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Website localization demands cultural and technical savvy

Launching a global Web localization program requires a firm understanding of how language and culture can alter the display in different markets.

Website localization -- the process of adapting a website into a different language and local culture -- is an important discipline for any company looking to create a global footprint. Successful localization requires far more than simple word-for-word translation into a target market's language. Potential missteps lurk at every turn, and cultural sensitivity is required for everything from idioms to the symbolism of colors.

Managing a collection of localized websites presents another challenge, but flexible global templates that adapt the display according to language conventions and device can ease that burden, while also maintaining brand continuity.

In this excerpt from The Definitive Guide to Website Translation, Claire Crowther of Lionbridge Technologies discusses global website localization and offers advice on overcoming the cultural and technical challenges.

Create global templates

One critical design tool that should be included in every global website project is a design and layout template that works for desktops and mobile devices. Most of the world's leading multilingual sites employ global templates -- largely because they increase efficiencies, manage text expansion and help your localization team maintain control over visual presentation, including UI and branding elements.

Templates simplify multisite management while reducing design and development expenses. You also save on costs associated with coding errors, quality control and maintenance.

A flexible template can accommodate all languages including Western (left-to-right reading), East Asian or multibyte, and what the industry calls bidirectional or right-to-left reading languages. These comprise Hebrew, Arabic and languages that use the Arabic script -- such as Persian, Pashto and Urdu. For bidirectional languages, templates are created with a right-to-left orientation.

For an example of superior template usage, check out the top-rated Cisco website. Notice how consistently it's designed and branded across markets, while still enabling locally customized content.

Global templates
Global templates help ensure a consistent brand presence while enabling unique local content, campaigns and promotions.

Use culturally sensitive imagery

Art, by its very nature, is subjective. So are commercial graphics, photographs, icons and symbols -- especially across global websites. Designs that seem innocent or stylish to Westerners may be offensive in other cultures. Avoid images of hands, animals or religious symbols. Use culturally appropriate people in photos. And play it safe. Do your research and check with in-country staff if you have any reservations.

Research colors implications

The interpreted symbolism of colors varies widely from culture to culture. Some experts claim that the most globally accepted color is blue. Perhaps because of its connections with nature, it tends to evoke positive feelings and a sense of calm. In Iran, however, it's associated with mourning. Since colors are so subjective, it's suggested to use them functionally on your website and to research conflicts if you're not sure of cultural implications.

Keep text out of graphics

Avoid embedding text in graphics. It complicates the process by preventing easy access to text for translation and may entail the otherwise avoidable task of rebuilding graphic files. Instead, suggest that your Web developers overlay text onto graphics within the HTML (if doing so provides the quality and control you need). Save more time and cost by asking your graphic designers to create separate text layers in their Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator source files. You'll also benefit from an important SEO best practice since search-engine Web crawlers can't read text that's embedded in images.

Use source files, not PDFs

Adobe PDF (portable document format) files can make it difficult to access content for translation. PDFs can't be edited in some programs and can lose formatting when converted into translatable formats -- which can result in lost content, edits, costs and delays. So, once again, it's best to provide original design source files to ensure the best-quality translations.

Remember text expansion

When translated from English, some other Western languages can expand by up to 35% or more. So, planning is critical, especially when localizing Web app interfaces, site navigation menus and other elements such as call-to-action buttons.

Here's a simple example:

Localizing Web buttons

About the author
Claire Crowther is a content marketing associate at Lionbridge.

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