4 Things You Haven’t Thought About: Website Localization

Lydia Clarke

Even the most practiced of website developers can be stymied when faced with first steps toward a localized website. Will the language you’re coding in support multiple encodings and character sets? How will you get web content in and out of your CMS? How will users navigate to a different language? And, if your website allows transactions, how will that engine support conversion to different currencies? There are many paths to tread when embarking on a web localization project; here are 4 considerations that can help you reach your goal.

Coding Language

Are you using Ruby on Rails? PHP? Java? Each of these has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, and ease of internationalization and localization should be a strong consideration when choosing a development language. Any internationalized website needs to be able to display — as well as accept — a variety of encodings and character sets other than the one it was written in. This means that when you switch the language on the website from English to, say, Arabic or French, the new characters need to display correctly, automatically. In addition, though, when a user inputs localized data to an open field, that data, too, needs to display correctly. So your website needs to be able to “speak” as well as “hear” other languages. The best practice for this is to use Unicode — so whatever coding language you choose, make sure that Unicode is part of the equation.

CMS Import/Export

There can be, sometimes, a great divide between developers and content creators. Most of that has to do with language — how  we use it and what we use it for. Let’s face it: developers and writers/designers speak very differently. But language can also be a unifying property, and a well-chosen CMS can help with that. A CMS structure can take an organizational load off developers, and can also help writers/designers get their content moved through the cycle smoothly and quickly. But what about localization? A global-friendly CMS will allow multiple layers of content, one for each chosen language — including the one you’re writing in. It will also allow an easy export and import process for that language, typically to some variation on the XML format. Without this functionality, a CMS loses its effectiveness as soon as your team reaches beyond a single language. With a good CMS behind you, your website’s languages are infinitely scalable.

Language Navigation

Imagine: you’re at your desk, reading a website in a language not your own, and you notice there is an option to switch languages. You click the button: where do you land? Some websites will take you back to the homepage, in the selected language; some will simply switch the language and let you remain on the page you’re viewing. If you’re developing a website for localization, this question is something you should consider. Typically, users want to be able to toggle language back and forth without switching pages. Continuity of navigation experience, regardless of language selection, should be the gold standard here.


And last but not least, there is the language of money. If your website encourages customers to purchase items or services via their browser, you’ll need to consider a variety of items. Will a customer in another country see prices in their home currency, or just in USD? How will that switch happen — a “convert currency” button, or a baseline display triggered by user location? Once they’ve seen the price and decided they want to buy, will the purchasing mechanisms be the same as in the U.S.? If you allow for credit card purchases, can users buy with their home-country credit card, complete with non-US security codes and billing information? These questions will inevitably require some back-end business decisions as well as user-experience ones — so opening the door to discussion early in the development process will be your best bet..

All of these considerations require thought and careful planning, as well as input from multiple players within your organization. But thinking about these language-related hot buttons early in the process will allow your company to avoid some pitfalls and enjoy a smoother path to a fully international web presence.

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Smart, fun and useful. Acclaro shares news and tips on translation, localization, language, global business and culture.


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