Website Localization: Machine or Human?

Mar 18, 2016

Most people agree that the World Wide Web has become such a convenient tool that most of us now take for granted. For most of today's prosperous businesses, it is also a powerful sales tool in particular to those who aim to expand internationally. Speaking the language of your target market and potential customers is undoubtedly a competitive advantage and a way to increase international sales and product awareness. But is website translation, or better said localization of the website really so important...or is it just another upsell?

"Everybody speaks English, right?"

Actually, they don't. And even if your customers do speak English as their second language, addressing them in their native tongue has much stronger impact and delivers the message to a wider audience. This is especially important to ponder for a company that considers itself "international", or even "multinational".
Need more evidence? Let's look at some numbers*:

  1. More than 56% of customers are willing to buy the same product at higher prices if the website contains information in their native language. Ergo if you localize, besides gaining a wider audience, your margin increases – not just absolutely, but also relatively.
  2. 65% of your multinational competition considers localization of their content, including websites, as important, or veryimportant for achieving higher company revenues. Alas, a big majority of international players already know what you know. However, the sole fact that the competition realizes or considers something doesn't automatically mean they pursue exceptional efforts in the matter. Speed is the key here. Whoever get's the right message to the right audience can win the market – let it be you. The sooner and better you localize, the more likely you are to outrun your rivals.
  3. Can you afford loosing a homogeneous online market, counting over a billion potential customers? Well, you do exactly that if you omit to localize your website into Chinese. 95 out of 100 Chinese online customers prefer and are significantly more comfortable with websites in their native tongue.

Machines translate. Never localize.

Now that you are all in for website localization, it's important to address what localization of your website actually means. And mainly the difference between website translation and website localization (because it's really NOT the same thing). Simply put, when you merely translate your website (usually using free machine translation tools), you do not customize the content and the message in terms of linguistic and cultural specifics of the target market. You merely rely on the machine to match the words and phrases from your website with a database. Despite evolving in intelligence and learning literally day to day, machines can still deliver only a mechanical translation (what a surprise) with a surprisingly high error rate.

And we come to the point of necessity to employ human skills to edit not just content errors and word order, but also address the "clumsiness" of content converted by machines, and to adapt the translated content to make it appealing and sound natural in the target language, i.e. to localize the website.

Therefore, if you are serious about expanding to new international markets, wish to understand your customers and want the online content to relate to them, put your effort into the quality of website localization. You sell to humans. Don't talk like a machine.