Translation, Internationalization and Localization: Google’s Tips for Taking Your Website Global

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Thinking of taking your website global? This May, Manish Bhargava, Product Manager at Google, spoke at the Google I/O about developing your website presence for an international audience. In the video below he shared his insights on the matter and provided some useful tips around the topics of translation (t9n), localization (l10n) and internationalization (i18n).

We cover some of the more salient points below in this blog post but recommend you also watch the video.


Why take your Website Global?

Why should companies develop products for an international audience? According to Bhargava, this will ensure that a maximum number of consumers can access a company’s products or services. The North-American market, for example, is only accountable for 14% of the entire global market which means companies that only target this market miss out on a very large share of consumers – 86% in fact.

Moreover, having an English website is not the same as global developing: only 26.8% of internet users speak English. Even if you are only interested in revenue, globalization is of importance as well as the international revenue of big companies such as Facebook is increasing year by year.

On top of that, many foreign markets still have big growth opportunities, Bhargava says. He mentions a graph that was featured in Mary Meekers presentation about the state of the web she gave in December last year, which showed that the annual growth for emerging markets is very steady.

Chart Global Internet Users

Moreover, in many of these markets, the population penetration is still quit low: take for example India, where only 11% of the population has access to the internet. Compared to the United States, where 78% of the population are internet users, the Indian market can still grow tremendously and is far from saturated.

Bhargava believes that another reason why developers should focus on internationalization is because the amount of money that is spent on advertising in the various regions in the world clearly indicates that there is big money to be gained in markets other than North America and Europe.

Here, he shows a graph of the percentage growth of advertising expenses for big companies that was created by Nielsen. This graph shows that while Europe even had a negative growth, the real gains are to be made in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Chart Growth Global Advertising Spend


Going Global: Key Steps

The numbers don’t lie: it is really worth the effort for developers to go international.

According to Bhargava, creating products for a global audience involves more than translation. In fact, two steps are needed to go global: internationalization (i18n) and localization (l10n).

Internationalization can be defined as when designing and coding is done in such a way that linguistic, regional and cultural differences are supported. A good example of internationalization is making sure the characters of all languages can be displayed.

Localization entails that developers adapt their product’s look and feel to the culture they are targeting. Translation is part of this, but localization also involves local defaults and custom features.

If localization is done incorrectly, it can result in embarrassing bloopers. However, it can also cause more severe problems: Bhargava gives a great example of this. In their Swedish version of Google Maps, the phrase “Get Directions” was translated as “Anvisningar,” which literally means “Instructions.” Even though this isn’t a faulty translation, it is very unlikely that people looking for directions will click on this button. No wonder the Swedish did not turn to Google for directions!

Bhargava thus believes that in terms of internationalization and localization, “getting it right matters.” Local users should feel that the product has been created with them in mind and that they are not simply viewing a translated English website.

According to Bhargava, there is a specific internationalization Desigining Principle. This principle can be defined as follows: a product has to be designed in such a way that it is language and region independent. For example, if you use the UI text {$name} + “added” + {$number} + “person to his circles,” the word order can be different for various languages. Translators can either go online and research how these phrases are usually translated, but there are also open source libraries available to solve these kinds of problems.

So how can developers develop and code that the finished product does not have to be altered afterwards? Bhargava believes there are a number solutions to achieve this. For example, the common code base should be region and language independent and all language and region dependent aspects have to be entered in Unicode. These region and language specific features will then be handled by internationalization libraries that will choose the correct format for the language employed. The actual text is then localized to the targeted languages.

Bhargava states that this might be more difficult than it seems. Most websites are created for left-to-right languages, but there are languages which are read from right to left as well, for example Arabic. Users that speak these languages are able to use websites on which the layout is displayed from left to right, but the websites will not “feel” as if they are created specifically for them. This cannot be done by using libraries: engineering efforts have to be called in to create a proper right-to-left website.

Bhargava then turns to localization. In order to prepare for localization, companies should focus on three things:

1) Firstly, they should determine the target language set. This set can vary depending on whether businesses are interested in the numbers of users or revenue.
2) Secondly, the localizable resources must be separated from the source code.
3) Thirdly, companies should find a localization vendor or tool. Make sure the tool you or your vendor is using has a glossary or translation memory, as this will save a great deal of time.

Localization and Internationalization Strategies and Resources

According to Bhargava, companies should carefully choose where and when to launch their products. He points out that launching a product in a language is not the same a launching a product in a country. A Spanish product, for example, can be launched in Spain, (a specific country) in Latin America or in the United States to target Spanish speakers there. In addition, there are multi-language countries as well. If you are targeting on of these countries, such as Belgium, businesses must decide which language they want to use for their product. Moreover, the place and time you want to launch your products also depends on the laws and policies in the markets you are aiming at. In Europe, for example, there are strict privacy laws that have to be taken into account.

There are a number of internationalization resources available to help developers tackle the problems that arise when creating global products. Bhargava points out that Google has its own site with resources: Internationalization Tools.

Google Internationalization software

The resources stated above  are either developed by Google or receive contributions from the company. In terms of resources, there are the Unicode libraries Bhargava previously mentioned. These are available in Java and C/C++ and are open source libraries. The libraries are ported to Python as well and are used by eBay, Firefox, Yahoo and many other large companies. However, there are also other resources available via the Google website. Bhargava highlights a number of these:

•    Input Tools is another important resource, Bhargava says. Studies have shown that your app will be used by more users if they can input in their own language. Here, Input Tools can help, as it enables users to input in their own language. These tools can be used for any desired platform, such as PCs or tablets.
•    Another resource Bhargava mentions is the Phone Number Library. This tool helps businesses to handle all international phone numbers and works for all regions of the world and can be used to format, store, and validate international phone numbers.
•    A similar tool is the Addresses Library, that can provide create a basic validation and layout for all regions in the world. For many of these regions, a detailed validation can be created as well.
•    There also is a Google tool available for fonts: sometimes, certain fonts or alphabets are displayed on websites as tofu’s (little squares). This tool prevents this from happening as it is aiming to create one universal font. Fonts can also be found at the sfntly tool.

Practical Tips for Internationalization

tips on localization

Finally, Bhargava provides web developers with number of practical tips:

•    Localize your marketplace data: this will increase the ranking of your app in the local marketplace greatly.
•    Maximize search potential: know your keywords and incorporate them in your text as two-thirds of apps are installed via search.
•    Steady effort will pay off: products must be marketed over a longer period of time to achieve the best results possible.
•    Localize app screenshots: this way, the screenshots reflect the local user experience and the users will now what to expect when they install the app.

Bhargava believes his audience should leave his lecture with the feeling that global really is the way to go. Starting is easy, he says; simply remove hard coded strings and externalize them and employ a number of libraries that are available on the web. In addition, developers can ask their friends and family to help them translate their product and expand from there.

As there are a great deal of resources for both internationalization and localization, the really is no excuse for take the international route to global success.

So are you ready to go global? Why not also download our free beginner’s guide to global SEO and internet marketing?

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