Anthea Tang
Nov 21, 2016

Common (and avoidable) pitfalls of localising websites

Don't get lost in translation. Rokkan Singapore's Anthea Tang offers dos and don'ts for localising websites.

Anthea Tang
Anthea Tang

One of the keys to effective branding is consistency, but no single brand message will fit across all markets. While a brand needs to show uniformity in its mission, vision, and purpose, its websites need to stay authentic to specific localities, and tailor offerings and experiences to individual territories if the company hopes to truly compete in the worldwide marketplace.

In working with a variety of global clients that are facing the challenge of thinking locally while acting globally, one thing we’ve learned is that common pitfalls of localising websites are entirely avoidable.

Following are some of the most common problems that companies face when attempting to localiser their online presences—and some best practices that we’ve established to help keep branding authentic and consistent when launching in new markets.

Starting with your technology instead of the consumer

The first question that any global company should ask itself when entering a new market is: “How can the consumer experience achieve the key performance indicator (KPI) to drive business globally?” If you start with your technology or your own organisational structure, the customer experience is already lost. Start with your consumer, whether that means identifying how to increase online purchases, driving traffic to stores, or raising general brand awareness.  A great example of a brand putting the consumer first in the design of a digital experience is Design Hotels. The site is designed with the consumer first, from its big, bold imagery, to how hotels are categorised, to sneak peaks of new locations, and curated portfolios of handpicked hotels for customers.

Confusing translation with tailoring in copy

Worrying more about character count than cultural nuance or true localisation is a common—and easily avoided—pitfall. This is especially important to keep in mind when it comes to keywords that are vital for a company’s search engine optimisation (SEO), where direct translation won’t necessarily yield the best results. In other words, if you find yourself reaching for Google Translate—stop! For example, when expanding the Mikimoto North America site, we worked very closely with the digital marketing team based in Japan who best understood the required content and reviewed each template to ensure true localisation was possible in that market.

Forgetting to account for cultural context in visual design

There generally is not enough design, content, or cultural context consideration for different markets in web design. Instead, the focus tends to default to the digital experience for wherever the company is headquartered and then lightly adapted for other markets. Nuance is everything, so plan for a full-scale sensitivity review, vetting with an eye toward cultural nuances throughout every step of the design process, such as appropriate language, imagery, content, navigation structure, and iconography. For example, in designing the One&Only Resorts site, all markets – including the Middle East and Asia market--were considered so we could tailor the design appropriately. Do the hard work of determining if there are any restrictions that might make it difficult to launch product or brand in a new country. This is perhaps the most vital—and oft-neglected—part of the process!

Neglecting content distribution

So you’ve launched your new website in a foreign country. Great! But your work is far from over. From the outset, your work needs to be done with an eye toward various content distribution mechanisms. For example, Facebook and Twitter might be popular in Europe and in America; in Asia or Africa, maybe not so much. Determine what methods of distribution are most effective in your target markets and leverage them to give your message the lasting power that it needs to thrive and drive back to your owned website space.

Global brands entering burgeoning markets need to take careful steps with web design. Know your audience. Design with purpose. Build local engagement over time. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting lost in translation.

Anthea Tang is general manager of Rokkan Singapore

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