You’re Ready to Go Global … Is Your Website?

by Andrew Stanten

andrew going globalYou’ve built a great product or solution, have solid traction on your home turf and are getting more frequent inquiries from other countries. Time to go global, right?


Going global has its set of challenges – differences in culture, currency, tax implications and more. Cultural difference can be huge – everything from nuances of language to how much informal chit chat you should engage in before digging into business. Further complicating this is that doing business in some regions – like the European Union – requires adherence to a very different set of privacy laws.

But what I want to focus in on here is your 24/7 business presence where your first impression is likely to happen no matter where you and your prospects are located on the globe: Your website.

Globalization 101

In most markets you dip your toe into, you’ll face locally-based competition. Or someone will be researching your product or service – likely a decision maker. And you can’t assume either of those pools of people is a native English speaker.

In both of these instances, you need to consider globalization and localization.

Wait. What? What’s the difference?

Globalization is when a company is serving several regions around the world.

Localization is creating content – text, video, imagery, infographics and more – relevant for local cultures/markets.

What do these have to do with your website?

Well, with regard to globalization, there’s more to serving your global market than simply translating your website copy. You have to take a deeper look to localize your content, which means taking a wider view of your site. From colors, fonts, date and phone number formats, weights and measures and idiomatic expressions – these all need to be considered as part of the localization effort.

Think UK English “colour” versus US English “color.”

Another example is Mercedes’ “BlueTEC” line of vehicles in Germany, which tout environmental friendliness. “BlueTEC” would be lost on an American audience, which has been trained to think “green” when it comes to the environmental movement.

This goes beyond language, too, to a general business philosophy based on where you’re located.

Many European and Asian business cultures lead with features of a product, whereas the American market wants to know about the benefits of that product and the emotional connection that can be made to it.

Strategy first

Still on board for taking business abroad?

You need a strategy for translating your website. And you need to ask by whom or what will content be translated; what will be translated; how often; and what will it cost.

First, let’s take a look at the “by whom or what” question. Currently, there are three basic ways to translate:

  1. Machine translation (MT) (e.g. – Google Translate, Amazon Translate). This is the lowest cost option and easiest to deploy. But it comes with a host of downsides, most notably nuance, technical language/terminology and colloquialisms. If you operate in a highly regulated space and have technical content on your website, you run the risk of sending the wrong message – literally. MT also can’t translate infographics or video. It can also mess up spacing, making pages look terrible.
  2. Self-management.Once you have all your content for the English language site, you may choose to source your own translation services and manage the initial and ongoing build out of additional languages on your own. The challenge here is that someone needs to keep track every time a page is updated on your website, oversee the translator who may or may not be versed in your content management system, industry and design best practices, and oversee the input of the newly translated content. This can be smoothed out with tight SOPs, but less than ideal compared to an automated process (see below). This is a more expensive option (in time and cost) than machine translate for sure, but will result in better translation.
  3. Outsourced translation management. This option is a hybrid solution employing technology and human intelligence. In this scenario, you’ll work with a third-party vendor to do the initial translation and build out of non-English versions of the site. In a real sense, you will have mirrors of the English language pages for multiple languages. This may add several weeks to your website production schedule, as well as additional cost … and ongoing translation needs. Vendors charge a monthly hosting and management fee. Then, when a change is made to the English-language site, they’re notified via an API that an update needs to be made, which would trigger trained personnel to translate the new content and update the non-English-language site/s. Services from the vendor can generally be customized. Because of that – and because it’s automated and contains the all-important human intelligence piece– it can be an effective way to manage your localization efforts.

So start translating, page by page, right?

Not so fast. Best practices dictate starting with the minimum viable content (MVC), which ensures the brand message and key terms are consistent across markets. Assuming you do not go the MT route, here’s what you should do:

  1. Look at English content first.
  2. Create a glossary of key terms, technical terms and other industry specific expression.
  3. Translate the glossary into each language, using your native-speaking people for feedback/preference of terms if a phrase could be translated multiple ways.
  4. Train the translator so they are familiar with the product/service and industry.
  5. Put the company and industry-specific words, terms and phrases into a translation memory/database so as the translators work, they can check against this glossary. This helps ensure consistency, branding, cost and time savings.
  6. From here, translation of the MVC content can begin.

There is a lot to consider here and many of you will choose to a) do nothing or b) go the machine translation route. Ultimately, though, if you want to win big time in different countries, you don’t need to just walk the walk, you need to talk the talk. Literally.