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Localization Vs. Translation: Key Differences

When brands want to diversify geographically, they have two primary options for adapting their content into new languages: translation vs localization. While many people, including marketers, are unaware of their differences and use the terms interchangeably, professional linguists understand that the translation process and localization process are markedly different and have varying benefits.

As you look to expand your brand and deploy your growth strategy, it is essential to understand the differences between translation and localization. Besides increasing your knowledge of the industry, it will help you reach your new target audience more effectively and boost profitability.

Before comparing the uses and benefits of website localization vs translation, let’s understand how translation and localization services differ. 

What Is the Difference Between Translation and Localization?

Localization and translation are two closely related but distinct processes that involve adapting a product or content to a specific language and cultural context. Here is a table that summarizes the main differences between localization and translation:

The process of adapting a product or content to a specific language and cultural contextThe process of converting written or spoken text from one language to another
Involves not just translating the text, but also adapting the layout, graphics, and cultural references to make the product or content suitable for the target audienceInvolves converting the text from one language to another, but does not involve adapting elements like layout, graphics, or cultural activities
Can involve a wide range of activities, including language translation, cultural adaptation, context localization, and technical localizationGenerally focused on language translation only
Can be applied to a wide range of products and content, including software localization, app localization, video game localization, websites, marketing materials, and moreCan be applied to written or spoken language content that needs converting from one language to another

Translation vs Localization

In general, localization involves a more comprehensive approach to adapting a product or content for a specific market, while translation focuses specifically on converting text from one language to another.

What is translation?

Translation refers to the process of changing content from one language (source language) to another (target language) with the goal of reaching a new audience. Therefore, with language translation, you can render documents, apps, eBooks, or manuals into several target languages, depending on your audience. 

When translating a website, you change the existing content into another language while maintaining a tone and style that mirror the source language. But it is not a simple process either, even if you’re using a translation management system. Translation must consider the context to communicate the accurate meaning of the original message in the target language. 

For instance, a translation should take into account each language’s standards and rules, including grammar and syntax. Translation management systems can be a useful tool for streaming large-scale projects, but machine translation efforts need to be supported by human linguists.

What is localization?

Localization goes beyond rewriting a text from the source language into the target language. It’s a more specialized process of adapting your message to specific audiences. For instance, even though Spain, Mexico, and Argentina speak Spanish as the official language, the local dialects and versions differ from region to region. Therefore, localization looks at these differences to develop content relatable to each group. 

Most multinational companies use localization to create mobile apps, websites, video games, and content specific to regions. A localization strategy for expanding into Spain will be significantly different than the one deployed when targeting Latin American countries.

Translation Is Just One Aspect of Localization

Flawless translation is an essential element of your localization strategy. Localization requires a team of translators, local marketers, and consultants to work together to ensure the content is culturally adapted for the target audience. Website localization eliminates local misunderstandings by considering the beliefs, religion, dialects, idioms, and other cultural practices when generating content.

Besides translating content, localization entails:

  • Modifying the content to conform to the target market’s consumption habits and preference
  • Adopting graphics that have meaning to the target audience
  • Adjusting your content layout and design to communicate to the target group
  • Converting elements such as currencies and units of measure to local values
  • Adhering to the local customs, laws, and regulations
  • Using local formats for addresses, phone numbers, and dates

Regular translation alone isn’t enough to grant your business success in a foreign market, as selling in another country goes beyond overcoming language barriers. Sometimes culture is the biggest hindrance brands encounter when entering new markets. 

That’s why experts recommend content translation and localization to help gain trust from the local public. Website localization implies the company comes up with customized messages, specially crafted for each region.

Why Is Website Localization Necessary?

Issues of intent and clarity can arise when translating content, especially if the source language’s word-to-word state remains primitive. Such problems are more common with. But even if a professional linguist translates content, it might lack the degree of cultural nuance necessary for it to resonate with the target market. That’s why a global brand should not rely on website translation alone to meet the needs of different audiences. 

Language localization is crucial in fostering quality customer experiences in different regions. It allows a brand to adapt its content to meet the different language, cultural and functional expectations of the various foreign markets. Thus, customized client experience is the primary difference between translation and localization.

Why language localization matters for global business

Thinking about expanding into an untapped market? Even if major competitors aren’t yet localizing their products, you’ll need to prioritize the process yourself. Without localizing marketing content, products, and services, there’s no guarantee your offerings are going to be discoverable. 

However, even if you’re successfully engaging customers in new markets, a well-planned localization strategy is essential if you want to increase retention rates and protect the bottom line. As well as driving sales growth, localization improves customer experience, minimizing the amount you have to spend on customer support. 

Benefits of language localization

Localization unlocks new revenue streams for your brand

Any business considering international expansion will depend on localization to reap the biggest financial benefits. With effective localization management, you can ensure your organization has the largest possible market share. 

While some companies may experience modest success at offering their services and products in new territories, this lackluster approach is unlikely to yield any significant returns. Only those brands that invest in localization can expect to optimize their marketing messages for new audiences. 

Even small to medium-sized businesses can unlock the revenue-boosting potential of localization. By tailoring SEO for international markets, more modest operations can make quick work of market penetration and experience rapid growth. 

Localization will increase brand loyalty with your target audience

If you’re looking to strike the right note with a global audience, you need to be speaking their language. When customers can access information in their native language, your marketing messages are far more likely to resonate with them. 

It’s tempting to cut corners and let machine translation do a lot of the heavy lifting. However, this can often result in second-rate translated text that’s riddled with inaccuracies. Being able to communicate with customers fluently and confidently builds trust and boosts brand loyalty. 

Customer experience can also be enriched by investing in localization efforts. This goes beyond retooling content and products from one language into another. Continuous localization should involve in-depth audience research that targets everything from preferred packaging to popular payment types. The more you bring your offering in line with what customers actually need, the better their experience.

Which are the most popular languages for localization?

With many global brands looking to expand into English-speaking territories, it’s no surprise that English remains one of the most sought-after languages for localization efforts. As far as other languages are concerned, European languages like French, Spanish, German, and Italian are also popular. 

For businesses looking to capitalize on Asian markets, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi are also go-to choices. However, demand for other Asian languages like Malay is also increasing. In places like Malaysia and Indonesia, mobile and internet usage is on the rise. As such, it represents a lucrative market that remains relatively untapped by foreign enterprises. 

When is localization important

Localization is more specialized and complex than regular translation. Although translation is important in a global marketing strategy, you need more than translated content to become a vital player in the local, foreign markets. 

The website must appeal to different audiences with content adhering to the grammar and syntax rules of each target language. Content localization focuses on every detail necessary for breaking cultural barriers and improving your website’s usability in different geographical locations. 

Elements of you should localize include the following:


Colors mean different things depending on the audience. For example in some cultures, orange shows mourning and loss while red indicates danger. Before launching a marketing campaign in the new target market, it is essential to do thorough research and ensure the colors you use are in sync with your message and not likely to cause offense. 


The visuals you select should be relevant and respectful to the local cultures. While a blonde mom hugging a kid might impress a Western audience, the same visual might be offensive to an Asian audience. 


Adopt a flexible layout that accommodates different spacing and text size requirements, as some languages require more space to express a similar concept. This is particularly important if you’re considering expanding into multiple territories. 

Measurement units

Convert measurement units into local units for easy understanding. Some regions use inches as the standard for length measurement while others use meters. Ensure your units follow the local system.

Agreements including contracts

Doing business in foreign countries requires compliance with the local regulations and requirements. Tweak your contracts and other agreements to comply with the set rules to avoid legal battles leading to hefty losses or even being banned outright from being able to do business.


When selling products or services, it is essential to state the prices in the local currencies. Customers don’t want to deal with converting currencies to determine the exact price of an item and giving the prices in foreign currencies might be the turn off. Even if you secure one sale, there’s a good chance you’ll experience a high churn rate if returning customers are faced with having to undertake currency conversion themselves.

Industries Relying on Localization

  1. Software and SaaS: Localization is essential for software companies to expand internationally. Top SaaS firms offer an average of 11 languages, boosting growth and market penetration.
  2. Mobile Apps: Apps in users’ native languages have a higher download rate and 26% more revenue per language added. Ensuring easy localization is crucial for app development.
  3. Finance and Banking: The future of banking depends on embracing emerging technology. Availability in multiple languages is key, with 80% of top finance apps bilingual and 35% supporting over 10 languages.
  4. Gaming: Proper localization is vital for international game launches. Complex narratives and cultural references require a meticulous, collaborative effort.
  5. E-commerce: As global e-commerce grows, localization is critical. About 60% of customers will only buy in their native language, necessitating localized product info, payment options, and SEO strategies.
  6. Healthcare: Technology has revolutionized healthcare, making localization crucial, especially for regulatory compliance. Errors in medical content localization can have life-threatening consequences, necessitating certified linguists and rigorous quality checks.

Localization Examples: Global Experiences

Content localization guarantees unique consumer experiences. It makes you feel as though an application, software, or website was created just for you rather than a one-size fits all design. Here are some glittering examples of content translation vs localization. 


When KitKat was venturing into the Japanese market, it was imminent the Japanese culture would make understanding of their original message difficult and affect uptake of their products. Instead of translating their famous slogan of “Have a beak, have a KitKat” to Japanese, the company replaced their slogan with “Kitto Katsu”, meaning “Surely Win” to gain the trust of the local public. 

KitKat then expanded their localization strategy by launching exotic chocolate bars to meet the taste and preference of Japan’s population. KitKat’s localization campaign has been a huge success, demonstrating the significance of using locally relatable phrases and expressions.


Whether you live in New York or Hong Kong, you know the colors of Coca-Cola. The company maintains a singular message globally, but its marketing campaigns vary from country to country. Coca-Cola has adopted a localization strategy meant to meet the different needs of consumers worldwide. For instance, in China, the company changed the product’s name from “Coca-Cola” to “Kekou Kele” translating to delicious happiness to maintain the brand’s voice in the region. 

Coca-Cola Chinese marketing strategy helped them conquer a market previously dominated by beverages like green tea, which are perceived as healthy. But they didn’t achieve this by translating content alone. The company approached local experts, including linguists and marketers, who helped develop the new name and a local marketing strategy that communicated to Chinese consumers while respecting their conservative culture. 

Different from content translation, localization reshapes the content and makes the consumers feel as if the product is specially designed for them.

Translation vs localization: which should I choose?

With the expanding globalization trend, translation alone might not be enough to reach your new audience in foreign target markets. You’ll need to localize your content. Although translation and localization serve a similar purpose of reaching audiences speaking different languages, the two processes differ significantly. In fact, translation is the first step in localization, which is a more specialized and complex process of creating content for particular groups.

Localization considers local culture and traditions as part of a marketing strategy, ensuring the content meets the target audience’s expectations and enhances engagement. Unlike regular translation, localization makes people feel as if the content is created specifically for them.

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