Two thought bubbles coming from a sitting figure containing a question each: UK English? and US English?
Two thought bubbles coming from a sitting figure containing a question each: UK English? and US English?

When localizing content, it’s important to really connect with your target audience. One way of doing that is to speak to them in their own language. So if your target audience are English speakers, you localize into English and that’s that, right? Well, English is a global language spanning many different cultures, so you’ll want to get a bit more specific than that if you want your content to get results.

In this article, we focus on the two most spoken varieties, UK English and US English. However, many of the same principles apply wherever your potential consumers are in the English-speaking world, whether that’s Ireland, Nigeria, India or New Zealand.

UK English vs US English: Why You Need to Choose One

Failing to localize your content into the right variety of English can come across as lazy and make readers feel like you haven’t done your homework. This means they are less likely to trust you, which is not good when you’re trying to sell. It can also be downright confusing – imagine you’re a clothing brand and you’re writing a blog post about pants. In North America, they’ll assume you’re talking about slacks/trousers, while Brits will think you’re selling underwear.

It is also bad for SEO: if you’re a US company selling sneakers and you want to reach consumers in the UK, then optimizing for keywords based on the word “sneakers” isn’t going to get you anywhere – British consumers are going to be searching for “trainers” instead, so they won’t find you.

A possible exception is where your “American-ness” or “British-ness” is a big part of your brand’s identity. Without getting too stereotypical, a US company selling cowboy boots or a UK company selling tea may want to continue to use American/British words and phrases to ensure authenticity. However, that doesn’t mean you can forget about localization basics such as choosing the right keywords and ensuring you offer payment and delivery methods that work for your potential consumers.

It’s Not Just About Words – Cultural Aspects Are Important Too

So you’ve changed “elevator” to “lift” and run a find and replace to change all of your -izes to -ises. Now it’s just a case of sitting back, relaxing, and waiting for the hordes of British consumers to descend waving fistfuls of cash.

The truth is, vocabulary and spelling are only part of the equation. You’ll also want to think about the tone of your copy. For example, British consumers can be more reluctant to spend so need more persuading, while American consumers are more comfortable parting with their money, so you can be more salesy. Choosing the wrong approach can mean that a UK consumer won’t feel reassured enough to make a purchase. Or that a potential US buyer won’t feel as if you’ve sold the product to them enough, leading to missed sales.

Check your Calendar

Then there are events. Say you sell gifts and want to publish a blog post to boost sales in time for Mother’s Day – do you publish it in March (Ireland and the UK) or May (North America, Australia and New Zealand)? Or you want to post on social media to wish your followers a happy Thanksgiving – do you do it in October (Canada) or November (the US)? Seasonality is important to take into consideration too – a summer-inspired campaign in July might get you great results in the Northern Hemisphere, but will surely flounder in Australia or New Zealand, where it will be the middle of winter.

Don’t Forget Numbers

It may seem obvious, but it’s important not to forget that different English-speaking countries have different currencies and use different units of measurement. Americans prefer imperial (Fahrenheit for temperatures, inches for measurements) while Brits tend to prefer metric (Celsius for temperatures, centimeters for measurements) – although when localizing for a UK audience, it’s best to get input from a local, as Brits tend to mix and match depending on what they’re measuring – a bit of a minefield!

Luckily, international standards mean this is less of an issue with things like technical documentation. But when it comes to something like a recipe or clothing sizes, you really need to localize your content, or it simply won’t be understood.

Tips for Making Sure Your Content is Well Localized

  • Make sure you’re using the correct spelling and vocabulary for your target audience. If you’re localizing between US and UK English, this cheat sheet on spelling differences and this list of vocabulary differences will help you get started. 
  • Check out in-country competitors to get a better idea of your target audience’s preferences. Industry magazines and trade fair websites in your chosen country are worth scouting out too.
  • Ask a local to read your copy and flag anything that may not resonate with the target audience. If relevant, get them to try making a purchase to iron out any niggles with delivery and payment options.
  • If you’re localizing from another language into English, steer well clear of machine translation tools like DeepL or Google Translate. This is good advice in general, but it’s especially true when you need to be location-specific – automatic tools don’t have the cultural knowledge that human translators do.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Long story short: the variety of English you choose depends on the variety that your target audience is familiar with. So if you want to sell to American consumers, you use US English, and if you want to sell to British consumers, you use UK English. And you need to do it well, or you risk losing your customers’ trust.

Now that you’ve learned how crucial it is to choose the right variety of English when localizing your content, are you keen to learn more about the challenges involved in localization? And gain two qualifications in the process? Check out TCLoc – a flexible online master’s degree that you can do from anywhere in the world.

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