Now more than ever, people crave the familiar. Consumer markets have been on the trajectory of rejecting standardization and being drawn to customization. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for localization even further.

Large-scale enterprises know that optimizing content on a global scale is critical to scalability. For mid-sized corporations who are on the cusp of going global, creating effective content across regional and language barriers can be pivotal. Understanding the differences between localization and translation is a key to scaling efficiently.

Current research confirms that the language(s) we speak affect our decision-making processes. The nuances between translation versus localization may be subtle but substantial — what we’re trying to achieve through both is truly communicating an intended idea.

How does this difference translate to your company in terms of global reach? It means that different buyer markets will relate to content differently, and adoption may be dependent on getting the localization of digital content correct.

How Is Localization Different from Translation?

While similar in concept, the actual translation of language is only a piece of content localization. It’s understandable how teams might miss the subtleties of communication, ending up with sub-par content that doesn’t capture the attention of their global audience.

Translation is word for word changes.

Often done by machine translation (MT), this part of the process doesn’t take into account all the other elements of communicating digital experiences. MT will only translate the words on a page based on a default locale; it will only reflect the style of the source text, no matter what context. For example, when translating into English, will the content be translated into British, American, or Australian English? This could have a significant impact on the user. 

Localization transcreates digital experiences that feel customized and natural to users, leading to drastically improved SEO outcomes.

By transcreating content, technical details such as currency, calendar date formatting, cultural norms, and expectations make your content relevant to international audiences. By doing so, intent, style, tone, and context are not lost and content can feel more organic to consumer markets across the globe. Additionally, localized content will be much more visible to users as SEO rankings are increased across local search engines.

Locale: Language + Location

According to PwC’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey, user experience and interactivity with products and brands are becoming increasingly important to consumers.

If interactivity is based on digital content, it’s increasingly important that content feels personalized for the user. While machine-translated automation and natural language processing have their place, they should augment customized, locale-specific content that also utilizes expert translation. Regional content is not only more effective, but is also more difficult to replicate, providing a considerable competitive advantage. 

French in France is different in Canada and even more different in South Louisiana Cajun French cultures, and English in America is not the same as English in Britain or Australia. A British English translation may be completely confusing to an American English speaker.

Take this British English sentence: “I don’t like the colours of this jumper. I shall take the lift to the flat and change.” For an American speaker, there are multiple issues here. These issues are exaggerated even further in digital content.

The spelling of colour, rather than color, and the use of jumper and lift immediately identify this sentence as British English, as sweater and elevator are used in American English. An unfamiliar American may be able to navigate this in context, but digitally it would be difficult. A localized transcreation, more appealing to global audiences, would be: “I don’t like the color of this sweater. I’ll take the elevator to the apartment to change.”

While these content changes are subtle, they could mean the difference between keeping and losing customers. According to SWEO, it takes the majority of users .05 seconds to form an opinion about your website. That means that any difficulty in understanding word choice could immediately deter potential customers.

That’s why in addition to machine translation (MT), your translation tools should also have an advanced translation management system (TMS) that also incorporates expert translation.

Localization Improves User Experience and SEO

One of the most prominent effects good translation can have is maintaining functionality by adapting to different sociolinguistic expectations of global users. For example, when entering the Chinese market, the red and white design of Coca-Cola was changed to “ke kou ke le,” which translates to “delicious happiness.”

Coca-Cola’s transcreation efforts did not end with the words themselves, but also shifted for the Chinese market in other aspects of communication. These marketing devices included colors and other visual elements such as design and layout. For example, they shifted their logo to be white on red, red being the predominant color, since red correlates to prosperity in Chinese culture. Various marketing choices vary from Beijing to Barcelona to meet the public’s expectations.

Similarly, the regional content localization process is multi-layered and complex. While automated translation plays an important role, marketing content must be rewritten for local consumer markets to be visible and streamlined for top user experience. Poor usability not only deters potential customers, but also adversely affects SEO, making content digitally invisible. In order to break cultural barriers and improve the usability of your website, your transcreation efforts should also focus upon visual storytelling elements to add to clarity.

Visual elements include:

    • Colors – Different colors have different cultural references in each market. In some countries, red denotes danger while in others it communicates prosperity. 
    • Layout – Some languages need more space than others to express the same concepts or perhaps numerical systems have different layouts. Choose software that is able to examine how language changes impact layout in real time
    • Photos – Visually, metadata should track similar photos keeping you from making serious cultural faux pas.
    • Units of Measurement – Most countries use the metric system. Units of measurement should be converted to make content easy to follow and understand.
    • Date Formats – Does 3/4/12 mean March 4 (as in the US) or April 3 (as in the UK)?  The differences in date formats should reflect local standards.
    • Currencies – Price is critical information when making buying decisions. If conversions are not provided, customers could be lost to a local competitor.

Localization Makes a World of Difference

There is a delicate balance between localization and automation. Communicating clearly while optimizing efficiency is key. Can the two be reconciled? Yes. The transcreation tools your company uses should combine the power of automated machine translation and learning, centralized project monitoring, and continuous updates with the custom, creative expertise to meet local expectations.

Technology-enabled language solutions should easily integrate with CRM, CMS, eCommerce platforms, knowledge bases, product and support documentation, and be accessible and transparent through a client portal and Linguistic Quality Evaluation (LQE) tools. The combination will keep efficient and transparent centralized processes in place for your strategy team, while also creating positive CX and improved SEO in your new market.

By combining efficiencies with expertise, you’ll be able to make the most of your translation investment and improve your chances of increasing sales and growing your business around the world. Contact Lingotek for an agile, intelligent translation management strategy to deliver effective content to the diverse communities that you serve.