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6 Steps to Multilingual Success for Smaller Ambitious Businesses

Posted on 7.18.2016

:: By Robert Gorby, SDL ::


In today’s world, consumers’ radars for things that are not relevant, authentic or local are now finely tuned.

In the search for products and services, shoppers have zero tolerance for anything that stands in the way of instant comprehension – especially since countless alternatives are just a click away. While customers know and live this reality, marketers in small and mid-size businesses still often let these sub-optimal experiences slip through; and the guilty culprit tends to be lack of high-quality localization.

As recent studies have revealed, speaking a customer’s language (and speaking it like a native) needs to be at the top of a marketer’s priority list. If it is not, the facts show that companies will be paying a heavy price. According to the Common Sense Advisory, there is a correlation between the number of languages supported and financial performance which means that better content can drive revenue, therefore speaking directly to the importance of quality translation and localization investments and resources. 

With the facts in mind, let’s review the typical pitfalls, define what a great multilingual Web strategy looks like and the crucial steps every small-to-medium sized business needs to take to achieve it.  

To start, one of the most common pitfalls of a multilingual strategy is the assumption that everyone online speaks English. This is of course incorrect, in fact, only 27 percent of people actually speak English as a first language. Recent research revealed that even though just over 50 percent of Internet users speak English as a second language, only 18 percent of them trust a website enough to make a purchase if it’s not presented in their mother tongue. It’s also sobering to know that about 25 percent of the world’s population now has Chinese as its first language and that Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic are on the rise. 

The conclusion is obvious, communicating in English alone is no way to win global hearts, minds and wallets. 

Another common pitfall is thinking that translation is a silver bullet. While, accurate translated content is a good start, it is only half the battle. Marketers would not dream of producing content in English without optimizing for SEO and the same applies in each individual language. There is no point having great copy that no one will ever find. 

So, what does a great multilingual strategy look like? Here are six steps to help with a business’ and local website strategy:

1. Consider market size to determine appropriate investments

It goes without saying that a company's strategy will be driven by the size of regional opportunities and the size of budget. Their lead global markets – current and emerging – will set their language priorities. Another consideration when it comes to prioritizing an investment is the nature of the company’s site. For example, if it’s e-commerce, a marketer will want to localize country by country. If it’s an informational site, it will probably localize by language. 

2. Get the plan right

It’s amazing how many businesses go global without carefully considering country or regional plans. For example, consider the following questions:

a. What’s the objective? For the brand, for which product lines.

b. What’s the strategy? How is the business going to hit those objectives in this country versus local and global competitors?

c. What tactics will a business employ? The barriers the business needs to overcome, the promotions that will work, the traffic driving tools and media. 

d. Who is the business targeting? The profile of audience, the insights a company has the context in which they encounter the website. 

e. What will connect with them? The key product or service benefit a business needs to dial up in the context of the local competitive situation.

3. Think local, know local

If a company's Web and content team is located within an English-speaking headquarters but creating content for the other side of the world, it will need to really get into their customers’ shoes. Create a full country/regional profile, one that details everything that is relevant from local politics, religion and culture to everyday realities of working and social life.

4. Streamline the process

If a business thinks translating all content into just one additional language is a hassle, how will it manage doubling or tripling that workload? It’s critical to centralize and streamline processes which help automate and accelerate global translation tasks and reduce the cost of supporting local language content.  

5. Make it affordable

It’s not just a matter of the fit-for-purpose approach. There are other ways to progressively reduce the cost of translation. If a translation service provider offers Translation Memory service, it will never pay to translate the same sentence twice. The result is that each new project commissioned will often be cheaper than the last.

6. Choose a language partner with care

If a marketer in small and mid-size business is serious about winning in targeted markets they have to have a serious answer to all the points raised in this article; all of which can be summarized by the phrase ‘Good enough... isn’t’. Use the below checklist when interviewing a potential translation partner: 

a. Quality – In-territory translators? 


b. Consistency – Approval standards? 


c. Range – All languages and fit-for-purpose service range? 


d. Cost savings – Translation memory technology 


e. Speed – Resources, tools and technology 



Robert Gorby is the Senior Director for SDL Language Cloud. He is responsible for developing SDL's Language Cloud strategy as well as working with product development on the future roadmap for the SDL cloud platform. A native of Dublin, Robert is based in the UK with his wife and two children.

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