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Translation vs. Localization: What’s the Difference?

Where to being building your multilingual strategy.

Lonnie Dahm

Updated on May 2, 2024

It’s important to understand the differences between translation and localization when building a multilingual website – particularly if you want to maximize your success. 

These terms are often used interchangeably, but really they are unique concepts with several notable differences. When planning your multilingual strategy, it’s important to know these differences before deciding which approach is best for your target market.

Essentially, website localization is a more comprehensive process that involves various components, one of which is content translation. While translation focuses on modifying your website’s text to be understood in a new market, localization aims to provide a comprehensive experience that considers factors like the cultural expectations of the audience.

Tools like GlobalLink GO give you the flexibility to deliver on either approach. Your project can be a simple 1:1 translation of your website copy or a more nuanced localization approach involving user-experience customizations and professional translators.  

In some cases, it might make sense to start with a straight translation approach to go multilingual immediately. And then over time, you can invest in the localization approach as your requirements and budget expand. Having a tool that offers both capabilities will simplify the process and streamline your ability to take your website further, faster.

In this article, we will take a look at translation vs. localization to help you establish the correct approach your business should take when building multilingual website experiences.

What is Website Translation?

Translation is the act of changing your website copy from its original published language to make it understandable for those who speak a different language. The main objective of translation is to communicate the exact meaning of your original text to a new audience. 

Translation is often a literal process that can suffice for multilingual websites that need to convey technical instructions or details, use minimal images or graphics, or don’t use marketing or colloquial content. With GlobalLink GO, you will achieve 1:1 website translation out of the box with high-quality Machine Translations in just minutes. 

However, for those businesses that want to maximize profitability worldwide, you will need to move beyond simple translation and implement localization. This is essential because, according to linguists, words or phrases are often lost in translation – sometimes to embarrassing or devastating effect for your business.

Who can forget when the American beer company, Coors, ran a campaign in Spain using the literal translation of the phrase “turn it loose.” To their horror, they discovered later that the slang phrase meant “suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish!

The process of localization will identify and address these cultural gaps to better resonate with the local audience you are targeting, and therefore increase your business’s appeal.

What is website translation

What is Website Localization?

As we’ve touched on already, localization involves adapting your website to better suit the needs of a specific region, market, or locale. Ultimately, the goal of website localization is to provide users with the best possible experience you can give them, regardless of their geographic location. 

Here are some examples of common issues you may encounter when translating your website that may necessitate a more comprehensive localization strategy:

  • Linguistic, regional, and cultural context
  • Time and date formats
  • Local currencies
  • Measurements
  • Legal considerations and privacy laws
  • Technical factors (SEO, media, automatic translations)

Access to a human translator is one of the most effective ways to address these issues in website localization. A human translator enables you to adapt your content and brand identity according to the markets you’re targeting. Specific phrases, words, and expressions may require more than just a simple Machine Translation to maximize appeal with your target audience. In some cases, entire pages or sections of your multilingual website may need to be modified by human linguists to match the preferences and trends of that particular target market.

With GlobalLink GO, you can tackle these types of modifications with ease. If you have in-house native speakers, they can edit your translations directly on your webpages in-context via our editing suite. If you do not have the resources to do this yourself, you will still have access to an extensive network of linguists around the globe and can request ad hoc Human Translation services as needed. 

Another aspect of localization involves proper scoping – i.e., customizing your website experience to your target market. For instance, a global business with products or services that differ by region may only want to display the applicable products or services for that designated region.

This may require excluding or “hiding” various pages that exist on your origin website from your target audience. The ability to customize your website experience from your project dashboard is another attractive facet of the GlobalLink GO experience. 

There may be other important factors that need to be addressed during the website localization process, including local regulations, cultural nuances, and user preferences. These requirements may fall under the umbrella of professional translations, customized scope logic, or both.  Regardless, GlobalLink GO will provide your organization with the ability to tackle advanced localization issues and maximize the user experience for your global audience. 

What is website localization?

How Localization Can Help Your Business

Now that we’ve established the differences between translation and localization, let’s look at some of the ways website localization with GlobalLink GO can benefit your business:  

1. Enter and establish your brand in new markets and increase revenue

As a business, the easiest way to increase your market share is to offer your products and services to a wider audience.

Some experts believe that localization can yield as much as 2500% ROI, which is an exciting potential most businesses should want to tap into.

2. Outdo your competition

While a good percentage of global businesses invest in website translation, only the top players invest in professional localization. 

By localizing your content, you will increase the chances of your business reaching more markets in the industry than your competitors.

3. Build a strong brand reputation and loyalty

As highlighted with the Coors example earlier, multinational businesses sometimes make serious mistakes when marketing in regions that are new to them.

Therefore, localizing content enables them to be culturally sensitive and avoid specific situations that could be a PR disaster and damage their brand’s reputation.

Local customers may also appreciate a foreign business’s efforts and be more inclined to check out and stay with their products and services.

4. Attract more engagement and high-quality traffic

Beyond having your website available to read in multiple languages, localization ensures you get a culturally accurate message to each of your international audiences.

Often, this can translate to much-improved levels of traffic and engagement, which can positively impact your bottom line.

Examples of Translation vs. Localization

Weighing up translation vs. localization can be a challenging task. So, it might help to review case studies of businesses that have already gone through the process to help you decide the best course of action for your company.


Overall, translation is a widely used practice for all multilingual websites, and there are millions of examples of site translations available online.


However, the main debate revolves around whether it makes sense to go a step further than translation and embrace the process of localization. Here are some real-world examples of companies that have done both.

Rio Bank

Rio Bank is a good example of a business entity that chose to stop at translation.

The Southern Texan Community Bank decided they did not require website localization for their customers. Subsequently, they just translated their website from English to Spanish to cater to its many Spanish-speaking customers in the local community.

Spotify and YouTube

Global businesses like Spotify prioritize website localization over translation for their AI-based subscription services. For them, personalization is key to the user experience, and localization is essential in achieving it. 

Spotify uses website localization to offer immersive experiences to its international customers. The service suggests localized music and podcasts, among other things, while content localization forms the backbone of how the service is run. 

Similarly, YouTube does the same with videos and advertisements that are designed for local audiences in different countries.

Conclusion

As we’ve learned, creating and maintaining a website that caters to your multilingual audience can be a complex and ongoing process that requires continuous investment. But whether you pursue a straight translation or a more nuanced localization approach, our goal at GlobalLink GO is to make this process as easy as possible for you. 

About the author

Lonnie Dahm

Lonnie is the Director of Client Services for GlobalLink GO. In addition to helping clients create the best possible localized websites, he enjoys working on his cars in his spare time.

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