The Real Cost of Localization and How to Extract the Most Value

The Real Cost of Localization and How to Extract the Most Value
Dimitris Glezos
April 28, 2016
10 min read

Localization is frequently seen as a “nice to have” instead of a “must have” on a company’s list of priorities. It’s a line item that’s often evaluated based on the cost of localization with much less focus on the actual value created from localizing for new global markets.

As a player in the growing localization industry, our opinion may be somewhat biased when it comes to anything localization related, (especially its value!) but we thought we’d share our thoughts on the subject and open the discussion up to the community for their opinions and insights. Feel free to leave a comment or tweet us at @Transifex!

Development Costs

When thinking about and budgeting for localization, companies often jump straight to the cost of translating digital content, yet costs often arise before translations are even ordered.

A smart localization project kicks off with a technical audit, ensuring that the application, website, or product being localized has been built in a way that supports content adapted for new languages and locales. This process, better known as internationalization (abbreviated i18n), involves collecting all the elements and content that might change when localizing, from dates and times to text on login screens, and extracting them to a single place where they can be easily edited and translated. Internationalization makes supporting a second locale as easy as swapping in a new translation file.

If your product isn’t internationalized, it doesn’t mean localization isn’t possible. It does, however, mean extra time, which in the business world equates to extra cost, for your development team. Localizing a non-internationalized product requires your developers to create a copy of your codebase and then sift through it file by file, function by function, to find and replace each localizable element or string of content.

Getting the value: The best bet for preparing for localization, even if it’s just a longer term “nice to have”, is to start by internationalizing your code from the beginning. This leaves you the option of adding in localization quickly and cost-effectively when you’re ready to proceed.

The translation and localization industries are bringing new technologies to companies interested in going global. One of these core technologies, Transifex Live, uses a single line of JavaScript to display translated content and allows for content collection, translation leveraging in context editing, as well as multilingual publishing without the arduous process of internationalizing your code base.

Translation Costs

While translation costs may consume a large portion of your localization budget, there are a number of ways to control such costs, scaling as you grow.

Be selective with content

It’s common for companies to have multiple digital products that need translation – a marketing website, a help center (think Zendesk), and an app. Just because you’ve made the decision to localize doesn’t mean that you need to tackle translation for all of your products or content types at once. In fact, if you’re on a tight budget, being selective about which products to localize based on value and potential return on investment is an easy way to control your translation costs.

The combinations and desired timeline for rolling out translation across your different products is heavily dependent on your company’s individual goals, resources, and budget. Just remember that driving decisions with data points will set you up for the most success.

Pick the right translation resource

There are countless translation agencies that can help you complete translations, each offering different services and price points. Traditionally, you have large, enterprise-level translation agencies that employ professional translators with proven credentials on the high-cost end of the spectrum at about $.20 per word, and smaller translation agencies that employ native speakers that may not have specific credentials but are experienced with certain language sets (i.e. English to Japanese) on the low-cost end of the spectrum at about $.08 per word. Then you have specialized translation agencies that focus on specific industries including health, law, and gaming, all of which offer varying price points dependent on the individual project.

With such a wide range of translation options, companies have total flexibility in terms of what agency to partner with and how much to spend on translations. But so many options can also be overwhelming. For new or first time localizers, keep these items in mind when evaluating potential translation agencies:

  • How difficult or unique is your content? Achieving quality translations of highly specific text will probably require translations from an agency with accredited translators.
  • What tone do you use to deliver brand messages? Brands using an emotional or persuasive writing style may need to work with translators who have a very strong understanding of your brand and your specific language set.
  • Do you have multilingual staff that can participate in your localization efforts as reviewers? Because your staff are already familiar with your product, they can be an effective resource to supplement the services provided by your external translation provider.

For companies that are actively engaged with their community, crowdsourcing is another available translation option. While companies that crowdsource translations cite the free cost of translations as one of it’s most notable benefits, keep in mind that someone must be responsible for managing the crowd, requiring a few hours a week or even a few hours a day, depending on the number of involved volunteers, languages being translated to, and project timeline. Quality control is also a consideration that will impact the overall “cost” of crowdsourcing.

Free doesn’t always equal good! Machine Translation, most notably Google Translate, is a popular option because it allows companies to translate content almost instantaneously through a plugin. Unfortunately, Machine Translation relies on previously translated text as opposed to human experience and does not always render high-quality translations. The cost of using Machine Translation often isn’t monetary, but instead stems from poorly translated content that may insult or anger your customers, leading to negative views of your brand.

Getting the value: When it comes to translation costs, there are no hard and fast shortcuts that will work for every business. You’ll need to understand your potential new customers, the content that provides a good experience for them, and how best to deliver the right translation quality that will meet their needs.

Localization Platform Costs

Not all companies pay for a localization platform to help manage the overall process, yet those that do find their return on investment comes in many forms including fewer translation errors and higher translation quality, time saved, and expedited deployment of localized content to a growing global user base.

The traditional method of localization involves extracting content for translation which can take anywhere from hours to days depending on how much content needs to be collected. Content is then transferred to a central document (a word document or spreadsheet) that is sent to translators. Translators work for a given period of time and fill the document with the appropriate translations before it’s sent back to the developers to be uploaded back into the product. This is a time-consuming process that unfortunately is prone to error. Strings may be missed in the initial collection phase, translators may copy and paste the wrong content into the appropriate spreadsheet cell, files can be misplaced, the list goes on and on.

A localization platform solves all of the above-mentioned issues, giving you a single, consolidated place to not only store your content but a place for your developers and translators to work collaboratively. User-friendly localization platforms like Transifex also give you access to additional in-platform features including:

  • Comments – Share additional context and enable open discussions with translators to increase translation quality and ensure you and your translation team, as well as any collaborators, are always on the same page.
  • Translation Memory – Keep a database of past translations and have your translation team leverage them as they complete new translations. Along with saving them time, you save money in the long-term as you only have to pay for the translation of a specific word once!
  • Glossary – Great for companies that have industry-specific terms, a glossary can be extremely helpful in ensuring messaging consistency across translated content. It’s a great reference for your translators and pays back by protecting your brand from inaccurate translations.

In addition to saving time and money and reducing translation error, a more streamlined workflow is where companies are able to derive the most value. Localization platforms allow you to automate and better manage the entire localization and translation process from start to finish without the need for a complex set of different tools, platforms, and documents. For many companies, this means employees can focus on building out their products, adding new engaging content to their websites, and focusing on marketing messages and building a global digital presence.

To learn more about localization automation, download our free Localization for Agile Teams guide and see how localization works within an agile development environment.

Getting the value: If you’re working on localization on an on-going basis, the initial investment in the time to set up your workflow will be offset quickly by the time saved from the elimination of manual processes.

QA Costs

After translations have been completed, it’s always recommended to do a review of the content to ensure it’s properly localized for any new locales and takes into account any cultural differences. Depending on the translation resource you select, there may be a review process included with your per word translation cost.

An in-country review is also a great way to vet your translated content and can give you confidence before publishing. The cost for this will vary depending on who is conducting your in-country review, but it’s often a one-time fee – unless you’re working with a dynamic site with regular updates and content pushes. Again, a localization automation platform can be helpful here as well because you can invite reviewers into the platform to do a final check of the translated content.

Large companies like Eventbrite, for example, have a set localization schedule, pushing new strings to be translated on a weekly basis. They require translators to go into the localization platform twice a week, implementing a deadline for when translations must be finished so that reviewers have time to read over their work before the weekly release. This type of workflow is automated for Eventbrite and makes the job easy and transparent for their senior localization manager. Read more about Eventbrite’s localization process.

Getting the value: When it comes to QA, the value is clear; just make sure to build this into your timeline, budget, and process.

While calculating the exact return on investment from localization can be difficult because of the number of uncontrollable, outside factors, offering your product in other languages opens the door to new opportunities and helps you build a solid foundation for long-term growth.

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Dimitris Glezos
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