Website Localization – Make Your Website a Global Success
If you want your website to be a hit all over the world, you should think about localization. There's no such thing as 'one site fits all' – you need to adapt your website so that it appeals to different regions and cultures.
The same website isn't going to fly in California and Colombia. Just because the Californians love it, it doesn't mean the Colombians will. The same is true of the Floridians and the French, the New Yorkers and the New Delhians, the Texans and the Turkish. Remember the old saying, ‘different strokes for different folks’.
For many website owners it's only practical to maintain one domain. But if you're serious about localization and geotargeted SEO, you may consider hosting country-specific domains on servers within the target countries. This makes maintaining your web infrastructure far more complex, but there are considerable benefits for in-country SEO. For example, having a www.yourcompany.de domain hosted on a German server will help you to achieve rankings in the German version of Google. This approach is often the preserve of big corporations who have the resources within each country to maintain local domains, but in theory, it's not beyond the capabilities of smaller operators.
You can get around localization issues with some fairly simple technical solutions. Geolocation allows you to use a visitor's IP address to determine which country they are in. There are various services, like IP2Location and Digital Envoy, which collate IP address data and sell access to this information. You can then use scripting to channel the visitors to a country-specific landing page. This kind of functionality may be built into your CMS, or can be easily added.
Unfortunately, no solution is perfect. Geolocation will give a fairly high rate of accuracy, but there are some internet users who are accessing the web via a proxy server, which may be located in a different country, or even different continent. This is often the case for big corporations with offices all over the world, networked via a central data center in the company's home country. So a worker in the London office of a New York-based bank could well be accessing the web over the company network hosted back in NY. This will obviously give a false geolocation result. On the whole, the benefits of geolocation far outweigh the downsides, because it is accurate for the vast majority of web users.
The biggest problem you will face with localization is language difference. 78% of web users do not speak English as their native language. This fact is especially relevant for e-commerce sites, as research by the Common Sense Advisory in 2006 showed that people who don't speak English as their first language, or at all, are six times less likely to purchase from an English-only site.
This shows the importance of using a professional translation service to make your content accessible to as wide an audience as possible. There's no real substitute for professional translation, but if budgets are tight, there are some second-best options. There are many third-party services, which provide automatic translation using software solutions. Google Translate and Babelfish are probably the most well-known, but there are similar options from Microsoft. Many of these services provide an API and widgets. By copying some code into your website, you can provide a box on each page that informs your visitors a translation is available.
Browser developers are making localization easier for web publishers and users. For example, there are translation extensions available for Firefox, and the Google Toolbar will automatically offer to translate a page when it detects it's not in the user's own language. But you cannot rely on your visitors having these tools installed, so you also need to make the effort to provide some kind of translation options for your site, if you want your online audience to be truly global.