How to Avoid These 5 Common Web Globalization Mistakes

For many years now, smart brands have been launching global websites. While this used to be a neat advantage back in the day, today it’s vital for any company that does business outside of its home borders – especially retailers.

As with any new undertaking, at first there wasn’t much knowledge about how to go about this in the most effective or efficient way. But thankfully, a number of established best practices have evolved over the years that can save time and money for any retailer just getting started in the web globalization process.

While it’s valuable to learn from your own mistakes, there’s no reason you can’t also learn from the mistakes of others.

Here are five common web globalization mistakes and how to avoid making them.

Launching a “Local Façade”

Simply translating a retail site’s home page does not equate to launching a localized ecommerce site (a shopping destination that takes cultural nuances into account). Similarly, translating the navigational header of an international website while having all of the links take users to English-language content only serves to frustrate the shoppers that you hope to turn into customers.

Starting small is perfectly okay, but you must manage users’ expectations from the beginning. Localizing a portion of website content – a small product selection, or the contact information of in-market customer support – is not only something that visitors to the site can benefit from, but the extent of the translated content should be clear. If visitors arrive at your site expecting a fully translated site and don’t receive one, the chances of them returning are inherently lower.

How to Avoid Making this Mistake: Establish baseline usage scenarios that any localized ecommerce site can support from day one. Look at the localized website from the buyer’s perspective, and understand what they will be able to accomplish. Setting baseline usage scenarios from the start will ensure your international website won’t disappoint.

Overweight web Pages

To be successful globally, websites must be ruthlessly economical with graphics, scripting and other bandwidth-hogging multimedia. This is particularly important with mobile sites, for which bandwidth is often tight and users are not patient (or need content delivered on the spot).

Different geographies and countries have varying rates of mobile users (though these numbers are climbing everywhere), and many parts of the globe have significantly slower Internet connections that make rich sites difficult to display with any agility. It’s no accident that high-performance websites rely on largely text-based interfaces. That’s not to say that graphics cannot be used, but limits should be established early on so that new designs or promotions don’t unintentionally create a negative user experience.

How to Avoid Making this Mistake: Set a “weight” in kilobytes for your website, and keep it top of mind when building the site or updating it. This weight may vary by market, so that more developed markets have a higher limit, assuming higher broadband penetration.

Low-Quality Translation

Some retailers invest heavily in high-quality content for their English-language websites, yet suddenly get cost-sensitive when it comes to translation, sometimes leaning on inaccurate-but-cheaper machine translation. But the fact is, translation is as much an art as a science. You need to hire the right translators to manage your web localization – people who not only understand your products and industry, but also understand your target customers and how to best communicate with them. Delivering low-quality multilingual websites often has more severe consequences than failing to tranlsate English-language sites in the first place, as surveys show that shoddily-translated websites actually offend or dissuade non-English speakers more than English-only ones.

How to Avoid Making this Mistake: Above all, refrain from relying on machine translation tools. While this option might seem very appealing to smaller companies, machine translation tools such as Google Translate are often unnatural, inaccurate, error-prone, and lack needed context. Instead, hire professional human translators to do the job. They can employ localization and transcreation (creating entirely new content for the right cultural fit) in addition to standard translation, and pairing them with a translation management software tool can lead to increased speed of translation efficiency, which is what users of machine translation are willing to sacrifice translation quality for.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least two translators on board – one person to translate and another to edit. Your local offices can play an active role in reviewing translations. And if you don’t have local offices, engage with another translation vendor (or selected translators) to provide additional reviews.

Lack of Global Consistency

The challenge of growing a retail brand globally becomes finding the middle ground between adapting to local tastes and preserving the brand – there must be a balance between local customization and ensuring the global brand is still recognizable in every market. It’s essential to understand what the brand represents to the target market, what attracts international consumers, and how the local market’s perception of the brand differs (or doesn’t) from the original market in which it was developed. Neglecting to consider consistency in global messaging and brand presence can cause customer confusion and negatively impact sales.

How to Avoid Making this Mistake: There are a few key ways to ensure brand consistency across global markets. Brands that use simplicity in their messaging typically have an easier time translating their overall brand voice. Avoid buzzwords, which tend to be tied closely to a specific place and time, and instead focus on emotional values to make your brand more universal. It is also important to be aware of localization trends for the market being targeted, as some cultures and languages might be more attuned to the subtle nuances of context, while others may require more explicit wording to capture the essence of brand voice. Organizations with the strongest consistency also typically avoid using erratic tones, which can create confusion with customers. Lastly, if possible, make sure to work in collaboration with your regional and local offices to create and leverage global website templates that balance global consistency with local flexibility.

Lack of Follow-Through

Unfortunately, some localized websites are launched with great fanfare only to wither away with inactivity and dated content. That’s because many companies budget for the initial web localization work but don’t budget for ongoing maintenance – or it is assumed that the existing web teams won’t mind managing yet another country website. Such assumptions are dangerous and often lead to failure. Additonally, outdated international websites alongside regularly updated English counterparts can cause multilingual audiences to believe your brand favors English speakers.

How to Avoid Making this Mistake: Any web globalization effort must be long term – as in at least five-to-10 years. Make sure your budget includes not just the initial web globalization work but ongoing, long-term website management, including additional translation and localization as content is added.

Globalization the Right Way

Going global with localized ecommerce sites can help your business significantly increase customer acquisition and retention, and drive growth worldwide. But your globalization efforts must be done right – preferably the first time. The aforementioned stumbling blocks prevent retailers from reaching multilingual audiences every day.

The most effective global content – from websites and mobile apps, to sales and marketing materials – resonates in every language, all cultures and any market. Only then can you deliver personalized experiences that are powerful enough to boost brand loyalty and turn customers into evangelists.

Judd Marcello is the vice president of marketing at Smartling, a New York-based SaaS technology company.

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