Around the World in 80 Localizations: The Complexity of Multilingual, Multi-Market, Multi-Country Web Content Management

An Inventory of Possible Geographic Localizations

May 7, 2015 | John Berndt

Enter Entree Entrata EntradaEarlier this month, TBG’s team had fast-paced travels across Europe consulting for our major new client, Mitel.com. We visited the company in six cities in five countries in pursuit of Web excellence—contemplating and documenting the needs of this major telecommunications company that has rolled up multiple complex brands, markets, countries and products, creating a unified supplier of equipment, services, and cloud products. Of course, one of the main topics of discussion was Web localization.

Localization, as opposed to more literal and brute-force translation, is the practice of tuning or outright changing Web content to match cultural, market, operational, and historic conditions for a particular place. The same basic Web content and experiences may show up in the same language differently in different countries or markets, or in translated languages, or may be replaced by totally different content. The business of how to plan, control, and manage these interwoven fields of translated and localized content can get quite complex.

The Art of Balance

Strong localization practice is the art of knowing what needs to change, what needs to stay the same, balancing needs of control, Web operations, and these geography specific considerations. The bottom line is that decisions need to be made about both the nuances of how experiences are localized, the infrastructural choices necessary to support the localized experiences, and the human processes necessary to create, approve, and translate the localizations. But before those decisions can be made, it’s important to understand the range of what is possible (though to be fair, not always desirable) to localize. Smart organizations find the productive middle ground between control and chaos—allowing a nimble response to market conditions, without a free-for-all of content.

As we were deep in these discussions with Mitel, it occurred to us that it might be high value for our friends, colleagues, and clients to inventory the range of management options that exist for localization—and put them into context of the needs of multi-national companies and their Web teams. To our knowledge, no such “quick view” inventory exists elsewhere, and though this is a first take, we hope it will be helpful.

What Localizations Are Possible?

What, then, are the superset of options for organizations that want to consider not just translating their sites to different languages, but also to localize aspects of the site experience for different geographic audiences? Certainly this goes beyond just showing different content based on location.

Below we've taken a pass at generalizations about some of the options that are in play with more complex scenarios, in an order representative of the frequency that they typically occur:

#

Localization Element

Comments

1

Logistics/Offices

Obviously, different locations may foreground different facilities, contact information, directions, etc.

2

Market Orientation

This is a bit vague, but in different areas, the overall narrative of what the organization is in its market may be fundamentally different, or at least tuned differently.

3

Available Products

Different market = different subset of products.

4

Calls to Action

In general, calls to action can be highly culturally specific: what works, how to frame the value, and generally how to sell within the culture.

5

Partners/Relationships

Different countries may imply different partnerships.

6

News

News may be highly overlapping, but may be differently ordered in specific countries, or it may be entirely different.

7

Staff

Different countries may imply different leadership or points of contact.

8

Events

Events may be highly overlapping, but may be differently prioritized in specific countries, or it may be entirely different.

9

Content Relationships

How content connects (especially when automated via metadata) may require different relationships among countries, depending on circumstance. For instance, products or services may be related in different ways in different markets.

10

Curated Search

Curated Search controls what pages come up every time for specific search terms, and are set manually. The types of pages that appear in one market may not be the high priority items in another.  

11

Social Media Links

Some countries have different primary social networks, requiring different widgets (e.g. https://www.xing.com in Germany); common social media network widgets may need to link to different pages in specific markets (e.g. “mycompany” Facebook page for Germany, etc.)

12     

Communities/User Groups     

Different markets may imply totally different user groups or communities around your organization’s mission—and require different messaging and capabilities for those groups.

We hope you find this list useful, and certainly contact us or comment below if you have thoughts about how to extend the list. Certainly, it is not exhaustive—but it is more comprehensive than seems to be available elsewhere.

Cultural Differences Are Real, But May Be Hard to Define

A coda to that list of possible localizations, I want to mention that our recent tour in Europe hammered home the reality of subtle cultural differences that change how the whole range of business to interpersonal interactions occur.

For instance, when rapidly moving between Stockholm, Zurich and Berlin, we were struck by our impressions of three very different kinds of relatively minimalist design aesthetics in play in those cities: hardly a subtle contrast between the very livable, homey minimalism of Sweden; the highly designed and pleasantly usable upscale minimalism of downtown Zurich; and the far older and "artier" minimalism of Berlin—all variations on a theme to be sure, but all clearly highly integral, localized design languages as well.

Likewise there were massive functional differences on a much more practical level—for instance, catching a cab that takes credit cards is easy in Stockholm or Paris, but near to impossible in Berlin or London. And everything in between likewise validated that in Europe, countries still very much do make a difference; a fact reflected no less in their consumer markets.

In the words of one genial host, “Remember guys, Europe is not a country!” Too true.

About the Author

JB-avatar
John Berndt

I'm CEO of TBG and I've been thinking about the Web in creative ways since the year it began.

Leave A Reply

comments powered by Disqus