Updated May 29, 2019.
The difference between the right word and the almost-right word, Mark Twain said, is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
It’s as good a proverb as any to point out the perils of translation. Do it well, and you’ve sparked a new connection to your customers. Falter and the flame sputters out before it has a chance to take hold.
For companies who want to take their websites global, there is tremendous pressure to get it right. After all, the payoff for successfully reaching customers in the local language can be massive—the difference between a lightning bug and a lightning strike.
What is Website Localization?
Website localization is the process of adapting content from an existing website for local audiences. The common misconception is that localization and translation are equal; however, there’s much more to the process than simply translating text. Localization involves adapting everything from currency, measurements units, date and time formats, and much more to fit the culture of the target audience.
They Will Come, So Build It
Kevin Costner had it backwards in Field of Dreams. He lined a baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfield and then legendary baseball players showed up. But for many businesses looking to attract an international audience, customers are already browsing their source-language sites—they’re just not finding what they’re looking for. And they represent a mere trickle of the potential flood.
So what are the stakes for a company looking to translate and localize their message for a global audience?
According to 2019 figures compiled by Internet World Stats, of the over 4 billion global daily internet users, just 25% are English speakers—and over half of all Google searches are in a language other than English. In fact, Asia alone has seven times the number of internet users as all of North America. To break it down further:
90% of Europeans never browse in a language other than their own, according to a European Commission survey (PDF download). And 42% won’t buy a product if the description is not in their language.
Globally, 72% of customers are more likely to buy products or services if the information is in their language, according to the Common Sense Advisory. And 56% say finding brand information in their language is even more important than price.
Worldwide, a staggering 85% of customers will not purchase a product at all if the information is not in their language.
According to Forbes, for the first time in history, a majority of the global population (50.8%) is connected to the internet in 2019. Still, about 54% of all content online is in English.
As a company looking to build a case for localization, the clues may be right under your nose in the day-to-day analytics of your website.
Are you selling products or receiving inquiries for services from international customers?
Are you already shipping to foreign addresses?
In Google Analytics, what languages are showing up under audience data? What countries?
Google Analytics also allows you to track actual site visits and time on the site, not to mention the initial stream of conversions. If you find a growing percentage of non-English-speaking customers visiting your site even before localization, there could be a significant return on investment once you give your customers what they want—an in-language user experience.
You may also want to take a look at whether competitors are already branching out in specific languages and markets. If the brands who are hot on your heels at home haven’t yet staked a claim on a new market, you can beat them to it. Or, if a competitor or two has already started getting into the market, study what they’re doing and plan on doing it better—and as soon as possible.
Case Studies – Localization ROI for E-Commerce & Awareness Brands
If some, or all, of these reasons to consider localization are compelling to your company, it may be time to talk through the logistics of launching your website in new languages and markets. But what are the tangible benefits of doing so?
In 2007, Localization Industry Standards Association (PDF download) pegged the potential return on investment for localization at $25 for every dollar spent. In 2013, Net Media Planet reported that their clients saw a 20% increase in conversions when website content and paid ads were localized for their international markets. That percentage shot up to a whopping 70% when entire websites were localized.
Internet Retailer shared a case study in which Israeli retailer Under.me saw conversions for German double from 1% to 2%, and conversions for French rise from 0.67% to 1% when they launched localized sites.
Among our own e-commerce clients at TransPerfect, high-end watch retailer Ashford.com saw a 500% spike in website traffic on the first day they launched Simplified Chinese with GlobalLink OneLink. After a year, the company recorded a 670% increase in Chinese site visitors and a 700% growth in revenue. Italian coffee retailer Lavazza had their localization costs reduced by 47% while creating, managing, and publishing content in 37 new languages across 45 markets.
But there is ample evidence of localization ROI beyond retail brands, or even before a site is e-commerce-enabled.
Neil Patel of Quick Sprout tested the translation waters in 2015 by employing plug-ins to render his blog site in several dozen languages. The immediate benefit was a 47% increase in website traffic, statistics that bore out as he began to see non-English bounce rates decrease and non-English site comments flow in. He predicted another 16% increase in traffic once he applied proper localized search engine optimization (SEO) to titles and other elements.
Among other recent website localization projects at TransPerfect for clients focused on awareness and engagement, we have seen significant growth in ROI when pairing website localization with paid media campaigns. Some highlights:
A US-based association of chemistry companies worked with TransPerfect to localize two of its websites into Spanish and bolster awareness through Spanish paid search campaigns in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the US.
For the first site, typical monthly traffic prior to localization was 88% English and 3% Spanish. After nine months, Spanish speakers accounted for 69.5% of total site traffic. Monthly English traffic had grown by 61% during that time frame—a significant margin—while Spanish grew by 214%. Click-through rates across paid search campaigns remained steady at a healthy 10%.
For the second site, traffic in the first month after localization stood at 68% English and 23% Spanish. By the third month, Spanish traffic accounted for 42% of total site visitors and had grown by 326%. PPC click-through rates were also strong at 12.9%.
A US company recruiting clinical research associates looked to boost hiring efforts in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Russia, by driving traffic to an increasing number of localized pages. TransPerfect boosted the effort with paid search awareness campaigns.
After six months, traffic from outside the US accounted for 56% of site visitors, an increase of 338%. By that time, 30% of the traffic was driven by PPC advertising campaigns targeting localized landing pages, an increase of 70% over the campaign’s first month.
So what are the two main takeaways for companies hoping to quickly find success in their target markets?
First, carefully analyze audience potential in markets showing budding interest in your company. These metrics can be teased out through SEO and PPC keyword research, as well as by reviewing analytics data and competitor presence in each market.
Second, don’t focus on translation alone. Applying the right SEO and bolstering your marketing efforts by adding new languages with localized paid media and social media campaigns can make the difference between shining a new spotlight on your brand or leaving a light on when nobody knows to visit.