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The internet is a global tool, and that means businesses can easily reach into new markets online. But if you want to really succeed internationally, you’ll need to employ content localization techniques to make sure your messaging is relevant for all audiences. Content localization is a process that allows you to create a marketing strategy for each specific international market you want to cater to.

Content Localization at a High Level: The Basics

There are some simple things you can do to make sure your content is relevant in different locales. Language translation is an obvious one. This can include changing spelling for international markets that use British rather than American English. It can also mean completely rewriting your copy to avoid cultural references that might not make sense in a foreign market.

Working with international influencers can also be a smart way to approach content localization. Micro-influencers who have strong local sway in their countries can be good partners in expanding your messaging for cross-cultural appeal.

Cultural Sensitivity and Other In-Depth Approaches

Expanding into markets that are only slightly different from your own can be a lot easier than pressing further afield. For example, say you’re based in the USA want to start marketing your products in Canada and the UK. You’ll probably only need to make minor changes, like listing measurements in metric and setting currency to read properly based on location. You won’t need to worry about things like dramatic cultural differences and language translation.

Catering to different audiences in different cultures can be trickier. Cute pictures of corgis might play well in the USA and Japan. However, majority-Muslim nations like the UAE might not be drawn by puppies due to the fact that some people in Islamic cultures consider dogs unclean. This is, of course, not universally true — cultural stereotyping is another potential landmine that can affect brands trying to expand into new markets. But it’s a subtlety that may not occur to people who aren’t innately familiar with cultural norms in a majority-Muslim locale.

There are a few ways to approach these kinds of subtle cultural sensitivity issues. One is to do your research and to listen to your customers. This means monitoring engagement on social media accounts and looking at broader data trends in response to different content strategy. But it’s also important to have a diverse team that includes people who have native familiarity with the local markets you’re trying to capture.

It’s hard to find a good substitute for firsthand experience and fluent cultural knowledge. That’s especially true if you’re trying to expand into markets that are completely new to you. Simply using Wikipedia and Google Translate isn’t necessarily going to help you understand the subtleties of things like unspoken cultural norms and colloquial language.

If you’re serious about expanding your brand globally, you’ll need the right people on your side. A few missteps around cultural sensitivity can do serious damage to your brand. Dolce & Gabbana, a luxury fashion brand not exactly known for its namesake founders’ social graces, learned this the hard way after a racially insensitive rollout in China. The backlash to that blunder earned the brand negative press globally, not just locally. The ramifications of shoddy content localization strategy can be far-reaching, so don’t cut corners.

Things to Think About for Content Localization

So how can you make sure your web content is ready for an international audience? This to-do list hits on the major points to consider. You don’t necessarily have to do each of these steps in this order. If you want to have all your bases covered for international business, however, try to make sure you tick each box.

  • Location-specific domains: Big international businesses like IKEA often have main websites with big directories for their international sites. Separating your web content for different markets can make it easier for content to be properly formatted by location.
  • Legal: Different markets may require different disclosures and rules on things like terms of use, cookie policies, return or payment processing policies, data collection and more.
  • Images: Choose ethnically inclusive photos. Try not to limit yourself to imagery that will resonate only with one cultural tradition.
  • Language: Change spellings where necessary for British English. Enlist the help of people with both cultural and linguistic fluency to help translate written content. Make sure any technical content, such as user manuals, is available in languages that serve the populations you’re trying to cater to.
  • Localized search optimization: Create SEO content for global and local search. Make sure any back-end tools (metadata and others) are in use for localized search as well.
  • Branding: Make changes to brand presentation and voice if necessary. Market research and split testing can help inform this decision.
  • Social media availability and usage: Different markets may be more prone to using one social platform over another. In some cases, certain social networks may be unavailable for users in specific markets (such as Facebook in China).

If you want to do business internationally, content localization is now part of that process. The language of content marketing isn’t necessarily the same in every market. But with adequate preparation and the right people on your team, you can make a successful launch overseas.