As a US marketer, you will be faced with the responsibility of expanding into international markets and working with your international colleagues and clients. With the majority of Europeans and business executives speaking English as a second language, some may assume that selling your product or service can succeed without localizing. While serious buyers may be able to speak your language, they will trust your product even more if it’s localized in their native tongue and appears of local relevance.
A simple translation of your text is not the solution. You need to take into account that certain phrases, pictures, and colors may not translate well or convey their symbolism in one country versus another. For example, the colors red, white and blue do not symbolize patriotism in Germany as they would in the US. Therefore, an in-depth localization with in-country translators is needed. Below are five fatal localization mistakes that English language sites face when entering into international markets:
1) Incorrect character encoding. Many languages have letters with accents and special character sets in their alphabet that change the pronounciation of that letter or word. For example, the German alphabet consists of umlauts and one ligature. If you are unable to to type “ä”, which has an umlaut, you need to replace it with “ae” versus using just an “a”. And the sharp s “ß” is replaced with “ss”. In Spanish for example, you need to make sure you are not using a standard “n” when it needs to be an “ñ”, which has an eñe. There are dozens of additional examples and review by a native is crucial.
2) No local country domain. Geotargeting your website to the proper country’s domain makes a huge difference in retaining website visitors and improving search engine results. Country code top-level domains (yourcompany.de) send automatic signals to search engines on the relevant country where you’re located. Sub-domains (de.yourcompany.com) can be programmed to route website visitors to the relevant country’s website. Do not assume that your international web visitors will click on the localization flag on your website to change the language. This will only decrease their interest and hurt your retention rate. A local domain displays your commitment to the market as well as the power of your brand worldwide.
3) Wrong search engine optimized. Become farmiliar with popular search engines and their popularity that differ by geography, industry, or vertical market. While Google may be the world’s leading search engine, Baidu and Bing rank the highest in China, and Yahoo! is the leader in Japan. Job search engines also differ. Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com are popular in the US, while Bixee.com and Monster.com are popular in India. It’s important to understand each search engine’s algorithm. Yahoo! Japan has a higher keyword density and places more weight on directory listings. Insert more keywords into your web page and submit it to the appropriate directory. Baidu gives metatags a lot of weight and prefers simple navigation structures. Focus on your metatags, but don’t go overboard with replacing them with keywords. Don’t bury links deep into your website hieracrchy.
4) Inadequate in-country research. Countries have their own set of social norms and cultures that need to be respected. Research which countries your service or product is in demand. Conduct local market research or look at the search engine results of your current website. If you have consitent web traffic from France or Spain, consider localizing your website in French and Spanish respectively. Google has several tools including, Google Trends, Google Keyword Tool and Global Market Finder, to help you decide which keywords are searched for online and their region. You should make sure to create a specific list of localized keywords, phrases, etc. if you are serious about marketing your product or service in a specific European country.
5) Insufficient character count. When translating from English to other languages, prepare that the copy may be longer. German and French copy is on average 30%-35% longer than English copy. Additionally, not all command words are so short and simple in other languages, such as English vs. German: Open vs. Öffnen, Edit vs. Bearbeiten, Save vs. Speichern, Back vs. Rückgängig, Skip vs. Überspringen, Quit vs. Beenden. Websites, collateral and software programs need to be coded to accommodate these additional characters and user handbooks need to be reviewed under similar requirements by a native as well.
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