing in Renminbi without the ability to change it to an alternative currency.

Apple offers payment in the UK by debit card, credit card or bank transfer and the option of cash on delivery in countries where this option is popular, for instance Russia and China. However, Apple does not offer PayPal as a payment option in most countries but does in Germany.

So if this is successful, Apple may offer PayPal payments in other regions in the future.

International shipping

Apple maintains a bricks and mortar presence in many of the countries featured on the site. Where physical stores are not present, Apple offers international shipping.

The charges for shipping determined by the order value and shipping method to the customer’s address and are calculated beforehand and clearly explained.

apple shipping options

Local customer service

Apple is renowned for its customer service and the website is no exception.

Local telephone numbers are presented in the header on every page and live chat options are presented in most languages during the checkout process.

apple local customer service

ASOS

ASOS is often recognised by Econsultancy for its best practice approaches to content, SEO and user experience but how does it compare when it comes to localisation?

Transcreation

ASOS translates many of its products and categories for local markets, but also chooses to leave some English phrases in place. For instance the term ‘blazers’ on its French website. 

There are also differences in language between the US and UK versions with the section called 'jumpers' in the UK being renamed 'sweaters' for US customers.

asos jumpers product page

Country & language combinations

Unlike Apple, ASOS's language switcher is located in the header making it much easier to find. The site currently offers six languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Russian).

ASOS allows the country to be set independently from the currency – letting users in all countries pay in the currency of their choice.

The site also stores the user's previously selected language and currency settings in cookies. This means that users revisiting the site don't have to enter their preferences again, which is a nice touch.

asos mobile

Dates & times

ASOS doesn't display delivery dates and times for products during the checkout process. However, the blog has dates formatted appropriately for all the languages supported including UK and US English.

SEO

The ASOS site is well optimised for search engines, with search friendly URLs for all pages and categories, well optimised titles in the appropriate languages and meta language and canonical tags used where they need to be.

The only issue with on-page SEO is the structure of URLs which contain many query string parameters and category or product IDs which are not ideal for search engines.

Currency & payment options

ASOS offers a range of different payment methods and these do change slightly depending on the user's specified country. For instance, the French site offers Carte Bleue, a major debit card payment system operating in France.

Unlike Apple, ASOS also offers Paypal as an option on all the localised versions of the site which, given the popularity of Paypal in many countries, is sensible.

Local customer service

ASOS offers free international delivery and returns which is a huge benefit and one that is likely to reassure users buying goods on the site.

However, ASOS does not display telephone numbers on the site and users often find it difficult getting hold of representatives by phone.

The Facebook page is used to handle customer queries but only appears to be available in English.

Hotels.com

Hotels.com also does a great job localising its website content for over 80 country and language combinations.

Transcreation

Hotels.com does a good job translating its content and sales messages on the various local versions of the site. Travel guides have different articles for the different markets, presumably based on local travel preferences.

However, many of the sections available in English (e.g. travel guides) do not appear to have translated versions for all languages, so they may be missing opportunities in some markets. 

Country & language combinations

Hotels.com displays the country and language options clearly in the header on every page on the site and the menu allows the country and language to be selected independently.

hotels.com language options

Dates & times

Dates and times are presented in the local formats on the hotel search, within search results throughout the booking process – as shown below for the Japanese market.

hotels.com japan options

Currency & payment options

Hotels.com displays hotel prices in local currencies and accepts payments with many of the preferred payment methods within the target markets.

For instance, in China, Hotels.com offers payment via Alipay and in the Netherlands, as well as PayPal, iDeal payments are accepted.

Local customer service

Local telephone numbers are displayed on every page on the Hotels.com website, with freephone numbers offered in countries where these are available.

Having access to local customer service representatives undoubtedly reassures customers and allows Hotels.com to achieve higher conversion rates.

SEO

The Hotels.com website is pretty well optimised for search engines. The URLs contain hotel names and locations which will certainly help the site appear organically on SERPS for location and hotel name-based searches.

Unlike Apple, Hotels.com utilises keyterms in local languages in the URLs which increases its ability to rank highly for searches in local languages. Canonical tags and local alternative URLs are specified within the site’s HTML markup. Overall, Hotels.com has done a good job on its multi-language SEO.

Patrick Eve

Published 5 February, 2014 by Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve is CEO at TranslateMedia and a contributor to Econsultancy.

7 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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rohit

Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I am appreciating it very much! Looking Forward to Another Great article. Good luck to the Author! All the best.

over 2 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

Excellent blog post: multi-lingual SEO is a problem for many e-tailers as they have to approach their "localisation" with so many variables: language = spoken vs written, cultural wordings, regionalisms...
I worked for Lebanese clients and creating the right "localisation" practise for an Arabic/French/British written website was challenging to say the least.

over 2 years ago

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Alex Ashman

Worth looking at what google indexes too. You'll see all ASOS product pages show USD prices instead of pounds. Google "asos knitted sweater with heart" - can't be great for their click throughs...

over 2 years ago

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Sam Nicholls

You can definitely see how this would be hugely beneficial for large enterprises like Apple who have the resources to dedicate a whole team to managing each different multi-lingual version of the site.

But how do SME's offering an international product manage localisation? It's no less important to be relevant in search and to tailor landing pages to various international audiences, but is it realistic to embark on such a project with only a small team managing your web presence?

over 2 years ago

Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve, CEO at TranslateMedia

Thank you, Antoine, Rohit and Alex, for your comments.

I agree with Antoine that localisation isn't simple. Especially given that best practice is always changing as technology, language and culture constantly evolve.

Alex - interesting point on the meta descriptions in the SERPs. Their meta descriptions don't include pricing (in £ or $) so Google is obviously decided to display the US content and USD pricing. This can often by tricky and sometimes impossible to manipulate.

Sam - I agree that for large global organisations like Apple, localisation is a no-brainer but small companies can also benefit from localisation. There was an interesting report last year from OC&C Strategy Consultants (http://www.occstrategy.com/britainsretailempire) which showed lots of relatively small retailers that attributed huge proportions of their sales to overseas customers.

I would suggest starting with localising a few key products and landing pages, perhaps using paid search to test the market and adapt your strategy based on the results.

over 2 years ago

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Marco

I would be interested to get some information about the technical challenges of implementing localisation of languages across Europe.

over 2 years ago

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Myriam Siftar

Some excellent points and show-and-tell for B2C retailers and B2B websites can also learn from these points.
I have one comment. I actually think that both Apple and ASOS translations into French demonstrate the use and relevance of transcreation. "rime" is much more common than "couplet" even though they could perhaps have gone beyond "rime" to evoke all that "verse" means. And for "blazers" I bet a fair amount of French fashionistas used that word!
Thanks for sharing these localization best practices.

over 2 years ago

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