While there’s no one-size-fits-all website localization strategy for reaching a global audience, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of speaking your target audience’s language.

Although English is — for better or worse — the internet’s lingua franca, it’s also true that most people throughout the world prefer to buy products and services that are marketed in their native language.

If you’re trying to reach people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in your community and improve your organization’s language access, it’s absolutely critical to have a thorough website localization strategy. Website localization plays a pivotal role in making your services accessible to all and ensuring that folks with limited English proficiency are able to meaningfully find and use your services.

But all too often, website localization is done all wrong — whether it’s using Google Translate as a shortcut or ignoring important design features, we’ve seen a lot of localization mistakes.

In this blog post, we’ll go over some of the most frequent mistakes seen in website localization strategy according to our resident localization expert, Fernanda Aguilera — and why you should avoid them.


What is Website Localization?

Outside of the language services industry, localization is often conflated with the mere translation of text. While that’s certainly one important aspect of localization, it’s far from the only consideration to make when localizing a website. Localization services aim to ensure that your content adheres to the linguistic and cultural conventions of your target audience.

Ultimately, website localization is a holistic approach that aims to bridge language access, cultural competency, and user journey to ensure that users who speak different languages are able to access your content as if it were created specifically for their locale and offers equal access to your organization’s offerings. By adapting your web content to the local language and culture, you create a more meaningful and engaging experience for diverse audiences.

Website localization increases user satisfaction and improves access to services, therefore improving equity overall in areas of social determinants of health. But that’s only when it’s done well — poor localization practices like culturally inaccurate references and bad translation have been shown to damage a brand’s reputation. In a survey conducted last year, researchers found that 24% of prospective customers would trust a brand less if their website featured poor localization practices.


Common Mistakes to Avoid in your Website Localization Strategy

If you’re just beginning to localize your website into your threshold languages — or if you want to improve upon past efforts to do so — here are 14 common mistakes seen by our resident localization expert, Fernanda Aguilera you’ll want to avoid in the process.

1.   Not Translating the Text in your Images

Chances are, your website has a few images that include text. If you plan on including those same images in localized versions, be sure to create new images with text into the target language. 

All too often, organizations forget to translate the text in images, which doesn’t get picked up by translation technology. Including photos with untranslated text can lead to confusion and frustration for non-English speakers.


2.   Linking to Pages that aren’t in the Target Language

When creating a localized version of your website, you’ll also want to be sure all of your links go to pages in the local language. If a user clicks on a link — internal or otherwise — the link should take them to a page that’s in their language. To avoid confusion, be sure to audit and check all of the links on your website to make sure they direct the user to a page in the correct language.

3.   Language Selection in English

Placing all of your language options in English defeats the purpose of localization since the user won’t always be able to read their language name in English. Make sure your language selection is prominently displayed and includes options in the respective languages. For example, a well-done language selection bar would read “Español / Français / 中文” rather than “Spanish / French / Chinese.”


4.   Inconspicuous Language Selection

Don’t make users hunt for the option to switch languages. Users generally expect to find a website’s language options at the top of a webpage — if it’s hard to find, users may not want or be able to continue using your website.


5.   Mismatched Languages

Failure to update translated materials over time can lead to mismatched languages across different resources, pages, and assets. Even after you’ve completed localizing your website, you’ll want to regularly review and update your content to maintain consistency, or implement an ongoing process for updates across languages.


6.   Forgetting to Translate Integrated Features

Integrated features like pop-up notices, web forms, footers, and other interactive elements are all too often overlooked in the website localization process. These can significantly impact the user experience if left in the original language. Be sure to translate these accordingly so that users in one locale don’t have to decipher their meaning in another language.


7.   Formatting Challenges

Inadequate attention to formatting can cause layout issues when the character length of your translated text differs from the original. Some languages tend to use more characters than others, which can have an effect on the design of your website.  

Additionally, some languages require special attention to formatting — for example, localizing an English website for an Arabic-speaking audience may introduce formatting challenges, as Arabic is written from right to left (the opposite of English!).


8.   Failing to Localize Date, Time, Currency, etc.

Dates, times, currencies, and other localized elements should be appropriately formatted for each locale — not every region uses the same format for these concepts quite the same.

Even among speakers of the same language, there can be differences. For example, speakers of English in the US format their dates in MM/DD/YY, while speakers of English in the UK commonly use DD/MM/YY. Make sure your website displays such information correctly to enhance user understanding.


9.   Translating into a Language Without Specifying Locale

Most languages have some degree of regional variation — when developing your localization strategy, you’ll want to focus on the local dialect of the area you’re targeting. That’s because some languages have very distinct cultural and linguistic differences that need to be considered.

For instance, although Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are both Portuguese, they have many differences that could impact your localization decisions (not to mention the many cultural differences between Brazil and Portugal).


10.    Incomplete or Ill-Fitted Text

Strings of text that aren’t translated or don’t match the translation can lead to a disjointed user experience (think of consistency of bold, italics, line breaks, etc.). Pay close attention to your text in the target language and be careful to adapt it accordingly to maintain visual harmony.


11.    Inconsistent Photo Localization

Sometimes, a photo that’s appropriate for one audience might not be appropriate for another. Be sure to review the photos on your website and update them to better reflect your target audience’s culture.

For example, when targeting an audience in Latin America, you may want to update photos of people to include Latino people, to better reflect the demographics of the target locale. Additionally, specific colors may have different connotations in different regions as well — it’s important to research these differences to make sure the images on your website are culturally appropriate.


12.    Neglecting Multimedia Translation

Ideally, multimedia elements like videos, audio, or embedded documents would be translated. However, this may not always be possible — in these cases, it’s good practice to add a note nearby to indicate that the multimedia is only available in English.


13.    Not Localizing Member-only Sections

While localizing your main site is a great way to attract clients, you may have trouble retaining them if you fail to localize the member-only sections. Neglecting member-only portals can create a bit of disconnect for non-English-speaking users, so be sure to extend your localization efforts to cover all areas of your website.


14.    Overlooking Translation of Metadata

Metadata — for example, SEO components and alternative text for images — is often an afterthought in the localization process. But optimized metadata is an important way to attract traffic organically through search engines. Even if you’ve localized your website well, you may have trouble reaching your full potential if you forget to translate this metadata.


Website Localization Summary

Website localization incorporates elements of translation, design, and user experience that are critical to keep in mind when reaching diverse audiences. Whether you translate your text into the wrong dialect of a language or simply forgot to update your hyperlinks, the localization mistakes above can have a profound impact on your multilingual audiences’ ability to navigate your website.

If you’re starting from scratch or need help correcting some of the above mistakes on a past project Avantpage is happy to jump in and help. Contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040 for more information about our localization services.