Tough Economic Times Call for Greater Localization of Website Content

For at least a decade, global companies have pursued online regionalization policies with varying degrees of commitment and enthusiasm.  Radical contraction in the world economy has injected a far greater sense of urgency into that pursuit, however, as global players rush to create content in local languages and build a user experience relevant to local cultures.  So why is localized content so much more important in tough economic times?

As spending tightens, decision-making – for consumers and commercial buyers alike – becomes more cautious.  Decisions take longer.  Managers of budgets – household or corporate – operate from within a siege mentality, parting with their cash or utilizing their credit reluctantly and with extreme discretion.  No-one can afford to make a poor decision, so it takes longer for each buyer to reach their own point of Certitude – defined as “freedom from doubt,” the point at which they can actually pull the trigger.

Whatever their country, culture, or condition, buyers don’t buy until they reach their own particular point of Certitude.  As buyers move through the decision-making process, they are making the climb toward Certitude.  That climb is much more difficult if the steps require the decision maker to evaluate an offering in a language not his own or through an online experience foreign to his way of looking at the world.  Global companies understand this, hence their rush to deploy global platforms versatile enough to deliver localized content.

Rushing, of course, carries its own risks, because international projects require different success criteria from domestic projects, no matter how complex those domestic projects may be.  Time after time, we see clients launch international projects without any idea of the pitfalls that await them and the additional costs they incur by falling into those pits.  Here are just a few examples.

  1. Timelines – quite apart from the difficulties of scheduling review sessions with constituencies in time zones as far apart as New Zealand and Poland, US-based  project managers rarely build in sufficient time for their overseas stakeholders to review materials with their own stakeholders, who may also be scattered across time zones, countries, and languages.  Whatever review period you envision, double it.  Your in-country team will need all that extra time.
  2. Translations – even if you use an “approved” translation company, have them submit three sample translations from three separate translators for a language.  Give those samples to the in-country experts and have them chose which translator best reflects their preferences.  No two individuals understand nor therefore translate text in exactly the same way.  Let your in-country stakeholders select up-front their preferred style.  Otherwise, there’s a risk they’ll feel compelled to nit-pick your translators’ work to death.
  3. Coordination — Never rely on your in-country resources to furnish you with customer lists or set up customer interviews or focus groups.  It’s not their job; it’s incredibly time-consuming; and it’s often done poorly.  You’ll likely end up having to use a third-party, in-country recruiting firm, so spend the money up-front and reduce the cost of rework and rescheduling that will otherwise occur.
  4.  Communication – Annotate deliverables heavily.   – The international team will almost always have its own in-country or in-region stakeholders.  Those team members need to be able to explain the deliverables to these stakeholders and then answer their questions without your being there.  This is much easier for them if the visual deliverables are fully annotated or if written deliverables have simple English annotations
  5. Politics — Understand that from a usability perspective you don’t need to test the wire-frames (the container) across a dozen countries.  From a political perspective, however, you may well need to test across many countries.  So the best use of your dollars or yen or deutschmarks would be to test wire-frames in a smaller group of countries; then test the beta site (the content) in as many as possible.

If, however, you are contemplating a global site redesign project, you would be wise to start with a global survey of the user experience.  Many US-based global corporations deploy websites with a hybrid localization architecture – they provide content in the local language down to the product page level, then switch the user back to the US site for detailed specifications and, especially, for support. The US site, of course, provides content only in US English.

This language switch occurs because it is cost-prohibitive for companies to provide and maintain content in multiple languages.  They know the cost “savings” of deploying this architecture; they have no idea, however, of the opportunity loss they incur by doing so.  Visit success (or satisfaction or purchase intent or brand affinity) scores for visitors forced to make the “transition” from content provided in their local language to content (especially technical content) delivered only in English run consistently and dramatically lower than the scores of those who do not have to make the transition.  That differential negatively impacts “conversion.”  The cumulative effects undermine revenue and retention.

Companies like HP have made enormous strides in moving content localization deeper and deeper into their country sites.  You can bet there is a sound ROI for doing so.


Roger Beynon


Guidelines for Conducting Successful International UX Research

You have decided to conduct international usability research.  Great!  Now where exactly should you start?  Outlined below are some things you will want to keep in mind as you plan for your international test.

On-Location vs. Remote Testing

One of the first things that will need to be considered is whether your international test will be conducted on location or remotely.  Each method has certain advantages.  One clear advantage of remote testing is the cost savings from not having to travel to various locations across the globe, while still gaining the insight of participants across various target markets.

However, remote testing can be challenging as well.  If going the remote testing route, you will want to be sure the screen sharing service you will be utilizing functions properly across locations and minimizes latency or keeps it within acceptable bounds.

Also, there is the question of whether you will be testing the user directly from their home or office, or arrange for them to go to a local lab facility for the session.  Although testing users directly from their home or office will save money on lab rental and associated fees, you may very well find the money worth spending.  A key advantage to a local, in-country lab facility is that you will have a consistent test environment and available support if an issue arises.  You may want to seriously consider a lab facility if the testing requires participants to install software for remote viewing.  This will simplify having to troubleshoot the install for each individual user.  The lab can also provide a fluent moderator or translator to operate on location as opposed to over the phone.  This segues to our next topic…

Scripted with Fluent Moderator vs. Real-Time Translation

If the goals of your study are fixed, well defined and relatively narrow, you can consider translating your testing script and having a local-language moderator run the sessions, while a simultaneous translator translates the discussion into your language.  However, this limits your ability to react in real time to observed issues during testing, or the flexibility of probing deeper into issues to gain additional insight.

If you are employing a more flexible study design, you probably want to moderate in your own language and use real-time translation.  You’ll want to consider a professional skilled in simultaneous translation to translate your questions to the participant, with an additional translator translating participant responses back into your language.

Time and Schedule

When planning testing overseas, be sure to build in extra preparation time to account for expected lags in communication and responses due to day/night work schedule conflicts.  When creating your testing schedule, remember that session times will need to be extended to account for technical setup and translation time.  A session that takes 60 minutes in a single language can easily take 75 or even 90 minutes when run internationally.

You will also want to be aware of the local users’ perception of timeliness.  2:00pm in some countries means 2:00pm, while in others it means 2:15pm or 2:20pm.  It’s a good idea to allow for additional time in between sessions in those countries so, if users arrive late to their session, you can still cover all necessary content.  Some cultures also start their work day much later than in the US, so starting sessions at 8 or 9am local time may not be ideal for your users.

If traveling to perform the test, a day or two may need to be built into the schedule to adjust to local time, so as to avoid poor testing due to jet lag.  If testing remotely, keep in mind that sessions will likely be taking place at odd hours, potentially over night, due to time difference between your country and the country where testing is taking place.

Differences in Technology or Equipment

When thinking about differences in technology or equipment, one thing you will want to be sure to plan for is having the appropriate adapters and convertors for any electronic equipment that needs to be plugged in.  You certainly don’t want to fly 8,000 miles to find out you can’t charge your testing laptop or damage the power supply for your microphone!

Another consideration of in-person testing is using variances in video cameras and connection formats.  If you plan to rent any equipment at the facility you’ll want to make sure you can connect your own equipment.

Yet another consideration with differences in technology is internet connection speed, reliability and availability.  If for example you were user testing in China, internet connections may be readily available in most all of the moderate sized towns, but may not be available in smaller villages…or could be unreliable where available in such locations.  Other countries, such as South Africa, may not have reliable high-speed connections even in the larger cities, which can impact how much content you’re able to cover during your session.

Cultural Considerations

You should also be knowledgeable about the cultural differences your participants may be sensitive to.  For example, it may be difficult to recruit participants in some cultures during working hours or even during the work week.  Some cultures are less likely to criticize products or services even constructively.  In some cultures eye contact is extremely important to have, while in others it is considered offensive.

Male/Female interactions are another cultural difference to be taken into account.  In some countries it is forbidden for married women to talk to men they are not related to.  So, if testing locations where this may be problematic, it is wise to have both genders represented on the testing team.

Final Thoughts

In summary, when planning for international research, some considerations are:

  • Selecting the appropriate test method (on-location or remote)
  • Employing the appropriate translation style (scripted or real-time)
  • Ensuring adequate time is allotted in the schedule
  • Preparing for any differences in technology
  • Accounting for specific cultural considerations

Hopefully this has given you an overview of the tradeoffs between in-person and remote international testing, as well as some basic things to keep in mind as you begin planning your international research.  Best of luck to you!