Translation vs. Localization Services for Multilingual Websites

What are the differences? What service do you need?

Last Updated: July 15, 2019 3:27PM

The terms website translation services and website localization services are often used so interchangeably, it’s not uncommon for marketers and others to be unaware of their differences. Understanding what distinguishes these similar terms, processes, and services does more than just benefit your knowledge of the industry. It also helps you (and your brand) globalize more efficiently and profitably.

To understand the difference between website translation and localization services, let’s start with some simple definitions.

  • Website translation is the process of changing an original (source) language version of web content such as text, multimedia, eBooks, or apps into a different (target) language. This occurs by simply substituting words from one language to another—in context.
  • Website localization is a more specialized process of adapting your web content and applications for regional—or local—consumption. Website localization goes beyond translation to modify the source language and other site elements to appeal to the customer’s cultural preferences in his/her own target language.

Bridging language barriers or adapting and refining messaging?

With translation, problems of intent and clarity often arise if the source language remains in a primitive, word-to-word state. This can happen, for example, when machine translations aren’t followed by a professional editing cycle. However, even if a highly trained linguist translates a website’s source language, the translation may still lack the level of cultural and technical nuance required to effectively resonate with the new market.

Indeed, the quality and effectiveness of a global website doesn’t simply depend on language translation alone. To help ensure a quality customer experience, the top global brands employ a localization strategy to adapt their online assets for regional specificity. So, we can understand website translation services as a simple utility for bridging language barriers. Conversely, we can view website localization services as the way by which you refine your message to meet the cultural, functional, and language expectations of your global markets.

Meeting cultural and functional expectations

According to Dr. Nitish Singh, Associate Professor of International business at Saint Louis University, to successfully compete in today’s global economy organizations must adapt—or localize—website and digital media content to clearly resonate with their international audiences. “From a broad marketing perspective,” says Singh, “localization basically means adapting market offerings to best meet end-user expectations.” (Singh, 2015, pg. 7)*

Some examples of cultural content include:

  • Colors, shapes, sizes, styles
  • Images, icons, graphics
  • Societal codes; e.g., humor, etiquette, rituals, myths, s ymbols
  • Societal values, power, relationships, beliefs

Some examples of functional content include:

  • Date and time formats, telephone numbers, and contact information
  • Weights, measurements, geographical references
  • Language and linguistic content; product descriptions, reviews

Taking a local idea global

Some localization experts go beyond adapting web content so it caters to national or regional market preferences. In some cases, experts recreate or “transcreate” advertising and marketing campaign messaging to maximize cultural appeal—and avoid potentially embarrassing or offensive communications.

Share a Coke campaign-localization

One example of transcreation is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. Since its 2011 Australian launch that featured imprinting 150 popular first names onto its products (and in promotions across media), the campaign has seen global success. However, Coke needed to modify the execution in order to resonate globally.

In China, for example, the campaign uses nicknames (i.e., “Classmate” and “Close Friend”) instead of first names. By respecting the formality with which the Chinese people use first names, this approach maintains the campaigns friendly nature but avoids crossing an important cultural boundary.

Choosing translation and localization methods by content types

Finally, website translation and localization differ on a tactical level. Simple translation may be appropriate for some content types in certain markets. Localization is most often required for adapting highly emotive, creative marketing content so it clearly resonates across locales.

Your website likely contains several content types, from marketing copy to legal and technical information and user-generated forum content. For reasons of efficiency and cost, it’s wise to map these content types to the most appropriate translation or localization methods.

It’s generally easier to select the best fit when you consider your audience(s) and the content’s nature and intent. Other parameters include volume, update cadence, lifespan, and budgetary considerations. Depending on your language service provider’s (LSP) capabilities, you have several options. When making these decisions, it’s best to consult an experienced professional translation company that offers a wide range of services.

Streamlining web translation—and localization

With sufficient planning, a focused website localization strategy—and an experienced LSP partner to help you execute on your strategy—our website translation services can deliver projects relatively seamlessly. But without proper preparation, they can become a time-consuming, expensive drag on your business.

Be sure to follow industry best practices to reduce complexity, speed time-to-market, control costs, and ensure quality localized content for all your global markets.

*From “Cultural Customization of Digital Media: An Imperative,” The Definitive Guide to Website Translation, Lionbridge Technologies. Originally published on BrandQuarterly.com.