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Getting Technical: Implementing Different Languages in Email

Jason Rodriguez
Community & Product Evangelist, Litmus

Our world is diverse but increasingly interconnected. So are our businesses, customers, and email subscribers. With approximately 3.9 of the 7.5 billion people on earth using email, businesses can no longer ignore subscribers outside where they operate from.

Especially considering that email marketing is such a massive business driver. According to our research at Litmus, email averages an ROI of 42:1. In a world where a return of 5:1 on a marketing campaign is considered a great feat, email marketing remains one of the single most important channels for determining business success.

For many companies, it’s increasingly important to reach international audiences and to do so in their own languages. While that can be difficult depending on your resources, let’s take a look at a few key strategies to ensure success when sending email campaigns.

Use the language attribute

A lot of the work in successful multilingual campaigns happens in your code. The underlying HTML and CSS provides context, structure, and formatting necessary for properly displaying content in different languages.

Perhaps the most important code element is the proper use of the language attribute (lang) in HTML. The language attribute allows you to declare what language an email—or section of an email—uses, so that the subscriber’s email client, browser, or screen reader can display its contents properly.

You can set the lang attribute globally on the HTML element:

<html lang=”en”></html>

Or on a specific container element like a paragraph:
<p lang=”es”>¡Hola! El marketing por correo electrónico es mundial.</p>

This is useful when sending campaigns that include multiple languages in a single email since you can use as many lang attributes as needed. When it comes to creating accessible experiences in email, the lang attribute allows screen readers to switch language profiles and provide proper accents and pronunciation for better understanding.

Go with the flow

While most western languages are read left to right, many languages are read in the opposite direction. When right-to-left languages aren’t accounted for in the code of your email, it can create a jarring experience for subscribers. Fortunately, there’s another HTML attribute that can help you properly display right-to-left languages: the direction (dir) attribute.

When using right-to-left languages, like Hebrew, Arabic, Urdu, and many others, include the dir attribute and set it to “rtl” to have it display correctly.

<p lang=”ar” dir=”rtl”>مرحبا! التسويق عبر البريد الإلكتروني في جميع أنحاء العالم.</p>

Use appropriate fonts

More and more email marketers are using web fonts in their campaigns to style text and maintain—or embellish—branding standards. It can be tempting to hop on Google Fonts and find a stylish font for your next campaign but when sending emails in multiple languages, smart companies do their research and use fonts that fully support those languages.

When sending multilingual campaigns, use fonts that have both the required Latin characters and extended non-Latin glyphs. If your brand’s preferred font doesn’t have extended language support, then find a comparable font with non-western glyphs to make sure your text displays properly for those audiences.

Use tools to help

Email teams are increasingly strapped resource-wise. Budgets are tight and time is at a premium. Adding translation to the mix can be hard to manage, both from a budget standpoint and when it comes to actual workflow.

When it comes to pure translation, there are myriad tools out there to help with translation into any language. Depending on how much copy you need to be translated, you can use tools ranging from Google Translate to dedicated consultants that work closely with your team to ensure your message comes across regardless of the end audience. The key is finding a service you trust and keeping an eye on subscriber feedback to identify issues with translations when they do arise.

From a workflow perspective, try to automate things as much as possible. Nothing slows down email production like copying, pasting, and dealing with the resulting errors. Try to automate the population of translated copy in your campaigns by using dynamic content to pull in information from spreadsheets or your database instead of manually copying and pasting copy between emails. In Oracle Eloqua, you can experiment with dynamic content and field merges to find the most efficient and reliable workflow for building your multilingual campaigns.

When it comes to testing your multilingual campaigns (or any campaigns, really), you can utilize a tool like Litmus to see how your campaigns render across 90+ email clients and catch any mistakes before they make it to your subscribers around the world.

Don’t just translate, localize emails

The most successful brands focus not just on translation, but on localization. Whereas translation is a 1:1 copy of the content from one language to another, localization adapts that content by taking into account the cultural context of where it’s being displayed. It’s not just a simple translation, but writing copy and including imagery that reflects the customs and norms of that particular society. This can be as simple as using specific words or leaving out certain phrases based on the target language. Or it can be as advanced as creating standalone content and campaigns for different audiences around the world.

Whatever path you take, your ultimate goal with localization is to respectfully and inclusively engage audiences around the world—especially ones that are different from your own, default audience. It can be hard, but it’s good work worth doing well.

As our audiences expand around the world, so too must our email marketing strategies. The most successful companies will be the ones that can engage with multiple audiences while respecting their customs and values. By combining proper code techniques with a mindful strategy, you can set your email campaigns up for success in an increasingly connected world.


For more resources on email marketing, please check out:


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