Image Localisation

Image Localisation

When I’m at the initial phase of discussing project requirements with a client, I usually indicate that the images on their site might require localisation and potentially translation work. A pretty standard response to this is, “well we don’t need images translating because there’s no text.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many sites are scattered with images containing text. From an SEO perspective, the worst case scenario for using text in an image is where menus and navigation use jpegs rather than HTML text.

Why does an image need localising?

When you’re localising a site for a new international market, every element on the site needs to be considered and reviewed from a localisation perspective. This includes your images. It’s critical that you translate text into the local language so that the user can understand your content and connect with your brand. This includes text that is displayed within an image file. Even if the user can read the source language, localising every element will improve your conversion rates by making the browser experience easier for the user and enhancing the levels of trust that they have in your website.

The images on your site have a function, whether that’s to highlight a promotion, a product or major piece of content. Not only is it important to filter and mark out those images containing text for localisation, but it’s also important to review images that serve a key purpose and have an impact on conversion. You need to identify whether the image will continue to serve its purpose in order to connect with a new audience from a different cultural background. Want some examples?

The good and bad

The Fantastic – Debenhams

Debenhams is our first example of excellent localisation. The retailer had a very high profile launch in 2012 of its German website as part of its international online launch. As you can see, the home page displays two images containing text which would require localisation (“half price…” and “blue cross sale”).


However, rather than simply translating the text contained in the image, Debenhams have introduced new images for their German site, containing German text, which target different product types and models, and have presumably been tested to optimise conversion with a different target market. Debenhams have commented that the German site is their first as part of international expansion, but they will take one market at a time and localise their content and promotions for each specific market.


The Good – Marks & Spencers

Similar to Debenhams, the Marks & Spencer UK home page displays an image containing text.


Like Debenhams, rather than localise this image, M&S have selected different images and promotions to display on their Dutch site to target a different audience.


However, unlike Debenhams, M&S have localised their site to target several European markets. Each European site contains the same layout and all content has been translated, but not necessarily optimised to maximise conversion. As demonstrated by the Spanish sample below, each site contains the same messages, promotions and images. M&S have localised their site for several countries, but have not treated the localisation of each site differently, despite the fact that each market will differ in terms of tastes, culture and buying behaviour.


The Bad – Sports Direct

Sports Direct have localised their site into 14 different countries. As you can see in the image below, the home page contains a large slider promoting the English national team football shirts. In this image, we have text to translate as well as currency to localise. The product displayed is also highly specific to one nation (albeit England football shirts are sold worldwide). Below the large slider image, there are also several smaller images, all of which contain text in English and prices that require localisation.


Whilst Sports Direct have localised and translated html text, they’ve failed to translate the text contained within all of the images. They’ve also failed to localise the currency of the product. Therefore we have the centre piece of the above-fold content on the site in English rather than the local language (in this case, Spanish). This goes for all of the promotional products below the slider. As you can see in the image below of the German site, this mistake is used on each localised site.


Another point to make with regard to their localisation is the fact that they promote the same products on each localised site. It’s unlikely that each country has the same buying trends, therefore best practice would be to alter promotions country-by-country in order to maximise conversion rates. The best example of this is the slider promotion of the English football shirt. I’d imagine that a better promotion on the Spanish and German sites would be their respective national football team shirts.

How to reduce the costs of image localisation

From the localisers perspective, translating the text in an image is more time consuming than working with HTML text. Translation software such as Trados can extract text from many different file formats, including HTML, allowing the translator to translate the content and re-insert it into the original file and format. However, this process isn’t available on image files. Editing and formatting text in an image must be done manually via image editing software such as Photoshop. This process requires the localiser to identify the original style and format of the text in the image (font, size, etc.) and replicate this in the translated version. Some images are more complicated to edit than others (give an example of one easy image and one hard image). The more time consuming the process is for the localiser, the more costly the project is for the client.

Options for reducing costs

  1. When images are being formatted and edited for the original site, save the layered Photoshop file. If the image ever requires localisation, you can provide the localiser with the layered file (attach example). In this case, the localiser’s task is simple. They just need to replace the original text with the translation. The only formatting required is re-sizing the font if the translation has more characters than the original.
  2. Option 1 is best practice, but it’s of no use for existing images that require localisation. If this is the case, speak to your designers or editors that provided the image for your site before you discuss image localisation with your localiser. They may have the original layered file, or they may know the text format in the image. This information can be passed onto the localiser for them to apply to the process. The most time consuming aspect of localising an image is often finding the correct font and style to match the original. If you eliminate this task from the process, you reduce cost.
  3. If the previous options aren’t available, there is little you can do to simplify the image localising process. However, you can use a free piece of software called Image Localization Manager (recommended to me by Pablo Muñoz) which will extract all images on your site that contain text and place them in a file for localisation. You then have a clearer idea of the localisation requirements of the project and are better informed when going through the tender process with localisation providers
  4. As noted previously, image localisation isn’t just about translating text with an image. You should review the images that support user paths and conversion. Will these images be as effective on a localised site as they are on the original? DO you need different images for different consumers and cultures? The ideal person to make the judgment would be if you have a member of your team who is also a native of your target international market. They would understand your product, market and cultural background of the target audience. If this isn’t an option, don’t change images at the initial localisation phase. Wait until your site has been live for 3-6 months. Then, you can compare the conversion rates of your localised site and original site. If conversion rates differ, you may want to conduct A/B testing (A/B testing is when you test two different versions of a page or element on a page) and new images may form part of the testing process.

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