Strategies for Content Localization

Digital projects targeting audiences in different countries or different language areas are doomed to take advantage of localization strategies. But which users should be given which content in which languages?

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Background and preliminary considerations

Digital projects targeting audiences in different countries or different language areas are doomed to take advantage of localization strategies. So we must answer the following question: which users should be given which content in which languages? The question, at first sight, seems simple. But later in this article, we will point out why this topic is, in fact, complex. And, of course, we will also address how to deal with this complexity.

Browser language setting

Every time a website is queried, the web browser automatically sends to the server the browser language, which can be configured by the user via the browser settings. The default language is the language of the operating system. It is important to know that the majority of users are not aware that they are able to change the language. Each language typically consists of two parameters: the language itself and the region. Germany uses de-de, i.e., German-Germany, Austria uses de-at, meaning German-Austria, and the US uses en-us.

User’s IP address

The IP address (“IP” for short) is the user “address on the Internet”. This is an assigned number that can be used to identify the user on the web and contains information about their location. For example, you can determine the country from which the visitor accesses the website by the IP address. This is possible because specific IP ranges are assigned to individual countries. For example, the IP addresses in the range between 2.16.240.0 and 2.16.255.255 are assigned to Germany. If a user has the IP address 2.16.265.100, we know that this person is accessing the Internet from Germany.

Linguistic localization

The simplest and most common form of localization is a linguistic one, which is based on the browser’s language setting. This method assumes that the user has set the desired language in their browser preferences.

Disadvantages of localization based on the browser language setting

This type of language determination becomes problematic if the language set in the browser does not correspond to the user’s native language. This can be the case, for example, when a German-speaking user works in Germany at an international company where the operating system and, by default, also the browser is set to English (en). This user would then see English-language content, even though their native language is German.

IP-based geographic localization

The disadvantages of linguistic localization are in part offset by IP-based localization. Under the latter method, the language is determined based on the country from which the user is accessing the Internet.

Disadvantages of IP-based localization

So, is IP-based localization a panacea? Whoever thinks so is wrong. The underlying assumption is that all users who are in a single country are native speakers of its language. And that is, of course, far from reality. Someone who is in Germany, but speaks English only, for example, would see all web content in German, even though the site is also available in that person’s native language.

Combined localization

In order to work out a more optimal solution, both outlined approaches can now be merged so that we can handle these borderline cases better. We mean those cases where we should not rely upon the IP address or the browser language solely. As previously described, this is valid for non-native speakers of the language in the country of stay and users with misconfigured browser language preferences.

And this is how we handle such cases:

  1. We use IP localization as the primary criterion, i.e., we come out of the geographical location of the user, such as Germany, for example.
  2. Then we check if the determined location has also been set in the browser language settings. If there is a match, we display the content in the appropriate language. If the two data sources don’t match, then we will use the IP localization. The underlying assumption here is that a user from a given country is likely to have mastered the national language to some degree.
  3. Finally, we check if the content is available in other browser languages, too. If so, we show a popup (similar to a cookie notification) informing the user that the web page is also accessible in alternative languages they’ve listed in their browser settings. So that website visitors can then switch to another language or close the popup with a single click of the mouse.
  4. Cookies are used to find out whether the user has switched the language or dismissed the popup. And in the next session, the content will be displayed in the language of choice.

Access via Google

Another advantage of this differentiated method is that it allows you to better control website access via search engines such as Google, for instance. Search engines take into account the browser language and not necessarily the location of the user. A user who arrives at the site via a search engine is thereby always directed to the version that corresponds to the browser language even if there is a better match from the location (based on IP). The user can still switch to different relevant language content through the popup that has been described above.

Conclusion

The mix “content-language-user” must be kept in mind not only for the sake of usability or rather user experience but also for marketing and strategy. Therefore, the above assignment has no claim to the absolute correctness — the decisive factor is the project-specific objective. Nevertheless, when considered both location and language (i.e., the IP address and browser language setting), the results are much better, since edge cases can also be handled correctly.

About the translator

This article has been translated by Alconost, a global provider of website localization services as well as the localization services for applications, games, and videos into 70+ languages.

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