Globalization and Localization of web sites

Many companies that sell products or services internationally are finding themselves in a familiar dilemma, should their web presence be global or local?

While a global site is easy to control and maintain and can ensure consistency in branding and content quality, it can not address local culture, interests and variation.

I’ve come across an interesting view on the site of the Localization Industry Standards Association

They see Globalization as a process with 2 parts

  • Internationalization which is the process for defining applications and sites to work in every market
  • Localization which is the adaptation of the International framework to local needs and

And the process as:

I agree that the best approach in most cases is to plan for the site and application to work anywhere and then build in enough flexibility for local control and adjustments.

The challenge in this approach is that defining international requirements and anticipating all local variations is very expensive and time consuming. So what should a company that is expanding internationally do? Here are a few questions and guidelines to consider:

  • Scope of localization: how are you products or services different around the world? Is it exactly the same product (jewelry tableware for example) or does a local audience may have preferences that will impact selection and availability of products (fashion and cosmetics). If the products need to meet local regulations, standards or laws (220V or 110V for consumer electronics, Material Safety or FDA approvals for Chemicals and Drugs) or if products include attributes like language that will make them market specific (Books and CD’s). In each case, a single catalog for all products will provide the easiest way to maintain master product data but sites level of granularity may be determined by the variance in offering. It may be truly global, regional, country or language specific.
  • Centralized or Distributed management. Who will maintain content, details, specs etc. in local languages? Do you assume that a product is not released until all languages have been updated? Do you allow a default language to remain until a local language become available? Is this the responsibility of a central translation group of does it goes downstream to the local group to translate? (If you are thinking about machine translation, don’t. This technology is still not ready for prime time and will drive off disappointed customers)
  • How local should you go? to create a true sense of local site and service, certain adjustments may be needed to the site so it does not look like the translated version of the global template. Does the site has local news and events? Is there editorial content from local sources? Are reviews and communities local? Does the interface adapt to local language without cutting words or providing headers in English? Are local conventions like time format, date format, calendar, currency, address, name formats etc. are specific or generic?
  • Build from scratch or retrofit? While substantial amounts have been invested in current web and e-commerce infrastructure, allowing for globalization and localization is not an easy retrofit and in many cases it will be faster and cheaper in the long term to build a technology foundation that is designed to support these issues. Technology issues to consider:
    • Separation of content from the display. There should be no text or images in pages and no parameters in queries. Many CMS systems support localization and handle pages this way by default but custom build CMS systems rarely do.
    • Support for UTF-8: databases and management tools as well as search engines must support UTF-8
    • Caching and Performance: a system must be designed with advanced caching to avoid extensive load on the database for rendering local editions
    • Support for variable length and right to left interfaces. Different languages have very different word length and even orientation. How will interfaces that were designed for exact size look?

While these are not simple questions to answer and resolve, creating a global experience with local flavors and details can substantially impact the ability of a company to succeed internationally.

4 thoughts on “Globalization and Localization of web sites

  1. Another consideration is what your customers would prefer. For commodity products an internationalised approach may work but for upper market products you are probably much better off being localised.

  2. Another consideration will be the issue of payment acceptance.

    Under card processing regulations a merchant will need a card processing contract with a merchant acquiring bank that has a license from the card schemes to offer card processing in a partilcuar market.

    For ecommerce businessses the exact definition of where a merchant is domiciled can be blurred. Is it where your global HQ is located, or does the look and feel or your web site give the cardholder the impression that you are provinding a local service? Where are the goods dispached from?

    The merchant must consider where they wish to trade and the capability of their bank to support payments in each market where the merchants business is registered.

    Each market may have strong local payment methods that are unique to that market and so care must be taken to ensure you support the dominant payment types if you want to maximise sales.

    NB please be aware that if you are developing a local presence in new markets for the first time your card processing costs may vary market by market and as a merchant you may be liable for indirect tax charges on any merchant fees that are applied by your local acquiring bank.



  3. It’s implicit in your write up but I’d suggest calling out the necessity of understanding local customers’ needs and wants in the global product. This goes beyond the technical specifications and requires local market research and testing. It’s especially quirky with consumer products where trends, attitudes and needs change rapidly. It’s advisable to tap into current trends in social networking to assess market demand, pick up on test launches through full production.

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