Marketing Strategies

The Difference Between Translation and Localisation-and Why You Need Both

Your global success hinges on how authentically you communicate in your customers’ local languages.

Veronica Pastuch's avatar
Veronica Pastuch

March 14, 2022


If your company is expanding into new markets, it's mission-critical to have your website available for potential new customers' preferred languages. Traditional website translation will undoubtedly generate interest among these customers-but to create genuine connections that lead to conversions, you'll need both translation and localisation, too.

The Difference Between Translation and Localisation

The terms "translation" and "localisation" are often used interchangeably. Both ideas function to connect and communicate your website content, and ultimately, your product, business, or services to potential clients. Think of localisation as the umbrella term under which translation is part of a greater whole. While accurate translation is crucial, there's the bigger picture. Without knowing how to "speak" your audience's language, both literally and figuratively, how can you successfully reach them?

While translation and localisation offer similar functionalities, there are essential differences between them. Understanding what distinguishes these terms, processes, and services will allow you to extend the reach of your website more efficiently and profitably. The two concepts need to be defined to understand how website translation and localisation services differ.

The concept of website translation is very straightforward. Website translation is the process of taking your website content in its original language and adapting it, often word-for-word, into other languages to make it accessible and usable to global customers. For a website, this means that a translation project will only change the existing content on your site for accurate sentences in another language. Translated content mirrors the style and tone of source content but doesn’t consider the context.

Website localisation goes beyond a word-for-word translation experience. It involves refining website content through culture, language, and flow to provide users with the most valuable and relevant experience. Localisation considers language dialects used in a target region or country and adapts all website content elements for local or regional consumption. The localisation method modifies the language and website elements to appeal to the linguistic and cultural preferences of the target customers.

There are several elements of website localisation that are important to consider when deciding how to develop a multilingual website:

  • Language and regionalism allow content to speak closely to the target audience. For example, suppose certain phrases or concepts are specific to the country or region in which you’re looking to do business. In that case, it’s important to show customers you understand who they are and why they should engage in your business.
  • Ease of navigation means users can immediately find the website content in their language and begin interacting with the website seamlessly.
  • Cultural elements enhance the user experience and create a feeling of closeness with the target audience. Some examples of cultural content include:
    • Colours, shapes, sizes, and styles
    • Images, icons, and graphics
    • Societal codes such as humour, etiquette, and symbols
    • Societal values, relationships, and beliefs
  • Transactional elements include functional content that customers rely on to navigate a website, understand products and services, and ultimately, do business on a website, including:
    • Date and time formats, telephone numbers, and contact information
    • Weights, measurements, and geographical references
    • Language and linguistic content, product descriptions, and reviews
  • Communication elements that build trust and help the customer understand that they are valued:
    • Local customer service information
    • Legal information

So, while translation is one aspect of localisation, localisation can also be seen as a fundamental aspect of translation. Therefore, the two concepts are important for multilingual website development, both as standalone concepts or working together.

The Importance of Translation

Anyone who's travelled overseas knows the value of communicating in the "greatest hits" phrases of the local language such as "please," "thank you," "how much," and similar common phrases. But if you weren't fluent in the language, you probably became frustrated, fast, by your inability to communicate when it mattered most.

Your customers face a similar challenge when interacting with your business online. They need a website that “speaks their language” so they can easily grasp what you’re conveying. There’s no room for frustration or confusion. If they experience friction, they’ll often leave your site before converting. Websites presented in local languages yield better market responses than those that aren't. According to a recent Common Sense Advisory review study, nearly 73% of customers prefer to purchase a product or service from a site that provides information in their own language, and 56% of consumers said the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

So, why should you localize your website? In a nutshell, while translation is vital, it will only get you so far.

Your global customers cannot experience friction when they visit your website. If they do, they'll abandon it.

Though it's possible to use machine translation software like Google Translate to convert your web content into other languages, it is widely considered a best practice to employ human translators whenever possible. People are still more effective at crafting and editing translations for accuracy and nuance than computer assisted translation systems.

Machine translation software like Google Translate has its advantages - it's easy to utilise and maintain, and can translate less critical website content at a less expensive cost. Keep in mind that machine translation software does not have interpretative or cultural knowledge of language. It would be able to translate content word for word but will not be able to take context into account. An additional disadvantage of Google Translate is that while machine translation focuses on swapping out words and language on a website,  it doesn’t create searchable, indexable versions of those translated pages, which is important from an SEO standpoint.

Localisation Drives Engagement

Localisation goes beyond the word-for-word linguistic conversion of conventional translation and instead uses words and phrases that resonate within specific markets.

Region-neutral translations are very effective, but localisation is more persuasive to many multilingual customers.

For instance, consider the differences between the words "trousers" and "slacks." The terms are identical in meaning, but one resonates far better in the UK than in the United States.

These slight differences, just like those found between British English and American English, can be easily lost in translation. Direct translation cannot account for nuances in cultural differences and local preferences. When you communicate to specific regional markets with phrasing that's uniquely relevant to them, you increase the likelihood of your brand being fully understood and accepted.

With authentic localizations, skeptical global consumers can become your biggest customers.

But localisation can go beyond word choice. Savvy marketers often customise their multilingual websites to highlight local holidays, celebrations, or customs. This illustrates fluency in a local market's culture, quickly generating customer trust.

Other examples of localisation include creating special promotions for specific markets or crafting unique, trust-building messaging to establish credibility in brand-new markets.

In the early days of serving a multilingual market, it is not uncommon for a company to be greeted with local skepticism. Local customers often wonder how committed a company is to the market and its needs. When brands use localised content, they don't appear opportunistic - they appear authentic.

Translation vs. Localisation: Making the Choice

How do you know which approach would work best for your website? Website localisation and translation services differ on a tactical level. Simple translation may be appropriate for some content types in specific markets. Localisation is most often required for adapting highly emotive creative marketing content so it clearly resonates across regions.

Websites usually contain several content types, from marketing copy to legal and technical information and user-generated forum content. For reasons of efficiency and cost, consider which types of content require localisation and where you can simply ask for translation. What you may find is that a blend of translation and localisation accentuates what you want to communicate to your target audience, and adds the flavour needed to reach them on a more personal level.

Translation alone can be helpful to address many people who speak the same language, even though they may originally come from different countries. Translating broadly enables readers to grasp messaging, regardless of their origin. This phenomenon frequently happens in the United States with people who speak the same language, such as Spanish. While the U.S. has Spanish speakers from many different parts of the world, they embrace varying sets of cultural nuances, phrases, and dialects. In this case, a well-crafted, broader translation would purposefully avoid using regional phrases or words from any specific country and acknowledge the broader Spanish market in the localised, U.S. market.

Translation alone is a less expensive option. Some web pages or translation jobs are not so important that they require human translation. MotionPoint may use machine translation for one page and human translation for other, more important pages. Localisation creates more cohesion, but it is more costly. Localisation also requires content verbiage translation upkeep, and takes into account web design as well. That can include changing graphics or developing entirely new web pages, depending on the target language and cultural differences from the original website.

Examples of Website Translation and Localisation

MotionPoint looks at business needs and can tailor website translations or localizations (or, more often, the blending of both). Here are several case studies that highlight how the needs of a company can determine how a single website can develop into robust, multilingual websites to address customers and help businesses grow.

MotionPoint Case Study: Master Lock

Master Lock, a leading U.S. manufacturer of retail and commercial security and safety products, needed both website translation and localisation when they began expanding globally. Localised websites offer a true strategic value for Master Lock. Distributors and sales teams utilise the Master Lock website to gather product information for regional customers, and customers can also access Master Lock's comprehensive online product and service information. Additionally, Master Lock’s websites change regularly, based on frequent updates when a new product or segment is rolled out, so accurate translations are critical for the business. To date, Master Lock has translated and localised websites that are supported in Chinese Simplified, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

MotionPoint Case Study: Rio Bank

Rio Bank is a community bank with branches throughout the heart of Southern Texas, many of them near the Mexican border.  Business was growing, but Rio Bank found they weren’t getting adequate customer feedback important for marketing and customer service. When a customer survey was developed in Spanish and feedback increased sharply, Rio Bank quickly realized the need for better communication with their Spanish-speaking customers. So Rio Bank asked MotionPoint to translate their website and create an immersive, dual-language experience for all clients. Translating their website yielded increased customer satisfaction instantly, where more than 90% of their customers speak Spanish.

The Solution You Need Is Within Reach

If you're considering ways to translate and/or localize your company website for varied markets, look for solutions that deliver accurate and authentic translations, as well as engagement-boosting localizations. Global success hinges on how you communicate in your customers' local languages authentically. If you ignore that difference, you'll miss out on effective ways to optimise your web content for multilingual customers.

MotionPoint understands that publishing market-relevant localisation across multilingual websites is more challenging than it sounds. It requires powerful technology to customise website code to present the appropriate localised content to the right customers. It demands translation-management technologies that easily publish, track, and update customised content. And it requires world-class translators who are fluent in languages, cultures, and customs. MotionPoint can work with your business to find the solutions you need for anywhere you want your business to be in the world.

Last updated on March 14, 2022
Veronica Pastuch's avatar

About Veronica Pastuch

Throughout her 15-year career leading successful multicultural teams in the website localisation industry, Veronica Pastuch has directly contributed to the translation, deployment and on-going support of more than 1,500 multilingual websites, with an absolute commitment to superior quality and customer satisfaction.

Veronica Pastuch's avatar
Veronica Pastuch

EVP of Translation Operations


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