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How do you localise a US website for the UK?

“Localising” a US website to do well in the UK (or vice versa) involves more than just changing spellings. Americans and the British think differently as well as speaking differently and moving websites demands that you understand that.

flags-38754It takes more than a spellchecker; it takes an understanding of different ways of speaking. I have an American B2B client who loves to reach out to his customers. “Reach out” is a common expression in America. Not in the UK, and you won’t find it in the same company’s UK pages.

I wrote about this in my book, How To Make Money As A Freelance Writer and my editor said “Can you point to any references or sources to help your readers learn these differences?” And I looked – quite hard – and the fact is that I can’t. We all know the song “I say tomato, You say tomato” and it’s true that Americans don’t pronounce that word correctly, just as it’s true that they all drive on the wrong side of the road; it’s also true that whoever wrote it seems to think there’s also a difference in the way we say “potato” which, of course, there isn’t. But when I tried to find serious articles about the difference in word choice, construction and grammar, they weren’t there. There were lots of jokey web pages, but nothing that’s any use. If you’re going to be serious about localisation work, you need to have lived in both countries.

You also need to be ready to do research and to do it effectively. I was asked to localise for the UK a US page that began like this:

Equipment World extract

Of course, the immediate problem with this is that it deals with an American magazine describing an American Association conducting a survey on problems faced by American companies. The blog post is intended to tell visitors that the company whose blog it is understands the environment they work in, and this post was to go into a British blog with British visitors. Would they be impressed to be told how things were in America?

I didn’t think so. And so I rewrote the post, starting with this:

The Annual Manufacturing Report for 2016 had some worrying things to say about the developing skills shortage:

  • UK manufacturing needs more skilled workers
  • 84% of respondents said they have multiple vacancies and 22% said that they have 10 or more.

Now, UK visitors can see that this post has something to say to them. Oddly enough, I don’t carry around in my head details of manufacturing reports – for the UK, for the US or for anywhere else. So the first thing I had to do was to find a source of information that I could substitute for what was in the original American post. If you want to make a success of localising American websites and blogs for the UK market (by success I mean that you get invited to do it again. And again), you have to be prepared to do that kind of research. Examine every element of the page or post you are looking at, decide which are not appropriate for the translation to UK English, and find something to put in their place.

CopyscapeDon’t forget, either, that normal Copyscape considerations apply here. If all you do to an American website to take it to the UK is change some spellings and a few facts, but the bulk of the text remains unchanged, the search engines will penalise the new site and you will have failed your customer.

Once the customer knows they can rely on you they will want to use you again. They may also recommend you to other people and they’ll almost certainly be prepared to speak for you if a potential client asks for a reference.

If you’d like to learn more about the freelance writer’s life, you’ll find it here.