7 strategic essentials for successful internationalization

Internationalization is critical for your localization strategy. Learn what it is and how to apply it. Reach multilingual audiences and grow your company.


If you want to scale your brand to reach dozens of different language-speaking audiences, you have options. Internationalization offers a cost-effective solution to streamline and automate the process of expanding into new markets. More importantly, it allows you to connect with your audience like a local.

First, we’ll explore the differences between internationalization and localization. Then, we’ll dive into the essentials for preparing your strategy. By the end of this article, you'll be ready to jump-start your global growth plan.

What is internationalization?

Internationalization occurs when brands build and position their products to support multiple languages and audiences.

Internationalization requires developers to account for localization from the beginning. They analyze and plan the application's architecture to enable a smoother process, both now and in the future.

Internationalization includes the following:

  • Separating the user interface elements from the content's source code
  • Creating support for many languages
  • Developing written text that is supported in several formats, like right to left, left to right, and vertical
  • Incorporating a system to support local, regional, and cultural preferences
  • Including accurate number formats, time formats, and numeral systems
  • Adding appropriate sorting and list presentations
  • Implementing the effective handling of personal names and locations

In short, internationalization is about global readiness.

If you were to imagine a NASA launch in Cape Canaveral, you would see a launchpad and a space shuttle. Internationalization is like the pad that supports your global strategy. Localization, on the other hand, is the shuttle.

What is localization?

Localization requires translating source text for an audience that speaks a different language. This translation extends beyond a word-for-word translation and focuses instead on the product’s whole meaning by accounting for cultural nuance.

In other words, does your translated text convey the same message to a different audience? Consider your new audience’s cultural background, language use, and contextual factors.

Localized content includes software, websites, mobile applications, videos, and documents—any text-based content that you can translate.

Localized text resonates with users and incorporates relevant cultural nuances. The language feels familiar to international audiences because it doesn’t simply replace English words with translated text. Localization can include:

Localization can include:

  • Translating text for a variety of materials
  • Resonating with your audience with consistent and accurate tones and messaging
  • Developing cultural context for your websites, apps, and software within your user interface
  • Converting currency, measurement, time, and number formats
  • Providing the right payment and processing methods
  • Including appropriate signs, imagery, and colors based on what is culturally appropriate

The difference between localization and internationalization

Localization and internationalization focus on the same end goal: delivering an experience in a new language or region.

But to correctly localize a product or application, you must build the solution from the ground up with internationalization.

Internationalization is like a rocketship launchpad
Internationalization is the foundation for your localization strategy.

By using an internationalization strategy, brands can reduce their time and effort behind the scenes. This enables a quicker and more agile development process for localized software and also provides a native experience for users, no matter their location or language.

Your brand can engage a new audience with the same successful experience you've had with customers in the past, replicated and customized for different language-speaking audiences.

Essentials for internationalization

Below are the top essentials for beginning your internationalization process:

Essential 1: Understanding local markets and cultures

Creating a strategy for navigating cultural nuances is critical as you plan for internationalization. Word-for-word translations won’t communicate the same concepts to all audiences.

Take, for instance, the Spanish language.

It’s the official language of 21 countries, not including other Spanish speakers and communities that are dispersed worldwide.

However, the Spanish language is different everywhere.

Something as simple as a fruit’s name can be vastly different. Many Spanish speakers know of the tropical fruit “papaya,” but it’s called fruta bomba in Cuba and mamón in Argentina. In the same way, foundational terms can vary, and so can market- and industry-specific content. Additionally, some words that are offensive in one country might be perfectly normal in another. Many Hispanic communities also value community rather than individualism, so the wrong choice of content and theme can be off-putting.

These are essential contextual differences to know. Understanding them enables you to better communicate with different countries, people groups, and dialects within a single language.

You should also design and structure your web pages for different languages. For example, your formatting would look different if you need to reach an Arabic or Hebrew audience. The web pages would have to present the language (and graphics) from right to left to accommodate how a native speaker would read the text.

Companies should consider the audience's impact on design as well. Consider the types of visuals, colors, and symbols you choose. Your website design should also consider payment preferences and support audience-specific payment solutions.

Essential 2: Optimizing your localization process for speed and quality

Human translations can be slow and costly without the right strategy, while machine translation (MT) can be faster but may not achieve the level of quality needed for some types of content.

You can overcome these challenges by combining AI translation technology with human translation experts. Together, they can help streamline your brand’s localization process.

Smartling's AI-Powered Human Translation brings humans and technology together to deliver consistent, on-brand translations with the highest possible quality score. Smartling’s approach leverages linguistic assets like translation memory and glossary terms. It then uses AI to determine the best MT engines to use for initial translations before our expert linguists step in.

Using AI-powered human translation, your brand can translate millions of words while ensuring consistent, on-brand translations. You get the best of both worlds with high-quality, fast translations that accurately and authentically connect with the audience.

Essential 3: Building a multilingual online presence

Ultimately, the goal of internationalization is to reach more customers. Translating and producing more content will help you communicate with your target market and increase sales.

Internationalization requires companies to set up the processes, strategies, and infrastructure to build an online presence for target languages and regions. Your strategy should include relevant website translations, marketing materials, resources, and anything else necessary to communicate with your audience, sell your product, and offer support.

As you translate content and increase your online exposure, you will gain footing in the market with your presence and potential reach.

Essential 4: Complying with local regulations and standards

When you enter a new market, you have much to plan for. And despite what you might think, localization is not limited to your customers. You also have to think of essential government regulations and standards.

For example, you might need to translate your terms of agreement for a specific audience. MT can give you an accurate result, but legal experts and translators can help you navigate local and national regulations.

Additionally, compliance extends beyond translations. Governing bodies like the European Union, for instance, require approval and notices from website visitors about gathering cookies. Your internationalization team would have to consider local government expectations like this.

Essential 5: Supporting customers and creating feedback loops

Your website and brand should have a robust solution to translate customer support documentation.

You can’t provide a product or service to customers in a different language if you can’t support them. Your brand would quickly lose trust and suffer long-term consequences.

Instead, you can provide supporting content and AI chatbot scripts to translate your live support in real time.

Excellent customer support is the difference between a foreign or different-culture brand and one that can connect with the audience on the same level. Your brand can grow within the market by earning customer trust and support.

You can also ensure a healthy internationalized strategy with a tighter feedback loop and a localized team that can address customer concerns. For instance, you could add a place for customers to provide feedback in their native language.

Essential 6: Pushing speedy, consistent updates

Initial translation and localization are one thing. You work hard to translate text and get your product into a new market. But what about on a day-to-day basis?

You’ll need AI translation software, or a cloud-based translation management system, to help automate, translate, and publish your content on a consistent schedule.

Since it’s important to communicate consistently across all languages and dialects, you won’t want to worry about lagging campaigns, content updates, or mismatched communications between markets. As such, you should implement a single, cohesive brand and accurately present it to every audience.

Essential 7: Building local partnerships and connections

Key relationships help you reach new global markets, especially when you don’t belong to the target culture.

Companies can partner with influencers and complementary local brands to make essential connections that build rapport and increase exposure to their target audience.

Connecting accurately translated content with the right people and brands is crucial for building your online presence. Once you do so, you can create strategies to reach your audience.

Localized translations are useful for campaigns as well. You can produce translations for your brand’s communications and advertising and make market-specific web pages. These pages can be based on events in the region or unique opportunities.

Airbnb: Internationalization in action

Airbnb, a short-term vacation rental website, needed a way to cater to the world. If it was going to be the brand that represented global travel and experiences, it needed to represent itself to users from all cultures and languages.

In this article, Hua Zheng, Airbnb’s engineering manager, stated:

“The diversity and richness of our cultures makes us unique as humans, but can sometimes get in the way of relating to one other, given the varying forms in which we express ourselves through language.”

Zheng recognized the importance of internationalization and why it was necessary to build the right system to communicate with locals. The company needed to connect with users through a unified brand message and scale localization by building the most efficient foundation possible.

Airbnb would need to internationalize to grow globally.

Part of this strategy required developing local partnerships with landlords, governments, and critical stakeholders within the market.

The company decided to construct its vision for successful internationalization with the following focuses:

  • Performance: Airbnb wanted to translate calls with low latency (to avoid further optimizations).
  • Scale: Its infrastructure needed to grow to support more client apps, languages, and audiences.
  • Dependence: The Airbnb team needed to use their system to minimize downtime.
  • Cross-language functionality: The system needed to support multiple platforms and programming languages.
  • Integration: Airbnb wanted to onboard clients quickly and efficiently to prevent churn and increase adoption.

Once Airbnb decided on the website architecture, it needed a content management system to power localization. This would allow teams and engineers to publish content, including SEO elements like metadata, alt text, screenshots, and images.

The team could translate content and identify phrases attached to collections and strings that would timestamp updates and help them manage unique translation parameters.

Airbnb also added efficient pipelines and delivery systems that could translate materials and quickly push them out to market.

Because of its efforts, Airbnb now translates over 100 billion requests daily and serves over 60 languages—cementing the brand as the top choice for vacation rentals worldwide.

The beauty of Airbnb’s internationalization approach and success is that users now see Airbnb as their vacation rental solution, regardless of their language or location.

It's not a foreign app or an estranged brand. Airbnb offers personalized communication that connects with audiences of diverse backgrounds and languages.

How Smartling supports your internationalization journey

Internationalization is a critical effort for any business to succeed globally. You need a strategy that can scale with your expansion if you want your authentic brand representation to connect with audiences and hit sales goals.

Internationalization must always precede localization and must be the guiding force behind local campaigns.

That’s why the right platform is critical for establishing an effective strategy—one that builds the foundation for you to launch localization.

Smartling has a robust selection of tools to help with internationalization:

Smartling’s LanguageAI: Generate human-quality translations faster, more reliably, and at a significantly lower cost than traditional approaches.

The Neural Machine Translation (NMT) Hub: Smartling’s NMT Hub uses AI to deliver the highest quality MTs anywhere. Smartling AutoSelect also evaluates content using established criteria and routes it to the best MT engine (like GPT models or DeepL) for high-quality, on-brand translation.

Transcreation: Our platform’s single touchpoint manages every part of the translation process without spreadsheets. You can benefit from streamlining the source text's meaning, intent, style, and tone for high-quality translations that connect with audiences.

Human translation services: You can supercharge your internationalization plan by incorporating expert translation services. Our top native-speaking translators can enhance translations to communicate flawlessly with audiences.

The Global Delivery Network: Smartling’s translation proxy, the Global Delivery Network, is the fastest, most cost-effective way to deploy and publish your web experience to international users. It allows content to flow seamlessly from your website into Smartling for translation. After you translate the content, any request for a localized version of your website will deliver instant results to your customer in their native language.

Elevate your global strategy with Smartling's expertise

Internationalization might sound like a huge expedition, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest. You can easily optimize your strategy and create a powerful global presence with the right platform.

Smartling offers all the tools and services you need to embrace internationalization and expand your audience. With our program, you can connect with customers and build a globally recognized presence that resonates with everyone.

Watch our demo to find out how Smartling can kickstart your internationalization on day one.