There are plenty of reasons to have a multilingual website. Maybe your business has expanded into a new country. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your e-commerce site is receiving a lot of traffic from other nations. Ultimately, if you want people who don’t speak your language to engage with your website, at least some of your content should be in their language.

‘Easy enough!’, you might think, ‘I just need to hire a translator.’ While that’s not inaccurate, it’s not quite complete. The translation may not be enough. There’s a very good chance that you’ll also need to have your content localized. Localization is a service that many translation companies offer. It usually goes hand in hand with standard translation.

Translation Vs. Localization

Translation is simply the process of taking something written in one language and writing it in another language. With a good translation, nothing is lost. It is as close to the original as both languages will allow. Let’s say you own a used car lot. Your catchphrase is ‘We are the Babe Ruth of in-house financing.’ If you translated your catchphrase into Spanish it would be ‘Somos el Babe Ruth de la financiación en casa’.

If your Spanish speaking audience understands who Babe Ruth is, and they get the meaning behind claiming to be the ‘Babe Ruth’ of something, that’s great. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. What if your intended audience doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is, or if they don’t understand the reference? They might wonder what a dead, fat baseball player has to do with buying a car.

This is where localization comes in. Nearly every culture uses some form of slang, pop culture and historical references, colloquialism, and other forms of idiomatic speech. These things help us to communicate with one another and make our language more relatable. The problem is that these things get lost in translation.

Localization is the process of taking something and ensuring that it has the same meaning. In this case, that could mean replacing the Babe Ruth reference with another sports figure who is better known, or simply replacing ‘Babe Ruth’ with a word meaning ‘expert’ or ‘professional’. The idea is to ensure that your words have the same meaning and emotional impact on your new audience.

Here’s something else to consider. There are times when you might need localization help, but not translation services. For example, people living in a rural village in Argentina might have an entirely different set of cultural references that people living in Barcelona. That’s in spite of the fact that people in both areas speak Spanish.

Localization: More Than Words

Here’s something else to keep in mind. There’s more to localization than words. Colors, symbolism, even tone can have the different meaning from one region and one culture to another. See how quickly you can answer these questions:

What animal would you use to symbolize bravery?

If you wanted a character in a commercial to appear as if they were in mourning, how would you dress them?
What color would you use to portray something as being stereotypically feminine?

If you chose a lion, dressed in black, and pink you aren’t alone. However, there are lots of places where these answers wouldn’t fit at all. They might mean something entirely different.

The tone is something else to consider. Let’s say that you market to a younger audience. Maybe your branding is a bit irreverent and smart-alecky. If you expand your market to other countries, that may not play out as well. It could be considered profane and disrespectful.

Multilingual Websites and Localization

How do you create a multilingual website that allows you to successfully reach out to people in different countries and from different cultures? That can be a real challenge. The best place to start is getting to know your target audience. This will help you to understand where to concentrate your localization and translation efforts.

For one thing, language and geography aren’t the sole arbiters here. There are other factors to consider as well, and a good website localization service can help you identify these. For example, shared interests and experiences can result in a common language of sorts among people. For example, if you sell skateboards through your e-commerce store, you can use images, stories, and references that are meaningful to people involved in that culture. A professional translation agency should have professionals on hand who can help you identify ways to make your content relatable.

A final thing to consider is that your audience may be well traveled enough (literally or virtually) that they don’t need much in the way of localization services. Again, that can only be determined by getting to know your target market. One good tell is whether or not people from foreign markets are already buying your products or otherwise engaging with your website.

If they are, you may not need to fully translate and localize all of your content. Instead, consider using quick translation services to get the most impact for your time and money.

The Bare Minimum: Content That Should Always Be Translated and Localized

If you are going to use a professional translation and proofreading service to do the bare minimum to make your website appeal to a multilingual audience, you have to think strategically. Specifically, where can you get the most impact. The truth is, the best place to start is with content people will read when they are further down the funnel. Consider having landing pages, order forms, policy documents on payments and privacy, and product descriptions translated. Basically, if a customer is going to read something on or around the time they are preparing to make a purchase, you will benefit from providing that to them in their own language.


Whether you need a fully or partially translated and localized website depends on several factors. The key is knowing your audience and understanding how they are already engaging with your brand. This way, when you do bring in the pros, you can make the best use of their efforts.

Bio: Margaret Reid is a freelance writer who is seeking to discover new ways for personal and professional growth. Currently, she`s working in the company The Word Point and trying to improve herself in the blogging career. Margaret is an experienced and self-driven specialist who cannot imagine her life without writing.