28 min read

Web Internationalization & Localization: The Complete Rundown

Web internationalization and localization is the "next big goal" for many eComm and SaaS brands.

Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson

Expanding to international markets is a great way to grow your SaaS product. However, there are a few technical hurdles you'll need to consider when you plan for global expansion.

The biggest consideration is making sure your website can be easily translated and localized into different languages, and that the process doesn’t become a management nightmare.

Content localization with Sanity.io

Website internationalization is abbreviated as i18n (where the i stands for international and the 18 letters between the i and n represent the 18 letters in the word localization).

In this article, we'll explain website internationalization, the benefits of i18n and what it takes to make your website i18n-ready.

What is website internationalization (i18n)?

At its core, website internationalization is designing and preparing your website's architecture and content to be easily localized or translated into different languages. The goal of i18n is to ensure that your website can be adapted to specific regional and cultural requirements quickly and efficiently without requiring significant modifications to the underlying code.

There are several key components to consider when it comes to website internationalization:

1. Content

This includes your website's text, images, videos, and other multimedia elements. Ensuring this content is easily translatable and culturally sensitive is crucial to a successful internationalization strategy.

2. Design & layout

The design and layout of your website should be flexible enough to accommodate different languages, alphabets, and writing systems without compromising the overall user experience.

A clean design and UI removes translation complications

3. Navigation & menus

The navigation and menus on your website should be intuitive and easy to use for users from different cultures and languages.

4. Currency and measurement units

Currency and measurement units are different from country to country. If you're selling anything that has particular specifications (i.e. physical products), your website should be able to display these units relative to the local audience.

Customers typically don't appreciate seeing one price then getting charged a different amount.

6. Search engine optimization (SEO)

International SEO brings its own set of challenges. Ensuring that your website can be easily found and indexed by search engines in different regions and languages is crucial to its success on the global stage.

There's also considerations around the kind of meta tags you use to avoid Google flagging your content as duplicated.

Advantages of i18n

Adopting an internationalization strategy can be expensive and take a bunch of time to get right. If you want to expand to more than a single English speaking country (i.e. U.S. expanding to Canada) then you'll want to use a headless Content Management System rather than something like WordPress or Shopify.

The process of migrating your website takes time and carries a price tag, and this is just to lay the foundations so you can start working on your i18n strategy.

But it's worth it, and once you're up and running with an international-friendly framework, it's possible to expand quite quickly.

We've compiled a list of businesses that have made the move to these kinds of technologies and had big wins. One of them (Butterfly) expanded to new international markets every 15 days. Download the case study below to see how your journey compares to theirs.

14 Headless eCommerce Success Stories

See how LARQ improved their conversion rate by 80%, STRONGER increased orders by 167% and Butterfly expanded to a new country every 15 days.

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    Once you're up and running you unlock some great advantages for your business:

    Increased global reach

    By designing your website with international users in mind, you can extend your reach to new markets and potentially attract new customers worldwide.

    Improved user experience

    An internationalized website offers a better user experience for users from different cultures and languages. This can lead to higher customer satisfaction and increased engagement.

    Higher conversion rates

    By providing a localized experience for your users, you can increase the likelihood that they will complete their intended actions on your website.

    Better UX often correlates with an increased conversion rate, as your business can literally speak to customers in their own language.

    Competitive advantage

    In a global marketplace, having a website accessible and appealing to users from different countries and cultures can give you a competitive edge over your competitors.

    Streamlined operations

    An internationalized website can help streamline your business operations, making managing content and support for users from different countries easier.

    How to internationalize your website

    While implementing i18n can be a complex and time-consuming process, it is essential for any business that plans on expanding into new markets. Here are some essential steps you should follow to internationalize your website:

    Assess your content and decide where translation is needed

    Start by evaluating your existing content and determining which items need to be translated.

    This includes:

    • Website pages
    • Blog posts
    • Product descriptions
    • Any other text that appears on your site.

    You may also need to translate non-text content such as images, videos, and infographics.

    Do your due diligence on legal or regulatory requirements for the countries you are targeting (especially in Central Asian and the Middle East), as this may affect the content that needs to be translated.

    Implement a good headless content management system (CMS)

    A good content management system (CMS) is essential for managing your website's content.

    Make sure the CMS you choose has robust translation capabilities, as this will make the localization process much easier. Ideally, the CMS should have built-in support for multiple languages, allowing you to create and manage translated versions of your content.

    The two headless CMSs that I've been digging recently for this purpose are:

    • Sanity
    • Storyblok

    Both of these platforms offer different levels of translation; field, document or global.

    Field translations are what you need when you want to change a single field. i.e. A more U.S.-friendly headline for your homepage.

    Document translations apply to an entire page. The CMS will present a blank copy of the page for you to rewrite.

    Finally, global translations are an entirely new version of all the content across your site. This is necessary when you're working with a completely different language.

    Use a translation management system (TMS)

    A translation management system (TMS) is software that helps you streamline the translation process.

    It allows you to easily manage and track all of your translation projects in one place, making it easier to coordinate with translators and ensure consistent messaging across all of your content.

    Look for a TMS that integrates with your CMS, allowing you to automate many of the translation processes. Additionally, a good TMS should have features such as translation memory, which helps you reuse previously translated content, and terminology management, which helps you maintain consistent terminology across all of your translations.

    Frameworks like Next.js have TMS packages natively available, and they do a pretty good job.

    Choose the right translation method

    There are several different methods for translating your website's content, and the right method will depend on your specific needs and resources. Here are some of the most common translation methods:

    Machine translation

    Machine translation is the process of using software to automatically translate text from one language to another. It is a fast and cost-effective method for translating large volumes of text but may not always produce the most accurate or natural-sounding translations. Machine translation can be a good option for quickly translating content that doesn't require a high degree of accuracy, such as user-generated content or temporary messages.

    As a rule of thumb, machine translations aren't a good choice for headlines or landing pages. The subtleties of using convincing language are lost through automatic translation.

    Human translation

    Human translation involves having a professional translator manually translate your content. It is a time-consuming and expensive process but is generally regarded as the most accurate and natural-sounding translation method.

    Human translation is typically used for important or high-value content that requires high accuracy, such as marketing copy or legal documents.

    Computer-assisted translation (cat) tools

    Computer-assisted translation tools are software programs that help human translators work more efficiently. They provide features such as translation memory, which allows translators to reuse previously translated content, and terminology management, which helps maintain consistent terminology across all of your translations. Cat tools can be a good option for improving the efficiency and accuracy of human translation, particularly for larger translation projects.

    Glossaries and style guides

    Glossaries and style guides are resources that provide translators with guidelines for translating your content. They typically contain a list of approved terminology and style preferences, helping to ensure consistent messaging across all of your translations. Glossaries and style guides can be used in conjunction with any of the other translation methods, helping to improve accuracy and consistency.

    Follow best practices for localization

    Here are some best practices to follow during the localization process:

    Use culturally appropriate images and graphics

    Be mindful of the images and graphics you use on your website, as they can vary greatly in meaning and significance across different cultures. Make sure to choose images and graphics that are relevant and appropriate for your target audience.

    Customize date and time formats

    Date and time formats can vary greatly from country to country. Make sure to customize these formats to match the preferences of your target audience.

    This is only relevant if you're running an eCommerce site with sales events or using timers.

    Adapt payment methods and currencies

    Consider the payment methods and currencies that are commonly used in the countries you are targeting. Make sure to offer these options to your customers. This also applies to payment processors. There are still countries that are unsupported by Stripe and PayPal, especially across Africa.

    Consider local regulations and laws

    Be aware of any local regulations and laws that may impact your website. Make sure to comply with these regulations by, for example, providing the necessary privacy policies and cookie notices.

    Test your translations

    Finally, make sure to thoroughly test all of your translations to ensure they are accurate and display correctly on your website. This includes checking for any formatting issues, such as text that is cut off or images that are not aligned correctly.

    It should go without saying but be sure to test your translations on different devices and browsers to make sure they are displayed correctly. Sometimes machine translated content can leave you with really long sentences which makes everything look a bit wonky.

    Frequently asked questions

    Q: what is the difference between website internationalization and website localization?

    Website internationalization (i18n) is the process of designing and preparing your website's architecture and content to be easily localized or translated into different languages. It is a broader concept that encompasses all the steps necessary for a website to be effectively localized. On the other hand, localization is the process of adapting a website's content and design for a specific locale or target market, including language translation, cultural adaptation, and customization for local regulations and preferences.

    Q: why is website internationalization important for businesses?

    Website internationalization is important for businesses that want to expand their reach to new markets and attract customers from around the world. By designing and preparing your website for localization, you can make it easier to adapt your content and design for different languages, cultures, and regions. This can help improve the overall user experience and make your website more appealing and accessible to international users. Additionally, website internationalization can help streamline your business operations by making it easier to manage and update your website's content and design for different markets.

    Written by
    Tim Davidson

    Tim Davidson

    Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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