How to localize a website at scale. 7-step Guide for an Enterprise

While almost half of the global population is now connected, around 80% of people do not speak English, the most common business language used around the world. In other words, companies that do not adapt their services and websites to local needs are not only losing access to new markets but also weakening their presence in those markets in which they already have a presence. That’s why website localization is now more important than ever!

As we all know, the Internet is rapidly changing, as are the tools related to the digital sphere. Modern sites no longer rely on boring pages filled with generic content. New digital experience (DXP) platforms enable marketers, content specialists, and other professionals to create websites that result in a personalized experience. Those who cannot create mobile-friendly websites and engage visitors across the globe will simply disappear. 

Nowadays, more than 4 billion people have an Internet connection, meaning that nearly 50% of the global population has access to websites and expects to read the information in their local language.

According to Common Sense Advisory, 56,2% of those surveyed admit that obtaining information in their language is more important than price.

In addition, more than 80% of internet users may be outside your continent of origin.

Many may think that website localization is nothing more than the translation of one language to another. While this step is indeed at the core of successfully creating region-specific websites, businesses must take many more factors into account to launch a really good website that will meet local market needs. In this article, we will unveil a little secret on how to effectively deploy many sites in different parts of the world all at the same time. 

Successful website localization process 

First of all, let’s start with an apparently simple question: what exactly goes into website localization? The answer isn’t as obvious as it may seem.

A successful localization process always involves several complementary activities, such as:

  • Localization engineering: the process by which translated text is identified and late extracted and exported to a translator or relevant market supervisor

  • Translation: a native speaker with relevant qualifications is assigned to translate the extracted text.

  • Website Testing: the tester looks at on-site functionality and language accuracy while also checking whether the content is adapted to the local market. 

  • Cultural adjustments: some phrases may simply sound ridiculous when they are translated literally. Moreover, some words in certain contexts might be found offensive by the local audience.

  • Continuous support after implementation: the vast majority of website platforms offer insights and help only until launch. However, a successful localization process requires constant support from an experienced team that can flag and resolve any issues.

  • Multiple time-zone support: coordination of marketing and launches across different time zones. For example, imagine a global app that works in different time zones and on which marketers want to launch a campaign at noon. But noon where? Consideration of local times can determine the success or failure of a launch.

  • Server management: managing the performance of your website based on the location, architecture, and application integrity of your servers. When you decide which server architecture you want to use, there are many factors that need to be considered such as performance, scalability, cost, reliability, and ease of management. There is no universal solution and configuration.

  • Adapting content to local needs: some content may be used successfully in different markets. However, local subsidiaries should be given free rein to conduct regional marketing activities. In other words, a company’s communication on a local level needs to reflect the market’s identity and expectations.

7 steps to launch your website localization project

So, if we all agree that localization is a challenging and complex process, what’s to be done? You’ll still need to create regional versions of your online presence. But how are you supposed to go about it?

Well, there are some best practices out there that we’ve distilled into a series of steps that you can follow to properly perform website localization. Keep in mind that every company and every process are slightly different, so always be ready to adapt and adjust.

Step 1: Clearly define your business goals on website localization 

Any successful business strategy requires a well-prepared plan based on the target market. 

Your localization project can produce an incredible return on investment. In fact, the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) estimates that every  €1 spent on localizing your website yields an average of €25 in returns. Still, if your plan is solely based on identifying customers, success might prove elusive. Your company has to thoughtfully approach the problem and answer some essential questions. 

First of all, ask yourself what is the aim of the process. What are your short-term and long-term goals? In the era of agile teams, many managers believe there is no need to create complex strategies. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, most executives were frustrated with planning because they believed that speed was an important factor and that plans frequently changed anyway. Those surveyed wondered whether it was worth their time to engage in a slow and painful planning exercise when they had no intention of following up on the plan. 

Critical questions that guide the localization process

Still, throughout the localization process, it is important to have a consistent guiding vision even if you have not fully settled upon a single plan. 

Answering such general questions may seem useless. But many marketing managers struggle to articulate the reason behind some activities and investments connected to their localization approach. As a result, the resulting websites fail to fulfill the company’s objectives and often fail to appeal to local customers. 

Therefore, your company has to create a wide localization roadmap by answering the following questions: 

1. What is the goal of the website localization project?

  • Is your company looking to increase revenues in each of the localized markets or build a solid brand presence? 

  • Have you prepared a timeline and KPIs for the project? 

  • What is your estimated budget and ROI of the project? 

2. What is the aim of the websites you are planning to create? 

  • Will the site be used for direct sales or conversions? Or for capturing leads?

  • Is it just meant to provide support for local teams or a tool to build your brand awareness? 

3. How are you going to serve your customers in different markets? 

  • Does your company have any knowledge of local norms? If not, are you planning to hire a localization specialist? 

  • What steps is your company taking to effectively reach your target audience? 

4. What is your communication plan towards different markets? 

  • Are your global KPIs consistent with the local ones? 

5. Can you identify the crucial parts of the site? 

  • Is it a page with case studies or with product specifics?

  • What elements of your localized website are most important to a regional audience?

6. Which Content Management System (CMS) are you planning to use?

  • Are you planning to use your current CMS or considering other solutions dedicated to Tier 2 markets?

  • What are your requirements for the global CMS? 

  • For more information about choosing a CMS, read our Guide on CMS for Enterprise

7. Do you need a digital transformation partner?

  • Do you need a consulting partner to guide you through the digital transformation process or do you have the competencies in-house?

  • Depending on the project scale it can be quite a challenge to manage it on your own, so an experienced partner might make the process smooth.

These are just a few of the basic requirements and questions of which you should be aware when considering launching your website localization project. 

Step 2: Create a consistent budget plan

Of course, everything requires money, so we cannot discuss website localization without mentioning the budget. You’re going to have to remain realistic about your plans in order to fulfill your objectives without exceeding the available resources. However, you also need to remain ambitious in order to deliver a truly exceptional digital experience suited to your chosen audience.

Budgeting strategically

With that in mind, do not create a plan that cannot be supported by your budget. But at the same time, don't underestimate the resources and opportunities available to your company. Moreover, try to roll-out a budget that is consistent with your business goals. After all, George Washington once said: “We must consult our means rather than our wishes.” 

Forgetting about strategy while planning spending and investments is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to localization. Remember that the budget is just a plan with numbers. It helps create a more precise roadmap that enables you to manage your vision while considering realistic limitations. 

During the budgeting period, start by listing three to five goals that will be fulfilled assuming a certain level of funding. Make sure that each of these objectives represents a clear fit with your project plan. Generally speaking, don’t forget about including these two important elements:

  • Timeline: Is the whole project lifetime predicted in the budget request? If so, will the localization take a month, a quarter, a year, or even longer?

  • Assumptions: Budget projections are made based on certain assumptions. Try to estimate how localizing websites in just one market will affect your global sales. Remember to take a hard look at the assumptions you are making and explain your decisions based on historical and current data. 

Getting the details in order

Normally, you will prepare two separate budgets: the launch budget and the maintenance budget. However, some companies offer their services on a Service as a Solution model, meaning you could invoice the costs on a regular basis rather than once when the project has launched. Keep in mind that this will affect your operating expenses (OPEX) more than your capital expenditures (CAPEX). 

And even before you start creating a complex budget plan, make sure to consider how many websites you’re planning to localize. Are they in the same regions or are they spread out around the world?

When thinking about the cost of launching a website localization project, the following topics should be considered:

  • Which content management system you will use 

  • What kind of translation services will be needed

  • UX/UI adjustments, such as adjusting marketing materials like images and videos

  • The availability of in-house employees

  • The possibility of utilizing consulting services

  • Working with an implementation partner

  • Whether or not you would be well-served by a maintenance partner that can help develop content while offering skilled development and support teams

Let’s expand on two of these points in greater detail before moving onto the third localization step:

Content Management System

There are a wide variety of CMS options out there, each of which can provide their own benefits and each of which are suited to different companies. Choosing the right platform can ensure that your localized websites are easier to manage and suited to the various markets in which you intend to operate.

This choice might lead you to remain with your existing CMS depending on the associated costs, your company’s particular circumstances, or the content you intend to publish. Regardless, it’s essential to take this platform into consideration when considering how your business will approach the localization process.

Website localization services 

Generally, translation agencies or language service providers (LSP) calculate their work, based on the number of words that need translation, the number of languages involved, and the cost per word.

The cost of translation varies significantly depending on the method and provider you choose. You can obtain translation services from local providers as well as global companies. In some cases, companies can also use automated translation tools that are supervised by humans, which often proves to be cheaper and faster.

There is also a difference between global agencies that will translate your content to various languages and local companies that only operate in a single market. Freelancers provide yet another option to consider and are a compromise between professional agencies and crowdsourced translations. Still, professional LSPs’ services can be invaluable if the content is highly specific, such as technical, medical, or legal translations. 

While preparing a budget, you should also verify offers precisely. A provider has to inform you what is included in the price and what type of services will result in additional expenses. Still, bear in mind that per word rates should be all-inclusive. Moreover, once you pay for the content, it should be widely available for use on your channels. We recommend working with a vendor who is as transparent as possible and offers flat rates regardless of website traffic or other changing factors. 

Generally, providers that offer their services on a SaaS model include all the technical, maintenance, and support costs as part of their cost estimate. Rates usually vary depending on the level of service. However, if your vendor sells an on-premises solution, you should consider different categories of costs such as technical and support expenses, and divide them into two budget plans.

Step 3: Plan carefully. Together or separated? Choose the website localization approach 

A successful localization project starts long before the process actually launches. First of all, decide what method of management you will take. 

From a technical point of view, there are two different approaches to making your company’s websites global: 

  • Creating separated and specific market-targeted instances 

  • Having multilingual websites under a shared domain. 

Both methods have advantages and setbacks. If you want to localize your offer, the first solution offers a better option as it enables your business to create fully contextual content that feels native for the customer.

The second method is generally appropriate for supporting the global launch of a standardized offer. As this approach results in the websites being managed by one domain, they must be almost identical. Therefore, translations can only slightly differ from the original text. Otherwise, the user may be redirected to the wrong page or end up misinformed about the product and its features. 

However, in today’s business environment, customers expect a  personalized and tailored experience. Therefore, relying on multilingual but not market-adapted websites could discourage some, though deciding on the first method also entails certain challenges. 

One such problem is the management of multiple websites across different time zones and continents. In other words, if your company operates in 100 markets it means that your developers have to supervise at least 100 distinct websites, the number of which rises with every version translated into a different language. Therefore, businesses should establish proper procedures that will make managing websites anyhow possible even before starting the localization process.

It might be worth considering the use of a CMS vendor that is not only an implementation partner but also takes care of website maintenance. Reffine offers not only its Light DXP platform but also a Content Team to deliver region-specific digital experiences.

Step 4: Choose translation services wisely

While translation is a core part of localization, the process involves a great deal more in terms of required work and complexity. Just because your audience all speak the same language doesn’t mean that they do so in a uniform manner. People live in different geographical zones and have differing cultural experiences that are reflected in their communication. No wonder we all don’t have the same humor, needs, or values. This doesn’t magically change when it comes to purchasing preferences. 

Optimizing your sales opportunities

Statistics show that more than three billion people use the Internet every day. Most of them are from Asia (48.4%), America (21.8%), and Europe (19%). Therefore, if you are only selling your product in one market, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Don’t hesitate to think big and global. Even if your initial target market is small, that doesn’t mean it always will be. 

And if you want to sell a product in a specific region, you need to prepare an offer in the customer’s native language. The research of Common Sense Advisory Statistics showed that when it comes to buying and payment methods, even if people can understand English, the majority of them will choose a different option if the page isn’t in their preferred language.

In addition, Common Sense Advisory Statistics showed that:

  • 76% of online shoppers prefer to buy products featured in their native language

  • 65% prefer content in their language, even if it’s poor quality

  • 40% will never buy from websites in other languages.

So, what can we learn from this information that can improve sales? Mainly two things. First, despite the globalization process, there are many people in the world who do not speak English. Second, competition is substantial everywhere, even on a local level.

Unique translation challenges

Remember how we said earlier that translation isn’t the only part of localization? That’s because you need to adapt the whole user experience, which is directly related to cultural factors. 

Take, for example, the word “localization.”Deciding whether to write it as “localisation” or “localization” depends on whether the content will target the UK or US markets respectively.

A geographical factor is another essential aspect of your localized websites to take into consideration. Our team at Reffine experienced this particular challenge personally. When working with global companies, we’ve run into versions of websites that display photos featuring snow many times. We had to ensure that the photos would not appear on any market where snow is hardly seen during the year and a winter landscape is not a natural occurrence.

Managing a comprehensive localization strategy

But there’s much more to do at this stage of the localization process besides translation. This is the time to plan the localization process from scratch by internationalizing your website while considering challenges related to the respective market differences. At this point, it’s time to determine whether or not the layout of your website needs to be updated to add space and take action on other behind-the-scenes elements like applying the Hreflang tags to URLs, and using the right Unicode (in most cases you would use UTF-8). 

Localization requires support and coordination from translators, clients, project managers, and developers and support teams. In some cases, you’ll also need to include local teams to clear up unique issues, though this varies depending on your company’s circumstances. Make sure that you work with a team that practices good communication as well as local translators and marketers who can ensure your company avoids any cultural taboos. 

76% of online shoppers prefer to buy products featured in their native language, 65% prefer content in their language, even if it’s poor quality, 40% will never buy from websites in other languages.

Step 5: Adjust websites to fit local requirements.

We know that in the website localization process, a correct translation is the key. 

The three most spoken languages in the world are Chinese, Spanish and English. We must remember that even in one country, people don’t speak a given language in the same manner. When we look at China, the list of spoken dialects seems endless. Although Chinese authorities have attempted to manage this problem by creating a systematized language and establishing Mandarin Chinese (普通 话) as the official language, other linguistic factors like traditional and simplified Chinese characters have persisted. 

Similarly, Spanish is an official language in more than 20 countries, but there are major differences in the perception of text from one region to the next. As such, using only one version of a Spanish-language website would be problematic. And as we’ve already mentioned, English is also spoken differently depending on the market. This most commonly manifests as differences between US and UK versions of the language. 

Translation leads to structural changes

Designers and developers also need to keep in mind that a page might look different based on the market and spoken language. A good habit is to always expect to need more space for each element of the localized site (navigation, sections, CTAs, download buttons, forms, footer etc).

For instance, according to Kwintessential, German can generally take up to 40% more space than English. Take the phrase, “processing functions,” which becomes, “verarbeitungsfunktionen,” when translated into German In English we might be able to write a phrase in two lines easily while a German version may prove difficult to separate and will be challenging for designers to work with. 

Font size represents another element that differs depending on the language. Let’s return to Chinese. As a starting point, the language typically requires all font sizes to be increased by a few sizes, especially when using traditional characters. Moreover, there is no visible space between Chinese words. As such, the separation of a sentence can completely change the meaning of the sentence, even when a word does not end up broken. 

Different languages provide unique challenges

Overall, China is one of the most complicated markets to localize for in many ways. For example, Google is not the search engine of choice, making it more difficult to manage search engine optimization there than in other countries. The same goes for Youtube and Facebook. If you want to reach your target audience, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with Baidu, Youku, and WeChat. 

Another major challenge is the localization for Arabic-speaking countries. Arabic is a widely-spoken language that is read from right to left, which poses obvious challenges when considering layout adjustments. And, as with any region, these countries have their own cultural norms that are very important to take into account. For instance, store hours change during Ramadan, so you might have to consider introducing new seasonal schedules on your website. The end of Ramadan is also a highly active sales period, during which you’ll likely want to increase the number of offers added to your website.

Step 6: Think over managing website localization workloads

Is your company prepared and willing to manage complex localization procedures in-house? In most cases, businesses tend to outsource website localization to specialized marketing agencies or technology companies that have experience with the process. However, you might need to supervise complicated translation and maintenance workflows on a daily basis, which means hiring extra staff to focus exclusively on the localization process. 

This approach carries great risks. A breakdown at any stage of the process means that your brand reliability could be affected significantly. 


If a website’s content is not up to date, the result is a substandard user experience. This in turn leads to peaks in bounce rates and sinking conversion rates. Therefore, many enterprises decide to hire a supervisor to manage the localization process on their behalf while delegating specific tasks to dedicated agencies. 

Launching the whole process is complicated enough, but managing the localization workflow on a daily basis represents a major challenge in its own right. One way to avoid any major hiccups is to divide your approach in three: 

  1. Creation of the internalization (i18n) technical background and files 
  2. Preparing and uploading translation files
  3. Retrieving translation files.

The first step is to create a file consisting of translatable strings that developers extract from a source code. The so-called i18n file is widely used by developers to perform translations efficiently and swiftly. Each framework has its own i18n format. For example, iPhone apps use the .strings format whereas Android apps use their own XML-based format. 

Then, these files are automatically or manually sent to the translators. They can either be notified by a Continuous Localization Platform (CLP) or those responsible for the process. After the translations are completed, the files are sent back and the previous versions are replaced.  

Step 7: Have a post-launch update strategy 

It is essential to share as much information as you can with your localization agency, which will execute the project more efficiently if you provide budget constraints, localization preferences and priorities, and all products’ specifications, including local pricing of products and local features. 

And don’t forget to search for a provider who can support you after the localization process concludes. Bugs are almost inevitable. Users may report software-related issues or problems that encountered on certain devices. While fixing these issues tends to be quite easy, doing so requires proper knowledge and expertise. In addition, any time your company introduces new products or launches a refreshed version of old ones, proper support will save you time and enable your company to focus on other challenges. 

If you want to fully benefit from support teams, here are some tips to follow: 

  1. Communication is king. A professional localization agency will treat constant, high-quality communication with your local teams as a priority. 
  2. Make status calls a standard part of your business process. Regular virtual meetings and summaries are essential to launch and maintain a successful localization process. 
  3. Divide and manage. Ask the localization company to assign you a dedicated team – or at least a key expert – and clearly identify who is responsible for what task. 
  4. Trust in software. Don’t forget to use reliable tools to maintain frequent communication with the localization company. 
  5. Keep track of the relevant time zone. An effective support team will at least offer you partial help in managing localized websites in relation to their specific time zone. 
  6. Know your region as well as possible. If your company wants to localize websites in unknown regions, don’t hesitate to ask localization professionals for tips concerning local expectations and traditions. Remember that digital marketing is all about context.

Website localization with Reffine

If you’re making the decision to pursue website localization, we are here to help. We provide a unique approach by not only functioning as a CMS vendor with our Reffine Light DXP but also offer Content Services and infrastructure support as well. This means that we can operate as an implementation and maintenance partner for global brands who want to expand their digital presence. 

Looking for a partner to localize your website?