What Is Software Localisation and Why Is Everyone Doing It?
Anywhere you look, software businesses of all sizes are investing heavily in software localisation. From small businesses with limited budgets to large corporations with expansive teams, localising software is now regarded as a key part of taking a software product to a global market.
But what is software localisation, and why has it become so important to businesses?
In this article:
- What is software localisation?
- Why is software localisation important?
- How does software localisation differ from regular translation?
- What is internationalisation?
- What is UX localisation?
- What is localisation software?
- Software localisation best practices
What is software localisation?
Software localisation is the process of adapting software for use in different languages and cultures. Among other things, this includes translating all user-facing text, modifying images and videos, customising cultural references, ensuring compliance with regional standards (such as currencies or date formats), and making sure the interface takes into account any differences in hardware capabilities or network bandwidths.
Companies localise their mobile apps and other software to expand their customer base to different regions and increase user engagement. This, in turn, can lead to higher conversions and revenue.
Software localisation involves a few core components:
- Internationalisation (more on that below)
- UX localisation (also coming up in a few sections)
- Translation of user-facing text
- Adaptation of images and videos
- Testing and quality assurance (QA)
Why is software localisation important?
Software localisation is essential for achieving global success. Studies have shown that customers prefer interacting with products and services in their native language, and are more likely to trust a company when its user interface perfectly matches their cultural expectations. In fact, a survey by CSA Research showed that:
- 72.4% of global consumers prefer to buy products in their native language.
- 55% of global consumers only buy products from websites that provide information in their own language.
- 56.2% of global consumers regard the ability to obtain information in their own language as even more important than price.
When a company localises its software, it’s telling its customers that they matter. It shows respect and demonstrates a commitment to providing an excellent user experience and meeting them on their own terms. The benefits associated with localisation can be well worth the effort – let’s take a look at some of them.
Bigger customer base and faster user acquisition
Localising your software helps you break into new markets and reach a wider audience, which means more potential customers for your product.
Moreover, if you follow a continuous approach to localization, you can get to market simultaneously in multiple languages, which allows you to capture customers faster than if you had gone through the traditional “translate-then-release” process.
Higher user engagement
By localising your software, you make it easier for people in different parts of the world to use and understand your product. This can result in higher engagement, leading to more conversions and revenue, and reduced churn.
Increased brand awareness
When customers encounter a product in their own language, they tend to remember and trust that product more. This means your brand becomes associated with the positive experience they’ve had, leading to increased brand awareness and loyalty in new regions.
Improved customer loyalty
Providing a tailored experience with native language support helps build customer loyalty. People are more likely to stick around if they feel a company takes their needs into consideration and provides a great user experience (spoiler alert: UX and culture are intimately connected!).
Higher trust and credibility
When a company takes the time to localise its software, it sends a powerful message: that it values its customers, respects their culture, and is committed to meeting their needs. This can help build trust and boost the company’s reputation.
How does software localisation differ from regular translation?
Translation and localisation are two closely related but distinct processes. You could say that translation is the simple transfer of meaning at a linguistic level, while localisation is the adaptation of a product (both in terms of language and marketing) to diverse markets, cultures, and contexts.
Localisation goes beyond simple translation. It involves considering the target market’s culture, customs, and preferences to adapt the user interface, the user experience, and the product content accordingly. The purpose is to make the product resonate with the target audience and endow it with a local feel.
In sum, translation involves converting written text from one language to another, while software localisation encompasses a wide range of tasks that overlap with those of a translator but go beyond them.
It’s an ongoing process that requires continuous coordinated effort, collaboration between different stakeholders, and a clear localisation workflow that keeps up with development.
What is internationalisation?
Before you can localise a product, you need to make localisable. That’s what internationalisation is all about.
Internationalisation (or i18n, shorthand for the 18 letters in between the “I” and the “N”) refers to the process of designing a product with global markets in mind. It involves making sure that your software components, codebase, and architecture are modular, extensible, and easy to adapt for different languages.
The purpose of internationalisation is to make it easier and faster to localise a product by avoiding costly modifications and significant code changes down the line. This makes it possible to quickly release new versions in multiple languages, which is key if you want to expand into new markets.
You can internationalise many different aspects of software development, including user interfaces, data formats, and workflows. Internationalisation involves things such as:
- Making the app language independent – i.e., not hard-coding text into the source code
- Ensuring that user interface elements such as buttons and menus can be displayed correctly in right-to-left languages (like Arabic and Hebrew) as well as left-to-right ones (like English and French)
- Storing user-facing content in separate strings to facilitate their translation later on
- Using Unicode to support a wide range of languages in your software
- Creating flexible layouts that can adapt to different text lengths
- Allowing users to input dates, times, and currencies in their own format
And these are just a few examples. The scope of your internationalisation efforts will depend on your product, resources, budget, and global ambitions.
What is UX localisation?
Providing a seamless user experience (UX) across geographies and cultures is essential for a successful product launch in foreign markets. That’s why localising software isn’t just about translating words – it also involves taking cultural and market requirements into account to make sure the product resonates with its target users.
This process is known as UX localisation, or user experience localisation. Just like UX designers tailor the interface to the specific needs of your domestic users, UX localisation involves customising the product to suit international ones.
If you add international UX design as part of the localisation process, you can create a product that not only speaks the user’s language but also feels like it was designed for them.
For instance, you’ll need to:
- Use the correct number conventions and currencies for each language
- Ensure usability in local conditions – i.e., taking into account the speed and cost of internet connections in different countries
- Modify the interface’s design, colour palette, and typography
- Switch the orientation of certain elements to fit right-to-left languages
- Verify the cultural appropriateness of graphics, visuals, icons, etc.
- Offer local customer service in the target language
- Adapt your help documentation
- Adjust the navigation structure
- Adapting your app’s UX to what’s expected locally, i.e., tailoring the experience for international users according to regional norms, expectations, thought processes, etc.
What is localisation software?
Software localisation and localisation software aren’t the same thing. While the former refers to adapting a product for foreign markets, the latter refers to tools used to facilitate this process.
Localisation software – such as CAT tools or translation management systems – helps streamline the localisation workflow by automating certain tasks and providing built-in support for internationalised content.
By using localisation software, you can:
- Segment content and automatically extract strings for translation
- Enable a continuous localisation workflow that can respond quickly to changes
- Nurture and leverage a translation memory database
- Track progress with dashboards, reports, and analytics
- Organise, store, and track translations in one place
- Assign tasks to translators and review their work
- Reduce time and effort by integrating with other tools and services
- Easily make changes at scale by propagating updates throughout the project
- Share glossaries for consistency across languages
- Ensure quality control with built-in QA checks
And much more.
Software localisation best practices
When it comes to localising software, there are certain best practices you should follow. These include:
- Start early: Begin the internationalisation process while developing your software, not after it’s ready.
- Separate translatable content: Store language-specific content separately from the source code. This will make it easier to keep track of which strings are ready for translation and update them if needed.
- Decide how far your localisation should go: Think carefully about what parts of your product need localisation (and why) before you start translating. Could you leverage machine translation for low-visibility content, for instance?
- Know your audience: Understand the needs, habits, and preferences of your target audience. Don’t assume they’re the same as your domestic users.
- Let the user determine the language: Use the user’s IP address to identify their geographical location and offer them the appropriate language, but don’t impose it on them.
- Test thoroughly: Make sure you properly and regularly test your product to catch any bugs and errors.
- Create clear guidelines: Establish clear processes, conventions, and rules for how the localisation function should work.
- Choose the right tools: Select localisation software that meets your requirements and integrates with other tools you use.
- Stay ahead of the curve: Keep up with the latest trends in UX design, technology, and global market dynamics to ensure your product stays competitive
- Choose your partners carefully: Partner with experienced translators and localisation vendors (hi!) who know the language and culture of your target market.
Software localisation can help you take your product to the global stage and reach more users than ever before. By following internationalisation and localisation best practices, having the right software, and partnering with experienced professionals, you can make sure your product becomes a global sensation.
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.