Localize Your Website for Maximum Reach

By Julie Knudson | Posted September 09, 2015

Website localization, where you customize a website—translate text, modify features, etc.—for visitors in a particular region, may seem like something only big companies need to do. But small businesses should also think about website localization as their customer bases expand. What works in one region may not be successful in another, and that can directly affect the bottom line.

Consider this: if you don't localize, you automatically prevent a segment of customers from shopping on your site. "If they can't read it or pay with their own payment method, or use their own currency, they literally can't buy," says Andrew Zichek, director of product management at online payment processing service 2Checkout. A lack of localization—or even the absence of specific localized features crucial to the sales funnel—could put a hard stop on converting visitors into customers.

Go Local to Get Found

Localization also facilitates the way consumers find a business—and we can't overstate the vital nature of this function. In the past, prospective customers turned to the Yellow Pages or similar location-based tools. Today, they rely on search engines to find what they need where ever they need it.

"They're not looking for a business by name," says Julie Gallaher, owner of Sacramento, Calif.-based local search marketing firm Get on the Map. "They're looking for a Sacramento plumber." Without giving potential customers the ability to key in on your business's location, whether that's a specific city or a wider region, you may miss out on site visits.

 Website localization for small business

Translating Your Website for New Markets

Text translation remains the lynchpin of most localization efforts. But before you think you can get away with just plugging your existing site's text into an online translator, consider the language nuances at work in various parts of the world.

"Some phrases have different cultural meanings, and you want to make certain that you hit the mark or else it won't benefit you. And it could hurt you," says Gallaher. This also applies if you want to translate your site to reach people within the United States whose first language is something other than English.

Website Localization: Moving Beyond Language

While text translation is a primary component of most localization efforts, business operators must also look at other aspects of their site. Gallaher says one of aspect of localization that's important to Google in particular is website relevance.

"Businesses have a lot of control over making their content relevant," she explains, adding that it involves giving the right signals about the area where you want to do business. "It's using a variety of different things like tags and schema markup, and making sure that photographs identify the area where you want to do business."

A business's website's schema markup should provide tags that identify specific items to the search engine spiders, such as your address and your phone number, so they aren't mistaken for just words on a page. "It's the system for telling the search engines about what this content is," Gallaher explains. "Then the address can be mapped, which is, of course, the ultimate in localization."

As you add graphics and pictures to your site, it's also important not just to identify those in your schema but to also be sure they fit into what visitors in the region expect to see. If you're selling something in one region, you don't want to feature photos of people who don't match your target demographic.

"It varies by country and region, but you should localize content in terms of pictures conforming to social norms," says 2Checkout's Andrew Zichek. The same holds true for site design, something that undergoes a surprising number of changes from one area to another. "Things like button colors make a huge difference," says Zichek as an example. One region may have a cultural standard that calls for green "buy" buttons, while another may prefer red. Shoppers in some European countries input their postal code before filling in their city name, an approach that's opposite of what U.S-based shoppers expect to see.

First Steps to Localization

If you're ready to roll up your sleeves and start localizing your website, there are a few items that may help you get things moving. One is the design and appearance of your website and how well it melds with the area. "Does it look like other localized sites in the region?" asks Zichek. He suggests reviewing the site structures of other retailers selling in the area, from local shops to Amazon's regional site.

For example, a small business planning inroads to the Chinese market might want to ask "How does Amazon change its site from the U.S. to China?" Look at everything from the security standards other websites in the area use to what kind of customer support options they offer. Customers in some regions favor phone calls, while others opt for online chat. Other local sites can demonstrate how you may need to change your own Web pages.

Website Localization Resources

Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.

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