Translation vs localization: what’s the difference?

Translation vs localization: what’s the difference?

The terms translation and localization are sometimes used interchangeably. While the two are closely related, there are key differences. Translation refers to the process of converting text into another language. It’s one part of the broader process of localization, which involves adapting the overall customer experience for different geographies, including both language and culture.

Choosing the right translation approach

There are different options for translating your content—whether it’s marketing campaigns, software, videos, or other kinds of assets. Choosing the right approach for each kind of content is an important part of your overall localization strategy.

Translation methods include:

Raw machine translation

This is a translation created by computer software that’s not reviewed by a human translator. It’s a quick, low-cost way to get the job done. While this sort of translation isn’t high quality enough for customer-facing pieces, it can be a good option for internal communications and other kinds of content where accuracy is not critical.

Machine translation with post-editing

This method gives you the benefits of machine translation—large volumes of translation done quickly—with the expertise of skilled linguists to ensure that your translations meet your quality standards. In addition to correcting errors, linguists also adjust translations for tone, style, and cultural nuances.

Human translation

There are some situations when it makes sense for human translators to do the work, such as:

  • Sensitive content where accuracy is crucial, such as legal documents or medical information
  • Content that takes subject matter expertise to translate properly
  • Complicated projects that may require translators to collaborate


When content really needs to resonate with local customers, transcreation may be the best approach. With transcreation, text isn’t translated word for word. Instead, the spirit of the original source content is recreated in a different language, for a different culture, using idioms and cultural references that truly speak to the target audience. Transcreation is used for creative copy, such as taglines and advertising campaigns.

Localization is a holistic approach

Localization is the comprehensive approach to adapting products and communications for different locales. Translation is one part of the process, but it goes far beyond that. Localization encompasses every aspect of the customer experience, including:


Colors have the power to affect customer behavior, but they carry different meanings in different cultures. When content is localized, these preferences are taken into account.


Values and customs vary widely from one country to the next. The localization process ensures that communications in each of your markets use culturally appropriate photos, graphics, icons, and other images.

User interface

Date, time and telephone formats, currencies, measurements, and other functional elements differ across countries, and must be localized for each market.

Social mores

Things like humor, etiquette, and morality are culturally specific, and localization makes sure your content is relevant and appropriate for your different audiences.

How can localization drive successful global expansion?

A well-planned, well-executed localization program can help your business reach its globalization goals. Localized products and communications deliver a culturally-relevant customer experience that helps to:

Drive brand awareness

To enter any new market successfully, your business needs to let potential customers know that your company and your offerings exist. To win over these new customers, you need to speak their language.

A 2020 CSA Research survey revealed that 76% of consumers prefer products with information in their own language, and 40% never buy products from websites in other languages. Among B2B buyers, 66% said they were willing to spend more for a product or service that delivered a localized customer experience.

Given this clear preference for native-language content, it’s not surprising that localizing your marketing materials greatly improves both reach and engagement. In social media, for example, 72% of brand engagement and 66% of content impressions come from localized social pages.

Increase revenue

A strategically-focused localization program is a revenue driver for global businesses. In fact, companies that localize their content are 1.8 times more likely to see year-over-year revenue growth and 2.5 times more likely to experience growth in profits.

As an example, the German e-commerce company Connox, specializing in furniture and home goods, expanded its global reach by creating localized shopping experiences in English, French, and Danish. The result? Connox has experienced an average 20% growth in month-on-month revenue in its French and Danish e-stores.

Increase market share

About 20% of the world’s population speaks English, but only 360 million people, or less than 5% of the word’s population, speak it as their primary language. There’s a strong preference for native-language customer experiences, even among those who speak English fluently as a second language. Localization helps you increase your market share by connecting your business in a meaningful way to customers in the 95% of the world where English is not the first language.

Gain a competitive edge

As your business enters new markets, it can be challenging to compete with local companies that have already earned credibility with customers through a shared language, culture, and values. Localization helps your company compete on a more even footing. It also gives you a sizable advantage over global competitors that have not localized their products and communications.

Build brand loyalty

Loyal customers are valuable customers. The likelihood of selling to an existing customer is 14 times higher than selling to a new one, and repeat customers spend 31% more on average. In fact, 80% of your company’s future profits will likely come from just 20% of your existing customers.

To build brand loyalty, your business needs to create a completely satisfying customer experience. Localization is the key to accomplishing this across all of your global markets. With high-quality localized content at every stage of the customer journey, you can deliver a truly superior purchasing experience that will win over customers for life.

It all starts with a strategy-driven localization approach

The first step for successful global expansion is to determine your localization strategy. You can start by:

Planning and prioritizing

Consider your company’s business goals. Which markets are most important for achieving those goals? What assets should be prioritized in order to most effectively reach audiences in your target markets? The answers to these questions will guide you as you plan your localization program.

If your company develops software, apps, games, or other digital products, planning can be a bit complicated. You’re continuously updating and improving your offerings. Agile software development helps to shorten the cycle, enabling more frequent releases.

To make sure your localization program can keep up, consider continuous localization, an approach in which localization takes place in parallel with the software development cycle. It can help shorten time to market and allow your company to release updates simultaneously across countries.

Setting your budget

Making smart investments in your localization program will yield significant benefits for your business, everything from winning over new customers to increasing sales. When determining your localization spend, start by focusing on the goals you have for your program. What is your top priority? Maybe it’s gaining a competitive advantage or building brand loyalty. Prioritize investments in the markets and assets that will best help you achieve your most important goals.

Measuring results

How effective is your localization program? Tracking the right KPIs can help you understand how your program is impacting your organization’s business goals. Some metrics to consider are:

  • Market share
  • Incremental sales
  • Number of new customers acquired
  • Increase in revenue
  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)

You can also track KPIs that give you insight into the quality of your translations, so you can make adjustments and continuously improve your localization program. Some examples of these metrics are:

  • Cost per word
  • Translation turnaround time
  • On-time deliveries
  • Percentage of content translated correctly the first time
  • Translation error rate

A professional translation and localization partner is key for your global success

An effective translation and localization program is crucial for your company’s global expansion. It can help you increase market share, drive revenue, and boost profits. To get the most out of your localization program, you need an experienced partner with subject matter expertise in your industry and a strategic approach to localization.

Our experts work with your company to plan and execute the right strategy-driven localization programs to meet—and even exceed—your globalization goals.

Contact us today to learn how we can help your business open up new opportunities around the world

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