Translation & Localization Services for Multilingual Websites

What’s the difference between localization and translation? Which service do you need?

The terms translation services and 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 extend the reach of your website more efficiently and profitably.

To understand how website translation and localization services differ, let's first define the difference between the two.

Translation vs localization: what’s the difference?

Translation is the process of changing your text into another language, but localization is far more wide-reaching. It considers the cultural, visual and technological aspects of changing a site for users in different languages. In fact, translation can be considered as just one part of the localization process. 

Let’s explore in more detail.

Website Translation

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.

For your website, this means that a translation project will only change the existing content on your site for accurate sentences in another language. Translated content should mirror the style and tone of your source content, while keeping in mind the context. 

Website Localization

Website localization is a more specialized process of adapting your web content and applications for consumption in a specific region. It goes beyond translation, modifying the content and other site elements to appeal to the customer’s cultural preferences in their own language. 

A localization project would have a more far-reaching impact on your website. It might modify the tone of your content and change certain idioms or expressions to take cultural differences into account. Visual elements such as buttons might also need changing or expanding to accommodate different word and phrase lengths in other languages. There may even be some technological changes to make the site easier for international visitors to navigate. 

Why is website localization important? 

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 the translation process 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 as a simple utility for bridging language barriers. Conversely, we can view website localization as the way by which you refine your message to meet the cultural, functional and language expectations of your global markets.

Cultural and Functional Content

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 and styles 
  • Images, icons and graphics 
  • Societal codes; e.g., humor, etiquette, rituals, myths and symbols 
  • Societal values, power, relationships and beliefs 

Some examples of functional content include:

  • Date and time formats, telephone numbers and contact information 
  • Weights, measurements and geographical references 
  • Language and linguistic content, product descriptions and 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 campaign messaging to maximize cultural appeal in local markets—and avoid potentially embarrassing or offensive communications. 

Coke Bottles

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, 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 like "Classmate" and "Close Friend" instead of first names. By respecting the formality with which the Chinese customer uses first names, this approach maintains the campaign's friendly nature but avoids crossing an important cultural boundary. 

Translation vs localization: which should I choose? 

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, as well as user-generated forum content. For reasons of efficiency and cost, it's wise to consider which types of content require localization and where you can simply ask for translation. For example, it might be more important to focus on creating appropriate marketing materials rather than capture the nuance of every comment made on your company’s blog. 

To figure out the best fit, you should consider your audience 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. Your LSP should be able to advise you on which parts of your site to localize, while also employing a wide range of services to ensure that your website is fully operational in multiple languages. 

Streamlining Web Translation and Localization

With sufficient planning, a focused website localization strategy and an experienced LSP to help you execute, you’ll be able to expand your website into new languages and win international customers with your perfectly adapted content. But without proper preparation, the localization process can become a time-consuming, expensive drag on your business. 

That’s where Lionbridge can help. In our 25 years as a language services provider, we’ve helped everyone from Fortune 500 companies to the world’s largest e-commerce sites achieve their business goals through our translation and localization services. Follow our blog for more helpful advice on localization for your business, or contact us to get started on a project. 


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

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