Website Localization 101: How to Expand Your Reach Globally

Padrig Jones

Dec 07, 20239 min read
Website Localization

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Growing your brand’s online global presence is one of the surest ways to generate more traffic, leads, and customers.

Most of the world’s population is connected to the internet. And this number only increases with each passing year. To tap into this ever-expanding pool of potential customers, your website will have to accommodate the diverse needs and preferences of regional audiences.

This is where website localization comes into play. 

Today, we’ll cover the basics of website localization and why it should matter to your business. We’ll also walk through several website localization best practices to help you penetrate new global markets more effectively.

What Is Website Localization?

Website localization is the process of tailoring your website’s content to the languages, currencies, and cultural preferences of different international markets.

The goal is to ensure your content is accessible and relevant to users from a wide range of regions, helping you create a stronger brand connection with diverse audiences. 

Website localization and translation aren’t the same thing. 

Yes, translation is a vital part of localization. But to successfully adapt your website to worldwide audiences, you also need to accommodate social norms, dialects, spelling conventions, consumer behaviors, and legal requirements that differ from region to region.

Why Website Localization Matters

When you tailor web content and design to various global audiences, you ensure all site visitors receive an equally good user experience no matter their background or location. 

You should do this as soon as possible if you want to connect more effectively with your existing international audience or establish a foothold in new markets.

Because users find it easier to trust and engage with websites that meet their cultural expectations, localization will enhance your ability to grow and retain a global audience. 

But a non-localized website will have the opposite effect. For example, a site that caters to an American audience is less likely to resonate with a Thai audience—and vice versa.

The 6 Key Steps of Website Localization

So what does the website localization process look like?

Here are the steps you should follow.

1. Plan Your Website Localization

First, lay the groundwork for your localization initiative.

This starts with market research.

Naturally, you’ll want to prioritize markets where there’s considerable demand for the types of products or services you offer. 

One way to pinpoint such markets is with Google Analytics. Check where your existing visitors come from. If you notice a large proportion of users from Germany, but your site is only available in English, consider creating a German version.

Semrush’s Market Explorer tool can also help you better understand the competitive landscape in different countries. 

For example, below is the market share in France for bulk.com—a popular nutrition and supplements company—versus two of its competitors: myprotein.com and theproteinworks.com. 

You can see that myprotein.com is favored in that country. Theproteinworks.com is relatively unknown. And bulk.com is somewhere in the middle. 

Market breakdown summary for "bulk.com," "myprotein.com," and "theproteinworks.com" in France

And here’s the market breakdown for Italy, where bulk.com has a significantly larger market share:

Market breakdown summary for "bulk.com," "myprotein.com," and "theproteinworks.com" in Italy

Once you know the main players in each market, you can study their marketing activities to develop your own regional strategy.

Using our example, bulk.com might want to review myprotein.com’s activities in France. That way, they can determine what might work well for them. And how they might differentiate themselves. 

Instead, in Italy, bulk.com might want to build on what’s already working.

Market Explorer lets you compare your site’s market share against any domain in any country. 

Here’s how it works.

In the “Locations” menu, select the country or region you want to explore. For this example, let’s select the United States.

Market Explorer tool homepage

Under “Competitors,” enter at least three domains to compare. For now, let’s use the same domains as earlier.

"bulk.com," "myprotein.com," and "theproteinworks.com" entered under "Competitors" box

Give your list a name and hit “Create and analyze.”

"Bulk.com USA comparison" entered under the "List name" box

Next, you’ll see the “Overview” report. This provides a bird’s-eye view of your selected market.

In the “Market Summary” section, you’ll find several metrics to help you quickly assess the state of your intended market. 

These include market share for each domain in your list. Plus a breakdown of market demand.

“Market Summary” section of the overview report

Further down the report, you’ll see the “Growth Quadrant” section. This matrix depicts the relative market performance of each competitor in your list over a given period.

The matrix is split into four quadrants: 

  1. Niche Players: Sites with relatively low traffic and slow growth
  2. Game Changers: Sites with relatively low traffic but fast growth 
  3. Established Players: Sites with relatively high traffic but slow growth
  4. Leaders: Sites with relatively high traffic and fast growth

In our example for October 2023, theproteinworks.com and myprotein.com saw positive traffic growth. But bulk.com saw negative traffic growth.

“Growth Quadrant” section.of the overview report

These and other reports within the tool can help you identify which markets might have demand for your products, what your competition might look like, and where you might have a competitive edge. 

Further reading: Market Explorer Guide

Before committing to new global markets, you’ll also need to understand any local laws or regulations that will affect your site. These may include rules around data protection, content restrictions, and anti-money laundering regulations. 

Localization of websites tends to be complex and requires input from several stakeholders. So we recommend assembling a dedicated team to coordinate, implement, and manage your localization initiative.

The size of your team will depend on factors like budget and the scope of your project. But it should at least include a developer, a designer, a translator (who understands the target market), and a quality assurance (QA) engineer.

2. Conduct Keyword Research

Once you’ve identified suitable markets, it’s time to understand search demand in your new market through local keyword research.

The goal is to work out how users search for products and services like yours in their local language or dialect. This may differ from how they search within your home market.

Suppose you run an ecommerce store that sells sweatpants in the U.S. If you planned on expanding to the U.K. market, you’d want to prioritize the term “joggers” (a more common term for sweatpants in the U.K.).

Use our Keyword Magic Tool to see how keyword usage varies in different countries.

First, enter your seed keywords into the search bar and use the drop-down to specify your target regional market. In this example, our keyword is “sweatpants” and our target market is the U.K.

Then hit “Search.”

"sweatpants.com" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

Next, you’ll see a table listing the largest number of related keywords.

You can see that “sweatpants” received on average 6,600 monthly searches in the U.K. over the past 12 months.

Keyword Magic Tool results for "sweatpants" search

Now repeat the process for the seed term “joggers.” Here, you can see the term received 27,100 average monthly searches—significantly more than the term “sweatpants.”

Keyword Magic Tool results for "joggers" search

Use these insights to tailor your localization approach for the new market. Not only will your website resonate better as a result, it may also rank better in search.

3. Translate Website Content

Next, it’s time to adapt content to the language and dialect of your new target audience.

Developing an effective multilingual website goes beyond literal translation. It requires content “transcreation”—translating text while adapting your message to the cultural context of your intended audience. 

This is why it’s so valuable to hire translators who are native speakers of the language with a deep understanding of the local market.

Remember: Your website content isn’t a single entity. Each type of content serves a different purpose and requires a distinct approach to localization.

Here are some of the types of content you can expect to find on your site and the appropriate approach for localizing each of them:

  • Brand content: Content that discusses your brand, including your homepage, “about us” page, and “why us” page. The goal here is to internationalize content. Use neutral language and avoid regional references or figures of speech.
  • Marketing content: Content that sells or educates your customers, including product pages, landing pages, and blog posts. The goal here is to localize content. Speak the language of your target audience and lean into their specific cultural context.
  • Technical content: Content that provides detailed and specialized information about your products or services, including FAQs, user guides, and product descriptions. The goal here is to translate content with high accuracy to avoid incorrect use of your products or services.
  • Legal content: Any content dealing with legal matters or regulations, including your terms of use, refund policy, and Impressum. This content should comply with the laws of the local state or country.
  • Contact information: Content that tells users how to reach you, including phone numbers, email addresses, and operating hours. You should tailor this content to each separate market.

So what does effective website localization look like?

Coca-Cola’s site is a prime example of exceptional localization. Here’s the brand’s homepage in Spain:

Coca-Cola’s homepage in Spain

In South Korea:

Coca-Cola’s homepage in South Korea

And in Canada:

Coca-Cola’s homepage in Canada

Notice how the language, message, and visuals are uniquely tailored to each locale.

4. Localize Website Design

Localization isn’t just about the words on the page.

It also involves using images, colors, and iconography that resonate with local audiences.

Page layout is also an important consideration. In Western languages, people read from left to right in an F-shaped pattern. But in Arabic, people read from right to left.

Here’s Coca-Cola’s homepage in Algeria. See how the navigation bar is shifted to the top-right of the page to accommodate Arabic script.

Coca-Cola’s homepage in Algeria

5. Make Technical Changes to Improve Localization

Optimizing your site for regional audiences also involves some technical fine-tuning.

Here are some things to address to ensure your site offers a seamless user experience for regional audiences:

  • Special characters: Encode your website in UTF-8 (Unicode Transformation Format-8). This allows webpages to display text and characters from different languages.
  • Currency: Use market-specific currencies
  • Date format: Use the appropriate date format for each market. For example, in the U.S., dates are displayed as MM-DD-YYYY. In the U.K., it’s DD-MM-YYYY.
  • Page formatting: Ensure there’s enough space on localized pages to accommodate longer translated tex
  • Site search: Configure your site search to handle queries in multiple languages
  • Page speed: Consider simplifying your design for countries with slower internet connections
  • Payment methods: Allow local users to use culturally preferred payment options

6. Test Your Localized Website

You should rigorously test your localized site before launch to resolve any technical, linguistic, or usability issues.

Consider running a web test on a sample of target users. Ask for feedback on user flow, imagery, color scheme, messaging, loading time, cultural relevance, and any other factors that will help you further optimize your site for local audiences.

Keep a close eye on your analytics after launch to track the progress of your localized site. You can use Semrush’s Position Tracking tool to monitor your daily rankings compared with regional competitors.

"Rankings Overview" report in Position Tracking tool

Check out our in-depth guide for help setting up a Position Tracking campaign

Go International with Website Localization

Website localization improves your odds of successful global expansion.

Adapting your content and web design to the tastes and needs of local audiences builds trust in your brand, drives engagement, and leads to more sales.

By following the steps outlined above, and using tools like Market Explorer for competitive benchmarking, you’ll be well on your way to gaining a solid foothold in other markets.

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Padrig is a freelance copywriter for B2B SaaS and marketing companies, specializing in writing conversion copy and traffic-generating long-form articles. He has over ten years of digital marketing experience and holds a master‘s degree in decision science.
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