Schreiber Translations, Inc.

Globalizing your Website

"Taking Your Website Multilingual"
Article 3 of 4 in a series

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You're finally convinced. You understand that by globalizing your website you can greatly increase your visibility and you're ready to begin.

The process of adjusting one's website to create multilingual, multicultural versions of it, is called website localization. LISA – the Localization Standards Association – defines localization as "the process of modifying products or services to account for differences in distinct markets". Their definition takes into account linguistic issues (language and writing style), content and cultural issues (the aesthetic appeal of your site from a cultural standpoint and the cultural appropriateness of the information) and technical issues.

Now that you understand the terminology, the next step is to answer the all-important question: Which languages?

Which Languages?

When deciding which languages and regions to address with your website there are many important considerations.

If you're not already doing business internationally and you don't have an idea of which countries are the most obvious targets for your product, service or information, you probably want to start with five languages – French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. Having your site in English plus these five languages will allow you to reach almost 90% of the online world.

In addition, this will allow you to cover most of the Western European market, whose potential is strong – after the U.S., it's the best market in terms of numbers online combined with the fact that the telecommunications and other infrastructure there are well developed. After Europe, Japan is the next best choice based on these criteria, with Latin America and the rest of Asia lagging a good bit further behind. Thus, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese are a good place to start.

However, it is important to consider other languages as well. Experts predict that Eastern Europe will see some growth and in Russia specifically, the number of Internet users is expected to grow significantly in upcoming years. In the Nordic region it was reported that over one million consumers in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark made purchases online in 1999, with Sweden being at the top of the list. Chinese and Korean are also well worth considering. It is estimated that half of all Koreans are online. The Latin American market may also be significant. The number of Internet users there is expected to expand greatly as well, with three countries in particular taking the lead: Mexico, Argentina and Brazil (thus, Portuguese a valid choice in addition to Spanish).

And finally, don't discount the U.S. non-English market, specifically the Spanish and Asian-language (mainly Japanese and Chinese) U.S. markets. There are approximately 12 million Asian-Americans and the majority of Asian-American households are online, and there are approximately 8 million Spanish speakers online in the U.S. The next time you see your friend who is a native speaker of Spanish, ask him/her in which language he/she surfs the Net.

Deciding which languages and countries to focus on is not easy – your best bet is to start small. Try a few versions and see how they go; there is no reason you have to launch all versions at once. Once you have decided which languages to start with, you are ready to begin.

The Preparation

Ideally you will want to create a mirror image of your site for each audience. However, if you do have extraneous information such as games, articles of interest, or listings of local events or activities you can certainly consider leaving this information out. This makes your first step deciding which material and/or areas of your site to provide in your multilingual versions.

Next you need to decide whether to handle the project on your own or work with an outside localization vendor. If you already have overseas or foreign locations with staff capable of providing the necessary content translations and cultural consulting then you may want to work with a vendor to provide you only with the reengineering of the site to create the new versions. On the other hand, if you have the in-house IT resources to handle the reengineering and only need the translation and consulting services, you can work with a vendor to handle these aspects. And of course, if you require all services, a qualified localization vendor can handle the entire project.

Even if you do handle the content translation and cultural consulting portion of the project on your own, you still may want to consider having this information reviewed by a professional source. Translation of website information is mainly marketing translation which is a highly specialized skill, requiring a great deal of precision and art to ensure that your message is conveyed correctly. Further, determining whether your site has the right cultural appeal can be tricky and should ideally be handled by professionals. Far worse than not offering your site in multiple languages is offering a site with mistranslations or offensive graphics – as a small example, consider that a picture of a woman sitting with her legs crossed would be considered vulgar in Argentina.

Once you've decided who will handle which aspects of the project you are ready to begin. The process should cover the main elements described below.

The Process


While this is the first official step in localizing your website, it is actually something that ideally takes place well before you're ready. Internationalization refers to the process whereby material is readied for localization. This involves mainly technical considerations, such as planning for text expansion and contraction, especially in graphics (Western European languages typically expand by as much as 20% from English while Asian languages generally contract), not embedding text that changes or is updated often, and creating graphics in layered format so that text can be easily extracted. If these kinds of issues are addressed when a site is first created, time and money can be saved once localization begins. Otherwise, internationalization becomes the first step of the localization process.

Text Extraction

This step involves gathering all of the source files for all HTML pages, graphics, PDF files, etc. and extracting all text to make it available for translation.


This step involves translating all the content found in the material. At a minimum, translation must be done by a native speaker of the target language, preferably a translation professional, and ideally by an individual currently living in the target country.


Here consulting is provided to replace any graphics, change any colors and redesign layout so as to achieve the maximum aesthetic appeal for the target culture. This step also involves addressing technical issues, such as correct formatting of times and numbers (many other countries use commas as decimal points and periods to separate thousands), metric measurements vs. U.S. measurements and currency differences.

Text Insertion

The translated text is reinserted. Note: HTML tags do not need to be translated, however text in META tags does. Make sure to change the HTML code to reflect language and be sure to address issues regarding special scripts, database-driven pages and other code.


The new version(s) of the site should ideally be tested on different operating systems and with different browsers to ensure that there are no viewing problems.

These are the main steps to follow during the localization process. Handled correctly, website localization does not need to be a complicated, costly endeavor.

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