Software Localization

To Localize or Not to Localize

A Cost-Benefit analysis of digital content localization

By localizing your content or offering, that is by adapting it to other languages and locales, you can address a huge, previously untapped audience and greatly enhance your reach; it is no surprise that Andy Carvell, Growth Lead for SoundCloud, lists it as a Business Multiplier in his excellent Mobile Growth Stack. Nevertheless, Silicon Valley, trapped in its own bubble, seems particularly inept in successfully localizing its offering. Two cases in point:

  • Facebook famously localized too late, giving the opportunity to other social networks, even copycats such as VKontakte in Russia, to enter and reach a point of non-displacement in various international markets where it is still struggling to get a significant market share.
  • Conversely, Rocket Internet has made billions simply by copying successful Silicon Valley startups and bringing them to untapped markets by localizing their value offering.

So, it looks that translating digital content is a no brainer. Unfortunately, the real answer is not such clear cut.


One of the most important issues is that of the costs involved. Translating content is a significant cost, as professional translation will set you back $0.07 per word on average, with huge fluctuations between languages. Multiplying this by the number of potential languages can be daunting by itself.

But that’s not all, translating the content of your website creates expectations to your users. If your website is in their language, then they very well expect your communication (emails, newsletters, notifications, blog and social media posts) to be available in their language too. If your communication content is also translated, users will expect your Customer Service to speak to them in their language too.

As these costs are significant for any company, let alone a cash- and resource-strapped startup, the decision to localize should be taken after serious consideration and analysis.


To most effectively decide whether one should localize their content or not, one should carefully examine their options.

Local Language

You can decide to not localize and keep your content available only in your local language; this strategy is preferable when you produce hyperlocal content, such as a delivery app, a locally targeted e-commerce or media company.


You can also decide to offer your content exclusively in English; this strategy works best for SaaS and B2B companies. It can also work when you address countries with a large penetration of English or when you want to appear as an international company and hide the fact that you are based in a non-English speaking country. For example, more people in the Netherlands speak English than in the US; also people in certain countries, such as the Philippines or Indonesia, prefer to trade with an international company than a local one.


You can decide to translate your offering simply by transferring the existing content in another language. This should be enough when the cultural diversity between the Source (Original) and the Target (Translated) content is not that great and the benefits outweigh the considerable cost. This works best in User Generated Content websites and Two-Sided marketplaces where the bulk of the content is created by the community and the translation of the surrounding framework works well.


You can finally decide to fully localize your content and offering so that the Target is practically indistinguishable from the Source. Localisation is based on the theory of Dynamic Equivalence and entails the adaptation of not only linguistic but of every element of your content and offering (such as currencies, metric system, flags, colors etc.). It is a resource intensive and ongoing practice that requires forethought and preparation through Internationalisation, and works best when there are substantial cultural differences between the Source and Target content.

Localisation Matrix

The best way to decide which of the above actions to take is to plot the Cultural Sensitivity of the country you are dealing with as well as that of your offering against the Cost/Benefit tradeoff achieved by each action.

To better visualize this practice, position your content or offering in the matrix below:

Localisation Matrix

That way you can take a well informed decision regarding the level of your content adaptation to local audiences.

Best Practices

Automatic Translation: Never use Google Translate or any automatic translation services for adapting your content. Audiences are very sensitive to linguistic errors and the result is universally seen as unprofessional.

Google Analytics is your friend: Use Google Analytics to see which countries is your traffic coming from to decide whether it is worth translating into their language. A good signal that you need to translate into a specific language is when you have substantial traffic from a country with a high bounce rate; visitors could be driven off by the fact that they cannot understand your content.

Translation cost minimization: A useful fact to keep in mind is that translators’ fees are dictated by the cost of living in the translator’s country and not by market demand and supply. This results in languages like Finnish or Dutch to be expensive while giving little extra exposure (Low Cost/Benefit Ratio) and languages like Arabic or Chinese to be cheap while giving high exposure in new audiences (Low Cost/Benefit Ratio).

  • To find affordable translators for expensive languages try to locate professional translators of expensive languages that live in countries with a more reasonable cost of living.
  • Bear in mind that even native speakers lose contact with their native tongue after living in a foreign country for a prolonged period of time (10 years or more).
  • Finally, widespread languages have local variations that might be considerably different and might alienate audiences (e.g. Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese or Spanish vs. Latin American Spanish).

Tools: If you decide to go ahead with localisation or translation it’s worth checking out the following two tools:

  • Transifex: A great platform for localizing content, it is used by some of the biggest companies in the world, so you can’t go wrong there.
  • ProZ: The de facto community for locating language professionals, make sure you use its wide variety of filters to skip through the noise.

A version of this article first appeared on the Gaming Brotherhood blog.