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It Takes More Than Translation to Go Global

  |  February 13, 2013   |  Comments

As people move around more and countries become more diverse, offering regional targeted content in multiple languages will become increasingly valuable to organizations - and their customers.

What does being global really mean for a website? For some organizations, it begins and ends with offering a version of their site in multiple languages. And this is certainly an important step - research shows people are more likely to purchase from a site in their own language.

But there are few sites where the content can truly stay the same across all localities. E-commerce sites usually sell different products and services in different global, or sometimes even regional locations, and at least need to offer customized information about shipping options. Audiences for news sites will generally have different interests, depending on where they live. A reader in Berlin, for example, won't be as interested in a U.S. election as a reader in Chicago.

Localizing both the language and content of a website is a significant, complex undertaking. But by doing so, you are speaking directly to your users and creating a simpler, more useful experience for them.

What Are Your Options for Globalization?

To illustrate the different options for creating a global site, let's assume you have a site with audiences in the United States, Mexico, and Spain. You could have three possible permutations of your content:

Content Language
International English
International Spanish

Content Language
U.S. English
Mexico Spanish
Spain Spanish

Regionalization and translation
Content Language
U.S. English
U.S. Spanish
Mexico English
Mexico Spanish
Spain English
Spain Spanish

As you can see, the amount of effort involved in creating content for each site increases as you offer more options for consuming content. In the translation model, you only need one version of your content, translated into two languages. In the regionalization model, you need to create three versions of your content, with no translation. In the regionalization and translation model, you need to create three versions of your content, and translate all three into another language.

When Translation Alone Works

The United Nations (UN) uses the translation model, so while it offers content in six different languages, the content in each version is exactly the same. This approach makes sense for the UN because it's an organization focused on international cooperation, where each audience needs to be aware of everything that is going on in their organization, around the world.

UN site in English:.


UN site in Spanish:


Region and Language Tied Together

The regionalization model seems to be the most common approach for global sites, where regionalized content is displayed in the official language(s) for that region.

For an example of this model, see the CNN website. CNN offers four different versions of its site: U.S., international, Mexico, and Arabic (in this instance the label "Arabic" seems to stand for both the Arab world and the Arabic language). In these different regions, the language changes, but the content also changes to fit the interests of readers in that region.

CNN U.S. site:


CNN Mexico site:


This model can be tricky if your target regions don't neatly subdivide into languages, in which case you'll generally need multiple versions of the regional content in the different relevant languages. The other drawback is that not all content is available to all users. For example, an English-speaking reader who wanted to read CNN's full coverage for Mexico would need to use an outside translation tool, such as Google Translate (which often yields awkward results) to translate the Mexican site.

Which Model Is Right for You?

To create your global site, you first need to examine your user base and determine where your customers live, what languages they speak, and what content they're interested in. You can get some of this information through your analytics program, but you'll also want to do some deep research into your customer base, either through surveys or interviews.

You then need to determine what resources you have available, both in terms of translators for your target languages and content creators who have a strong base in your target regions and can create regional content.

Offering regional targeted content in multiple languages takes more resources, but as people move around more and countries become more diverse, this model will become increasingly valuable to organizations - and their customers.

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Sarah Negugogor

As a senior information architect in Siegel+Gale's Simplification practice, Sarah Negugogor creates clear, user-centered communications that connect with their audience.

Sarah has long been intrigued by the challenge of how to translate complex concepts, particularly scientific and technical information, into plain language that everyone can understand.

As a writer at Carnegie Mellon University and Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Sarah developed communications that explained the universities’ research in clear, engaging language. Most recently, she honed her online information design and web writing skills as web services manager for The Segal Company.

Sarah holds an M.A. in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a B.A. in English from Oberlin College. She currently lives in Brooklyn under the reign of a French bulldog.

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