The Cost of Localization

The Cost of Localization

$0.08, $0.12, $0.23 USD per word – can that really be the only cost of localization and translation? You guessed it – probably not!

The true cost of localization and translation can range dramatically depending on your requirements and the markets you are trying to enter. In this post, we cover some of the considerations companies should make around the localization and translation of their content, which language to choose, and the value localization potentially returns.

The 6 true costs of localization

Before starting on your localization journey, there are six main costs to consider before localization:

  1. Target market research time
  2. Preparation time & (potentially required) plugins
  3. Localization and translation cost (subcontractors)
  4. QA time & testing cost
  5. Price of international support
  6. Cost of future updates

Together, the cost of localization can be substantial. However, with the right planning and knowledge, it’s possible to mitigate a lot of the cost, therefore increasing the value for companies.

Target market research time

The very first thing you should do before starting on your localization journey is spend some time deciding on your target market(s) and language(s). Many companies make the mistake of choosing what they believe are popular languages or obvious markets, but this may result in a cost with no value or return on investment. Others have download statistics or proven demand in their inboxes, which help them make their localization decisions.

If you don’t know where to start, take a look at information that’s available to you. Check out your site or download statistics; find out which markets your competitors are in; look up statistics on your industries growth in each potential market. Some companies see value in asking their customers advice. The important thing is to not throw darts at a map as, in doing so, you are potentially risking a greater ROI and reducing the value of localization.

Your choice of target markets will also have an effect on our next point: preparing your content of localization. Consider that some markets may use languages that read from Right to Left rather than Left to Right. This will be a significant consideration for your developers or designers when the content is returned post translation.

Preparation time

Whether you’re localizing an app, game, website or marketing campaign, there is a structural cost to consider before you begin with localization. The groundwork needs to be done to ensure your product or service can actually support additional locales or languages.

In the case of app development, this will require time for your developers to ensure that the app is ready to be localized, with all localizable content addressed correctly in code and set up as per the requirements of the development environment you are using.

For example, an app that has been developed in English first will need to make sure its strings (text) are localizable and in the correct format, it will also need to make use of technologies such as Apple’s AutoLayout to ensure the text fits on the screen, in buttons, labels, etc.

For website development it may be that you have to develop the site to allow multiple languages. Many web app frameworks make this relatively easy for companies and you should take a look at your PHP/React/Ruby/.Net/etc documentation. If your website is based on WordPress however, it may be easier to use a pre-existing plugin which will come at a cost. WPML is the most common, but other translation plugins are available.

Documents, presentations and imagery may take slightly less time to prepare for localization, but don’t forget to consider your graphic designer’s time to put the new translation into layout (which sometimes takes up to 30% more space than English!).

Localization costs

It is important to understand that localization is not the same as translation. The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) describes it as, “Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of several elements of the localization process.”

This is important because while you may have translated your content into another language, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything within the content is instantly understandable to the target market.

Washing detergent is often used as a good example here. While the powder may be the same or similar, asking people to reach for ‘Persil’ may cause some confusion in Greece, Italy and Cyprus where it is called ‘Dixan’ and Spain and China where it is called ‘Wipp’. These changes are as important as the translation itself to ensure your target market fully understands your content.

The cost of localization can be high depending on the level of consultancy you require. If you are a global brand with reputation at stake, you would be advised to seek out a localization consultant specific to your market. The cost can be very high, but obviously the value is there.

However, for many small and medium sized companies, a good translation and localization agency can help leverage the local market knowledge of the individual translators to help you on your way.

How to highlight possible terms for localization

  • Comment content that is specific to your local market
  • Highlight local brands and names you mention
  • Make sure you tell your translators or translation partner that they should highlight when they come across that doesn’t culturally fit in their market

It’s often advisable to do this before translation, in case your content just cannot be used in that target market. Many examples could be used, but let’s imagine you’ve developed a game with a reward system that gives cute animals as rewards. What your definition of a cute animal may be something quite offensive in some cultures. You’re unlikely to want the cost of redeveloping or redesigning the whole game, so you may decide not to translate for that market any more.

Translation costs

The cost of translation of your content varies greatly depending on how you will approach this very important step. Companies may choose from a variety of different translation methods, such as:

  • Friends & family
  • Users
  • Native speaking employees
  • In-house translators
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Directly with translators
  • Via a translation agency

Each of these methods comes with advantages and disadvantages for companies, with different costs and quality levels. Each language will likely also come at a different cost. We caution that those who are not being paid often do not feel the incentive to complete translations on time and to a high standard, which is something to consider.

However, the cost of translation can also vary between professional translators and agencies. We recommend doing some due diligence before hiring translators, asking about experience, how they use machine translation, qualifications and quality checking processes.

It should be noted that no two translations will ever be the same, so don’t discount a translation if a native speaking friend or colleague complains. It’s like asking your colleagues to all describe a scene in front of them, they’ll use different words but should all paint the same picture. If in any doubt, think about hiring a professional proofreader to check the language – this will come at a cost, but is of great value.

QA review and testing

As you would with your source content, localized content will need to be passed in front of other native speakers for checking. Testing is important whether you are localizing something technical like an app and having additional sets of eyes on anything marketing and sales related can be extremely important to mitigate the risk of cultural faux-pas.

In the world of localization, QA testing is often a separate, equally qualified proofreader reviewing the content. However, it could be a small group of target beta-customers or native-speaking colleagues you may have in-house.

The cost of QA varies depending on your needs. A proofreader may charge approximately half of what a translator may charge, but a game or app tester may charge by the hour. Professional QA testing services are an investment, but good QA partners should return value for your company.

To cut costs, it may be an option to recruit beta-testers from your target market who are willing to provide feedback for free or with some incentive. The key thing to remember here is the more eyes, the better.

The price of international support

Providing customer support to an international audience can be challenging, especially your new clients who you’ve won post localization will automatically expect support to be available in their language.

Localization comes at a cost already. Providing localized support in the form of employing multilingual customer support staff for each language raises this cost even more. However, there are alternative solutions.

Like with the translation of your content, you can also have your customer support key documents translated into each language. For example, ask your language service provider to translate your FAQs and send these out to clients who get in touch asking for support.

Managing expectations is key in this area. When a client comes to you asking for support in their language, if you’re not able to provide this, you need to be able to make that clear from the start. Ask your language service provider to provide an email template in the languages you work in explaining that support is currently provided in English only.

Future updates

There will come a time when you need to update your content in the future. It’s rare that companies put content out there and then retract in future, so keep this in mind when choosing your languages initially and be sure you’ve chosen them for the right reasons.

Aside from the cost of actual translation and the cost of localization, you also have a time cost, especially if you have chosen many different target markets. Imagine you have localized your content into 2 other languages and you notice a mistake in the copy that needs changing immediately. You change it in your source language, then instruct the translators or agency to make the changes in the other language. There is a cost (albeit likely quite small) to change the copy and it may take a day to do. Now imagine you localized your copy into 15 languages – the time it takes to organise and check the work of 15 different translators increases and the time it takes for you to implement those changes increases too.

Hopefully, the markets you have chosen will be having a positive impact on your company and therefore the cost of localization is unlikely to hinder future updates.

The cost of localization

The value of a well thought out localization strategy can be great for companies. While daunting at first, following the steps above should make it a lot more manageable to see you from start to finish.

Ultimately, the cost of localization is negated if it brings more customers to your product or service. And with the internet making so many companies international nowadays, the value of localization and translation cannot be understated.


Robert Lo Bue

Rob is CEO of Applingua. With over a decade's experience, he is at the forefront of tech localization.

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