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Internationalisation for web applications: the what, why, and how

By John Cleary
23/01/2020

Internationalisation for web applications: the what, why, and how

Most businesses want to grow. To cover more territory, expanding your audience and reach, usually means you’re doing something right. But making your business’s web applications accessible on a global level is no simple feat. In fact, it can soon become quite overwhelming.

By internationalising your web applications, you’re able to provide a more accessible, intuitive user experience. After all, to offer an application in only one language restricts the number of people you will attract and limits the engagement you can expect. 

56% of people say the ability to receive information in their own language is more important than the price of a product or service. This means your time and effort are sure to pay off in the long-run.

What is internationalisation?

Internationalisation is about making web applications accessible on a global scale. Rather than sticking to your native language and cultural context, you adapt to your users, no matter where in the world they may be. The goal is to develop a flexible user interface – one where you’re providing the best experience for every user that visits or engages.

It’s about so much more than translating the copy – although this is a large part of the internationalisation process. At every level of your application, you need to establish an awareness of the linguistic and cultural context. You must adapt to suit the needs and characteristics of whichever nationality or location you’re translating for. 

On a web application, not only will you have the basic, static content, but also the images that need translating, either literally with their words or contextually. There’s also direction of reading and user-generated copy to consider.

The benefits to a business

The key benefits of internationalisation for a business is opening up to new markets. There’s only so much success you can see from one location. And by internationalising, you can access multiple new audiences. 

Globalisation can be powerful for a business’s profit, reputation, and longevity. Not only are you more inclusive and accessible for your users, but you also become more attractive to multinational companies. You’ll have a significant competitive advantage over others in your industry who aren’t yet internationalising. 

Without localisation, other nationalities and languages may feel unrepresented; an afterthought. By catering to these audiences, you establish better trust and loyalty from users, while also improving the reputation and awareness of your business on a much larger scale.

Although it’s not the easiest process at first, once you’ve internationalised for one new language, it becomes easier to translate even more. Any future developments and growth with internationalisation will become more straightforward and simple. 

The logistics of making internationalisation work

To make internationalisation work, you first need to identify all the content that will need translating. On a basic level, you’ll have static, business-generated content. But it’s also important you recognise any rich content (eg. HTML), images with text, images that are inappropriate for certain contexts, or user-generated content.

There’s also a choice between showing content in one language or enabling users to hover over a piece of content to also view the original translation. 

It’s worth recognising the potential of using services such as AWS from Amazon to provide auto-translation. Internationalisation is much simpler when you work with third parties and leverage what’s already available to you. For user-generated content, which will be unpredictable and constantly changing, something like AWS can offer an easier solution.

When internationalising, there can be more to the process than originally meets the eye. Often, during the process, the more you do, the more you realise there is left to do. Internationalising isn’t always going to be straightforward, but if you recognise the benefits it’ll bring to your business once complete, it becomes a small price to pay.

How we’ve done it

At Createk, we fully internationalised an app for one of our clients. There were many types of content within the app that needed internationalising – standard text as well as multi-tenanted. 

There is a collection of added complexities that come with an application involving many users. In this instance, much of the app’s content was customisable to the specific needs of each user. As a result, we had to find a solution in which translators could edit content for each moving part. 

We quickly realised that – while we met plenty of hurdles – it was well worth it when the end result had longevity. We knew what we’d created was sophisticated enough to keep up with the platform now and long into the future. For example, we didn’t build an editor that was tied to the specific implementation. Instead, we created a dynamic editor that could be reconfigured as the platform grows, adapts and changes.

To achieve widespread recognition and awareness of your business, it’s important to cater to audiences from different locations. While the process isn’t always the easiest, the benefits once you’ve internationalised are worthwhile. Between reaching new markets and becoming more competitive in your industry, internationalisation is an important process to undergo to secure longevity for your business. 

At Createk, we have the experience and expertise to make internationalising web applications simple. Our team can help your business to internationalise, expanding audiences and providing a competitive advantage. To find out more, visit our website or call us on 0330 995 0685.

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