Adapting Website Content for International Markets

Adapting Website Content for International Markets

As the old saying goes in the online world, content is king. Content is the single most important asset of your website. Content comes in two forms, text and multimedia, and the reason why it is considered so important is it is what will attract visitors to your site and, equally importantly, keep them there once they have found it.

Many web designers make the mistake of focusing on the technology that goes into building a website. However, visitors are unlikely to spend time considering the bells and whistles that go into the building of the site. Their single biggest concern is what the content is, its usefulness to them and how quickly it’s updated to ensure repeat visits are worthwhile.


It is not good enough to translate marketing messages into the new language when tackling a new foreign market. You must seek to translate the meaning of the message which may not mean like-for-like translation. Likewise, the overall tone of the brand must be protected while the original style and emotional impact are important too. Transcreation is the process by which you achieve this.

The first thing you need to ensure effective transcreation is a native translator of your targeted language based in the chosen country or region.

The reason for choosing someone native to the language, and not simply fluent in it, is because a native speaker will understand the nuances of the language well enough to impart the translated content with the emotional resonance you are seeking. In particular, they will also be up to date with the local slang which can be a key area where translated content falls down, simply because slang’s creation and propagation can be so fast moving.

RELATED: Why Demand for Localised Content is Booming

As well as emphasizing the emotional resonance of your message, native speakers of the target market will also be far better placed to maximize the cultural relevance of your intended message.

Woman working on laptiop

A native in-country linguist with cultural knowledge and local expertise is a crucial asset to the transcreation process.

They will understand the cultural mores, beliefs, hopes and aspirations of your target market and will be able to target it effectively with your web content by using not only the right tone but also linguistic quirks and humor where required.

Nor are words your only consideration when transcreating your website for a foreign market. Consider the color red. In the west, it is associated with danger signs, warnings, passion and anger. But what about the rest of the world?

The Hebrew language associates the color with sin and sacrifice while in many former communist countries it is an unwelcome hangover from the past. In parts of Africa it is associated with mourning but in China, it represents wealth and good luck to such an extent that brides traditionally wear red wedding dresses. But if you write someone’s name in red in China, it signifies their death.

Just as the meaning of words change according to the country you are in, so does the color. Content, slogans and logos will all be judged by your new local market, meaning when you transcreate a website you must view it as an exercise in examination of every facet of the site. People are quick to offend and slow to forgive. Thoughtless or lazy transcreation of your website will do more harm than good.

Localisation and SEO

Just as content needs to fit the local market, so does your SEO strategy. To ensure the SEO is effective as possible, you need to incorporate it into your localisation strategy right from the start, not as an afterthought. Using local domain names in your new site like .fr for France, .au for Australia and .za for South Africa will all make the converted site far more visible to local search engines.

Keywords remain vital to localization in foreign markets and you will need to consider foreign versions of top keywords. However, local markets will search differently from your own so it is important to bring in a local SEO specialist to conduct searches not only on your keywords but similar ones to ensure you are getting the best results.

RELATED: 9 Ways Transcreation Can Improve Your SEO

Local social media optimization is also a concern. China is the most obvious example where RenRen and Youku replace the banned Facebook and YouTube. Ensuring you have the correct social media buttons on your localized websites will help visitors share and discuss your web content, so driving your SEO.

Countries and regions

The Middle East and Africa

The home of the Arabic language is also a key area for internet use, although it is not without its own problems for any company looking to target the market. Market research company, eMarketer has revealed in 2016, internet penetration in the Middle East and North Africa reached 29.2% and 16.9% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Although mobile adoption is rising in the Arab world subscriber growth rates is predicted to slow over the next few years due to unstable political and economic conditions in several markets in the region, while more developed markets continue to grow in terms of mobile penetration. In fact, by 2020 it’s predicted that mobile penetration will reach only 65%, compared to the global average of 72%.

The most popular websites visited in the MENA region in 2012 were Western sites including Google, Facebook and Microsoft topping the list. But in 2018, content produced locally has taken the lead and varies depending on location. For example, news outlet is the most popular website in Israel where is favored more in Qatar.

Founded in 1996, Al Jazeera, also known as JSC, is a state-funded broadcaster in Doha, Qatar, owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network


Popular western social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have Arabic language services, although users in the region were already effectively romancing their messages as mobile access demands the practice -Multinational companies have long had Arabic websites.

The biggest issue in translating a website into Arabic is the fact that scripts are read from right to left. Translated Arabic will fit into similar size script boxes but the change in the direction of reading will define how local readers view the page, meaning key messaging and advertising will need to be re-positioned.

The same can be said of images. A multinational pharmaceutical company recently tried to overcome transcreation issues by illustrating the effectiveness of its medicine with pictures which is used in the United Arab Emirates. The fact that the picture on the left showed a sick man while the picture on the right showed the cured man after he had taken the pill in the middle picture, meant the campaign was rapidly withdrawn.

Cultural sensitivities remain strong in MENA thanks to the dominance of the Islamic faith. However, it should be noted while the region is made up of predominantly Arab speakers following Islam, variations in how the religion is adhered to differ massively according to the country.

Iran largely adheres to an ancient Islamic ban on humans appearing in artwork, meaning even the most famous actors and footballers are banned from appearing in adverts. However, this is an extreme example rarely followed elsewhere.

Women are also a particularly divisive issue in the region. Saudi Arabia and Iran are two of the most extreme examples where adverts featuring women risk being banned. Adverts involving women in Saudi Arabia that do make it past the censor adhere to a strictly patriarchal model, for instance, the advert below for the Toyota Sequoia which sees the man firmly in the driving seat while his wife troubles herself with shopping. Note the use of the hijab too.

More liberal countries including the UAE, Kuwait and Egypt will accept women in advertising and web content, and not necessarily wearing the hijab, but local agencies should be consulted to find out what is acceptable.


As of March 2017, Brazil is the largest internet market in Latin America and the fourth largest internet market in the world with over 139 million people online. In fact, the internet penetration rate in the region is forecast to grow to almost 61% in 2021 up from 57% in 2016.

Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and is spoken by more than 99% of the population. However, it is not to be confused with European Portuguese. Therefore, in order to ensure content is successfully translated correctly with all its nuances intact, a Brazilian Portuguese speaker should be employed.

Social media is highly popular in the country with nearly 88% of all internet users accessing it. This number is up 18 % since January of 2016, giving a clear indication that social media is a rapidly-growing sector in Brazil.

Facebook is the most popular social media site in the country having overtaken Google’s Orkut in December 2011. Brazilians regularly share web content via the social media so it is vital to ensure the relevant buttons for sharing are easily accessible on websites to maximize content impact.

Being a western liberal democracy, the Brazilian market suffers from few of the restrictions online other emerging markets do. However, transcreation issues remain valid in Brazil as much as anywhere else. Intel proved how to effectively transcreate the content of a web marketing campaign in 2009 when it launched its ‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’ campaign.

However, when translated into Portuguese it implied as a company it did not deliver on its promises. Instead, the Brazilian market was targeted with the slogan ‘In Love with the Future’ which not only connected emotion with Intel’s core product, technology but maintained the brand’s original values.


Despite having the largest internet population in Europe of over 103 million as of March 2017, its internet penetration currently sits at 70.5%, thanks to the vastness of its 146.2 million-strong population. It’s estimated that Russia spent on average over 29.5 house online per month in May 2015, ahead of countries including Brazil, China, Germany and Japan.

Social media is popular in Russia with Vkontakte being Russia’s largest social network, with over 95 million active users in December 2016 who are mainly teens.

Translation of website content into Russian also presents problems for the marketer hoping to access the market. Although Cyrillic script is written left to right, the Russian language itself is a problem. Russian words are up to 60% longer than English words, requiring substantial changes of text boxes and additional changes to pages in order to make room for content.

The content of Russian websites is subject to state control and websites are banned if they fall foul of the law. Furthermore, legislation designed to promote Russian values introduced in January 2013 is already gaining international attention with a ban on homosexual propaganda and a lesser known clause blocking web content that is deemed unfit for young audiences.

In July 2013, a new law was enacted aiming to fight online piracy but which has already been described as a ‘time bomb’ by Google as concerns grow it might be misused by anyone wishing to close down a website.

Although it is hoped that any commercial venture wishing to do business in Russia via the internet should be able to avoid such problems, marketers should familiarize themselves with the potential pitfalls content can create for their brands.


India has seen a tremendous increase in the number of internet users from 137 million in June 2012 to over 462 million in March 2017. The increase is notably due to the regions local and national Government efforts to increase mobile connectivity – especially in rural areas. Not to mention the increase in low-cost smartphone devices which has led to the decrease of the once popular feature phone.

RELATED: How India is Becoming One of the World’s Biggest Markets for Localisation

There 22 official languages in India although the most widely spoken one is Hindi. Google has recognized the variety, first introducing a Hindi version of Translator in 2007 before launching its Hindi portal in 2009. It now offers search in eight other languages including Punjabi and Bengali.

Other sites to take advantage of the local dialect include Twitter which launched a Hindi portal in September 2011 while Facebook offers eight languages on mobile. The IndiBlogger hosts 1,500 blogs in Hindi. However, it should be recognized that the city-dwelling Indians who are the chief users of the internet are more often than not fluent in the English language and multi-national companies can initially reflect this in their content.

India Taj Mahal

With 22 official languages, localizing your content for the Indian market will require some significant research to establish which languages you should consider.

Government intervention remains relatively limited although this could change. The key law is the Information Technology Act which requires search engines and internet service providers to delete disparaging or blasphemous posts within 48 hours of the complaint. Copyright abuses are also punishable with both Pastebin and Vimeo banned for allegedly posting copyrighted material.

What can be a bigger issue is Indian traditional cultural values which can be excessively conservative. Everything from gender-specific roles to the caste system has been set in stone for centuries and while they might be changing, it is happening slowly.

Seismic shocks to the traditions of Indian life can provoke intense reactions. Similarly, religious divisions are manifest. India may be a country of over 1.3 billion but in this mix, according to the most recent census of India, 79.8% are Hindus, 14.2% are Muslims, 2.3% are Christians, 1.7% are Sikhs and then there are Buddhists, Jains and plenty of others. Each requires separate marketing in order to make effective sales.


Boasting a population of more than 1.38 billion people, 738 million of whom are internet users, the Chinese market is immense, especially considering it accounts for half of the entire Asian online community. Furthermore, the average Chinese internet user spends 26.4 hours online per week while it is forecast that internet connectivity could reach 951 million by 2021.

Censorship remains key to the Chinese internet as the government keeps a tight hold of it and through it, control of its people. Many internet platforms such as Facebook or Twitter are banned in the country and are replaced by indigenous versions RenRen or Sina Weibo.

Western brands that set up business and websites in the country are expected to follow the rules or risk exile from the closed net system and local media companies or trained agencies will be best placed to advise how to navigate the rules.

The most immediate problem in transcreating western web content for a Chinese market is dealing with Chinese Mandarin characters, most widely used online, replacing western words. There can be half as many Chinese characters used to translate the same words. However, these characters can be far more complex than simple letters meaning the typeface will have to be increased in size by up to 120% to make them legible.

Another problem with Chinese is thanks to the size of the characters themselves. While the Western alphabet requires a single byte for each letter, Oriental characters require two bytes and application software must be able to handle this. Chinese can also be written either horizontally or vertically.

All of this can be handled in text boxes but consideration must be taken as to how such script defines how consumers read the page. This drives everything from where key messaging appears to where adverts need to be placed.

Similarly, effective Chinese transcreation must take into account how Chinese use their language. It is more poetic than western use as De Beers demonstrated in the 1990s when the company started selling diamonds there. Its strapline was modified from ‘A diamond is forever’ to ‘Diamond is forever, it will always be handed down (to future generations)’, thereby drawing on Chinese poetic sensibilities.


The US boasts an internet penetration rate of 88% with more than 320 million users online. The average American spent 34.8 hours online per month in 2016 and according to a report by Flurry analytics, Americans spend 5 hours a day on mobile devices most of which are on either social media, messaging or music, media and entertainment apps.

Transcreation from the UK to US markets is straightforward. What remains a bigger concern is believing the US market is a single, homogeneous white market that can be approached as such.

New York Skyline

As the number of Hispanic internet users rises in the US, it’s important that marketers not only localize their content to cater to  these users but also ensure content is culturally relevant too.

The Hispanic population in the US reached 56.6 million in 2015 and It’s estimated that 76.5% of the Hispanic population accessed the internet in 2016 and this number is forecast to increase to 82% by 2020. However, to suppose that simply translating web content into Spanish will meet the needs of this market is wrong.

The US Hispanic population is made up of people who have emigrated from many different countries including Argentina, Cuba or Mexico.

Each will have different cultural wants and expectations and effective transcreation will take account of each of these separate, yet linguistically bound markets. A survey conducted by Google concluded that 76% of Hispanic retail customers said that it’s important for a website’s content to be culturally relevant when gathering information about a purchase.


With over 71 million web users, Germany is the second largest market of internet users in Europe, behind Russia. Transcreation of a website into German also takes advantage of the fact that it is the predominant language spoken in Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein while German speakers also live in Belgium, eastern France and northern Italy.

Of course, cultural mores mean each must be approached in their own rights for truly effective marketing but in transcreating into German, the message is being spread wide in the most general sense.

On the whole, the German government has a large laissez-faire attitude to the creation of web content although companies must still ensure they comply with local law. Recent legislation which could have adversely affected the subject of content creation was watered down in February 2013.

The Leistungsschutzrecht Law was originally intended to ensure publishers were fairly paid for their content should it appear on third-party websites such as search engines or news aggregates. However, in an 11th-hour amendment, the government decided that small excerpts could be used without additional charge.


Spain has over 35.7 million internet users, with an internet penetration rate of 87%. Again, being a western liberal democracy, government interference of the web is minimal. However, transcreation problems can be just as much a problem here as anywhere else as one car company discovered when it did not do effective research before launching a new car in the country.

The Mitsubishi Pajero was quickly renamed following its launch in Spain when marketers who failed to consider local sensibilities discovered Pajero was slang for masturbator. Slang may be an underground issue for a foreign translator, but for a native speaker, it is one of the first things they consider.


With 55.8 million internet users, France boasts the fourth largest number of internet users in Europe. The French government is also keen to promote freedom of the press and speech online with unfiltered access to most content with only limited filtering of child pornography and websites promoting terrorism or racial violence and hatred.

However, marketers wishing to break the French market should be aware of the Toubon Law which requires any advertising copy written in English to be repeated in French.

Despite the French government’s attempts to repress the use of English in the French-speaking world, French marketers are relying on their countrymen’s basic sense of English to create straplines using both languages.

Hotel brand Sofitel used this technique particularly effectively in 2007 when it created its marketing line ‘Life is Magnifique’ drawing on both languages with a phrase that could be easily understood by both French and English speakers. Such is the marketing line’s success, it remains in operation today.

Key Takeaways

Content is king

Content attracts visitors to your website and keeps them there. It must be the first consideration on your site.

In blogs we trust

Blogs are the simplest way of engaging your staff with your site, driving SEO, attracting and interesting visitors and presenting both a human and an authoritative voice to the world.

Transcreation is holistic

It is not simply a case of translating copy but its meaning too. Every facet of your site, from color to logos, needs to be considered in order to succeed.

SEO must travel too

New markets mean new SEO strategies. Original thinking and informed local help will ensure your SEO travels well.

Testing, testing

A small focus group will spot something and they will tell you about it. It’s better to have 10 people fall about laughing at an error than an entire nation.

Written by Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Toppan Digital Language and has previous eCommerce experience working with a number of luxury brands in the fashion and beauty industry. He enjoys photography, binge-watching Netflix and can often be found roaming around London with a camera in his hand.

Related posts