Globalisation is in the reach of businesses of all shapes and sizes thanks to the freedom digital communication gives them to break into foreign markets. However, to what extent should their websites be localised?

Sarah Negugogor, the senior information architect at Siegel+Gale, writes in Clickz that businesses have two options when it comes to targeting their websites at users overseas. Noting that people are more likely to buy goods from a website written in their mother tongue, she notes that one of these options is to simply translate all content verbatim into the target language.

However, the other option is to localise that content to suit the target audience. Ms Negugogor uses the example of the United Nations website and the CNN site. The United Nations site gives visitors the option of reading the content in six languages, and the pages are identical in each of these. Meanwhile, CNN changes not only the language but the content displayed as well.

The news website is available in four versions: International, US, Mexican and Arabic. Depending on what a visitor selects, the language will alter along with the news stories being displayed. However, one drawback to this is that if an English language speaker wants to read a story on the Mexican version of the site, they have to do so in Spanish. The way to rectify this would be to localise content for your target market and then offer this content in multiple languages as well. Before you know it, the whole project has escalated.

There is no single model that is better than the others. Rather, it comes down to a company’s business model, customer base and budget. A website that offers static content will work effectively simply by being translated, rather than localised. However, if that website is selling services or a product, translating and localising it may be the most effective route to drawing customers in.

Last August, Common Sense Advisory conducted research on customers based in eight different countries about the influence language has on their buying activity. The results, cited in Harvard Business Review‘s blog, revealed 72.1 per cent of respondents spent the majority of their time on websites written in their mother tongue and 72.4 per cent claimed they would also be more likely to buy something if the information about it was in their own language. Most interestingly, 56.2 per cent noted that being able to read this information in their native language was more important to them than the price of the item.

Common Sense Advisory stated that the translation industry was one of the few to grow during the global recession, which suggests that businesses understand the importance of localisation in achieving globalisation.