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To localize or not to localize: Making the right decision

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Localization can be a game-changer for expanding your product's reach, enabling you to connect with a global audience in a more meaningful and culturally relevant way. It opens doors to new markets, drives engagement, and can significantly boost your bottom line. However, it's essential to recognize that localization isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Not every company is at the right stage to dive into the complexities and expenses that come with adapting their product for different languages and cultures. Rushing into localization without a clear strategy can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities.

Let me play devil's advocate for a minute, and remind you that sometimes, saying "not yet" to localization might actually be the smartest move. It's crucial to evaluate your readiness and the potential impact before making such a significant investment.

Let's break down how to make an informed decision about whether localization is the next step for your digital product. We'll explore key considerations like audience analysis, resource allocation, UX integration, and strategic piloting to ensure your localization efforts are both effective and efficient.


1. Know your audience, and make sure it wants localization

Before you start translating everything, ask yourself: who are you really building this for? If your current user base is predominantly from one region and you have limited resources, it might be wise to focus on perfecting your product for that primary market first. Use analytics to understand where your users are coming from and how they're interacting with your product. Spoiler alert: if 90% of them come from a country you're already serving, maybe hold off on the massive loc project.

Understanding your audience is crucial. Dive into your user data and segment your audience based on geography. Look at engagement metrics to see which regions are showing the most interest. If you notice that a growing portion of your traffic is coming from a specific country or region, that’s a strong indicator of where to focus your localization efforts.

Also, consider conducting user surveys to get direct feedback from your users. Ask them about their language preferences and how comfortable they are with your product in its current language. This qualitative data can provide deeper insights that numbers alone might not reveal.

2. Ensure you've got the resources you need

Localization is a fantastic investment, but it's also a significant one. Assess your resources—both financial and human. Do you have the budget to not only translate but also culturally adapt your content? Do you have a team (or access to one) that understands the nuances of the new market you're targeting? If you're here, I don't need to tell you that quality localization is more than just swapping out words.

Consider the cost of hiring professional translators and localization experts. Good localization isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment if done correctly. Take into account technology costs and the additional engineering you need. Think about the people who will manage this: Do they have the capacity to handle such a big project? Will you be hiring additional staff or transferring some responsibilities to make this happen? Hint: If you're planning on letting a localization vendor handle everything, you'll be giving up massive amounts of control. You'll also be very likely to have to settle for less when it comes to quality, so it's definitely something to think about in advance.

Also, consider the long-term return on investment. Will the cost of localization be offset by the increased revenue from a new market? Can you model this to show how much, or when it'll happen? Sometimes, a conservative approach, like starting with a single market or language, can help you manage costs while still expanding your reach.

3. Remember that UX and localization go hand in hand

Your user experience should guide your localization efforts. A poorly localized product can damage your brand reputation, doing more bad than good. Ensure your UX design is flexible enough to accommodate different languages and cultural contexts. For example, think about text expansion in languages like German or the right-to-left reading direction in Arabic. Because nothing says "we care" like a button label that's cut off mid-word... Right?

When localizing, consider all aspects of the user interface. This includes everything from navigation menus to error messages. A seamless UX in one language can turn into a nightmare in another if not properly adapted. Work closely with your UX designers to ensure that the localized version of your product maintains the same level of usability and user satisfaction as the original.

4. Dip your toes before you cannonball in

If you're unsure about diving headfirst into full-scale localization, consider a pilot test. Localize a portion of your product or launch in a single new market to gauge the response. This can provide valuable insights and help you tweak your approach before a full rollout. For instance, you could localize a landing page and drive traffic to it from Google or other sources. By comparing the engagement and conversion rates of localized versus non-localized traffic, you can gauge the potential impact before committing significant resources.

Running a pilot allows you to collect data on how well your localized content performs. Look at metrics such as bounce rate, time on page, and conversion rates. These indicators will help you understand whether the localized content is resonating with your target audience. Additionally, you can use A/B testing to compare the performance of localized content against the original version. This method provides a clear, data-driven approach to measuring the effectiveness of your localization efforts.

5. No one wants to think about the legal stuff... But you really should

Different regions have different legal requirements. Make sure you're aware of any local regulations that might affect your product, from data privacy laws to consumer rights. Compliance isn’t optional and can be a make-or-break factor in new markets.

Legal considerations can vary widely between countries. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe imposes strict rules on how companies collect and handle personal data. Failing to comply can result in hefty fines. Similarly, certain countries might have specific regulations regarding advertising, product claims, or even the types of content that can be displayed. Conduct thorough research or consult with legal experts to ensure you’re fully compliant with all relevant laws.

6. Take a look at the competition

What are your competitors doing? If they're successfully localized and you're not, you could be missing out on a significant market share. On the flip side, if they’re not localizing, it might indicate that the market potential doesn’t justify the investment—at least for now.

Yes, it could also indicate you're onto a massively unexplored market - data and research can tell you which one it is. Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to evaluate your competitive position and determine whether localization is a strategic move. Either way, remember that just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge... Well, you know the rest. Check before you jump off the bridge.

7. Think about efforts that'll serve your long-term vision

Will localization support your long-term business goals? It takes a while to put down roots in a new market, so don't come into this expecting immediate gains. If your vision includes international growth, start laying the groundwork for localization now. That might mean building the infrastructure, hiring localization specialists, investing in tools, or starting to build relationships in target markets.

Remember: If you’re planning to expand into multiple markets, it’s important to establish a robust localization process that can be replicated and scaled. For this to really work long-term, you'll need to set up a dedicated localization team, invest in localization management software, develop a style guide and glossary to ensure consistency across all languages, and much more. Go into this process with your eyes open to increase your chances of success.

Final Thoughts ✨

So, is it better not to localize? It depends! (My favorite answer).

The decision should be driven by data, resources, and a clear understanding of your goals. It won't be as fun as just going with the flow, but it'll be much more robust.

If you choose to go forward, start small. Learn from your experiences, and gradually expand your efforts as you gain more insights and resources. And remember, sometimes the smartest move is to wait until you’re truly ready to make a meaningful impact in a new market. Good luck!

To localize or not to localize: Making the right decision

Localization can be a game-changer for expanding your product's reach, but it's not always the right move for every company at every stage.

Michal Kessel Shitrit

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15/05/24

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