October 27, 2015 Last Updated 9:19 am

How to optimize content for international customers, on their devices of choice

Guest column: Charles Whiteman, senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint, writes on developing mobile sites that deliver genuinely mobile-centric user experiences

Savvy publishers know they must deliver high-quality experiences that display properly on smartphones, tablets, desktop PCs and beyond. And even savvier publishers, keen to keep pace with global content consumption trends, know that these experiences must be also available in international markets and languages.

This translated content should play nicely across all screens, too. Why? Global smartphone adoption is skyrocketing. In Vietnam—the world’s third-fastest growing smartphone market — nine in 10 adults now own a smartphone. Businesses worldwide are responding; mobile ad spending is rising. For instance: Mobile Internet ad spends in Mexico will rise 76 percent to reach $391.4 million this year.

This is a bona fide paradigm shift, not a fad. According to a 2014 survey of 14,000 people in 14 countries, most people spend more time consuming media on their mobile devices than they do watching TV. Sixty percent of respondents said they spend most, or all, of their time online on mobile devices.

Globally, the second-screen experience is also thriving. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they spend time on the mobile web while watching television. (This number rises to nearly 95% in the U.S.) These folks are texting, on social networks, and shopping.

The convergence of these trends — adoption, consumption, engagement — pave a clear path for publishers. But what’s the smartest way to ensure that your localized content displays accurately across all digital channels?

Be Responsive
The foundation is responsive design—a best practice that many companies already employ on their primary-market English websites. Responsive web design optimizes the presentation of content, depending on the size, resolution and orientation of a device’s screen.

Thoughtfully executed responsive content looks great on desktop browsers, tablets and phones:


If your company’s primary-market site doesn’t leverage responsive design, it was probably dinged during Google’s Mobile Friendly Update back in April — aka “mobilegeddon.” This algorithmic change boosted the rankings of mobile-friendly web pages on mobile search results, and penalized those that weren’t mobile-friendly. (Some sites lost significant traffic, including Reddit (-27%) and NBC Sports (-28%).)

The update impacted sites for international markets, too. Our exclusive research (recently shared with Talking New Media readers) revealed that companies saw decreases of 20% in mobile impressions, when they ignored mobile-friendly best practices for their global sites. Ouch.

Responsive design is lauded for its flexibility. Post-launch, these sites are easy and cheap to maintain, and have fewer implementation issues. It provides “one site to rule them all” — no need for complicated annotations, device detection or redirections.

This method does require a thoughtful design approach, however, and can require more up-front planning and coding to launch.

But these costs are relative. Liken this to building the foundation of a house — with the proper framing, this flexible approach easily accommodates a “second story” down the road, should the website require expansion. Maintenance remains a small aspect of a company’s usual and routine expenses. No extra files are needed. No more servers are required.

Responsive sites are not mobile sites, however. Mobile sites deliver genuinely mobile-centric user experiences, which are generally superior to the responsive approach. There are trade-offs to achieve this meticulous presentation, however. Since these sites live on a separate URL, organic search traffic can be diluted. Link equity can be reduced, which also impacts search. Maintenance costs can be higher, too.

Google recommends responsive web design.

Proxy-Based Localization
Publishers currently operating English sites with responsive design have successfully tackled the “one site, many screens” challenge. However, these organizations often fear that launching international sites will require duplicate effort — spending even more effort and expense designing many “one-off” responsive sites for many secondary markets.

This doesn’t have to be the case. A website localization approach called the Proxy Approach plays nice with all website management systems and designs. Regardless of a company’s Content Management System or design ethos, this platform-agnostic method operates securely, but independently, of a company’s website. It makes launching and maintaining translated sites easy, fast and cost-effective.

An upgrade to this approach — called Proxy Plus — takes the benefits even further by incorporating exclusive tools, technologies and human experts to deliver sustained business growth in international markets.

When combined with responsive web design, this approach delivers resonant localized content to global markets, and optimizes its presentation for any device. A company will maintain its “one site to rule them all” primary-market English site, and its international sites will effortlessly keep pace.

Charles-Whitman-240In the end, if your company is still displaying a desktop experience to mobile visitors — no matter what language that site may be in — those visitors are undoubtedly leaving the website within seconds. Avoid missing out on potential new customers and revenue by embracing responsive design and proxy-based localization.

Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at enterprise localization platform MotionPoint Corporation. He may be reached via email here

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