The internet has made global commerce a reality for businesses of all sizes. The World Wide Web presents a great platform for companies to market themselves to the international community and raise their visibility in their key target markets.
If you’re familiar with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) from your English-language website, then the same principles apply when raising the online profile of your foreign language website: you must incorporate fully researched keywords from your target markets into a translated and localised website for each of your target markets.
Never translate keywords directly from English, as web users can use any number of variations of phrase – they might use acronyms, abbreviations, synonyms or colloquialisms.
Consider the following facts: over 460 million internet users communicate in English to a native standard. However, there are over 1.5 billion internet users across the globe, which means the vast majority of web users are native speakers of a language other than English.
Furthermore, the majority of the content on the internet is written in English, but over half of all Google searches aren’t in English. Research has shown that consumers are four times more likely to buy from a website that is written in their native language.
Given that most of the internet’s content is in English, there is less competition for key industry search terms in languages other than English, and thus it’s easier to rank highly on foreign language search engines, than it is on Google.co.uk or Google.com.
In short, website localisation and multilingual SEO can enhance your online visibility in foreign markets, which will improve your sales too.
Go Global, Think Local
To go global, businesses really have to think local. Localisation is a process that goes beyond mere translation and fully embraces the cultural and linguistic nuances of each country. You must tailor your communications and treat each market as a separate entity.
To localize not only means adhering to the local language of your target market, but the local dialect too. The French spoken in France, Canada, Belgium and Switzerland aren’t massively different, but there’s no room for complacency with international communications. The word for ’email’ in France is simply email, but in Canadian French it is courrier électronique (literally ‘electronic mail’).
In Spain the word for car is coche, but in many Latin American Spanish countries, coche is a pushchair/buggy. Oh, it’s also worth pointing out that US audiences probably won’t know what a pushchair or a buggy is, they are more likely to use the term baby-stroller.
But that’s not to say you should build a website in US and UK English. It just means you should be wary of the differences if targeting English-speaking countries outside of the UK: avoid slang, colloquialisms and any other culture-specific references that a consumer in London will understand, but someone in Louisiana won’t.
An image of a liberally-clothed lady may be acceptable to western audiences, but it may be well wide of the mark in appealing to the tastes in more conservative cultures. So it’s best to avoid any potentially divisive content within your marketing materials, whether it’s sexual, religious, gender, age or nationality.
It’s also worth noting that different colours can mean different things in different cultures. Whilst black is the colour of ‘death’ in western society, many eastern cultures use white to denote this. Similarly, red denotes ‘danger’ or ‘love’ in most western countries, but it means ‘purity’ in India.
Orange has religious connotations for Protestants in Northern Ireland…and whatever you do, don’t put a picture of a green hat on your website if you’re targeting Chinese consumers, as it means a man’s wife is cheating on him.
To go global, you need to address your target markets with a local mindset.
Linguistic Bang for your Buck: Cutting Costs in Translation
A picture speaks a thousand words…
Images, diagrams, logos, maps…presenting information illustratively can help keep your word count down in the original English-language document. And with fewer words to worry about, this means your translations will cost less.
By writing your English source text in the right way, using consistent terminology and avoiding too many colloquialisms, a text can become far easier to translate. A good translation company can advise you on ‘Controlled Authoring’.
High prices don’t necessarily guarantee high quality, but you should also be wary of excessively low prices.
Request several quotes from a number of agencies to get an idea of the ballpark cost of having your document translated…if one of the quotes is much less than the others, then it’s likely that corners have been cut somewhere and they should be treated with caution.
Prices can still vary between the service providers you shortlist…as can quality. You may be able to request a free ‘test translation’ which should help inform your choice. Bear in mind that project management, proofreading and technology services are key to the translation process too – so ensure that whatever quote you receive includes all of the above.
Be realistic with your costs too. You can’t put a price on professionalism and bargain basement translations may actually be harmful to your business.
Buy the right service
One of the key questions you should ask yourself is: what am I looking for with the translation? If you want to get the general gist of an incoming letter or email, a simple draft translation may suffice – style and consistency shouldn’t be that important.
If you’re translating your website or company brochure for your international audience…well, then language, style, grammar, punctuation…everything needs to be 100% perfect. A translation company with tiered service levels will offer you a more bespoke service offering…you should only ever pay for the type of service you need.
Adopt a ‘hybrid’ translation-buying strategy…
There can always be a temptation to use machine translation tools such as Google translate and whilst these can be good at getting the general gist of a message, they’re not always reliable. They certainly shouldn’t be used for important outgoing communications.
You can adopt a hybrid translation-buying strategy, whereby you use professional services for business-critical information, but machine translation for ‘general gist’ translations. Or, you can use a low-cost first draft translation service from a translation company.
Translation and technology
Most reputable translation companies use what’s known as Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools/Translation Memory (TM) tools to help with consistency, quality and overall efficiency.
Don’t worry, CAT tools aren’t used to replace human translators: they’re used to help translators and, ultimately, keep costs down for the customer. When choosing a translation company, always check that they offer CAT tools as part of their service.
Mother of all tongues
If your website, catalogue, brochure, presentation…anything, needs translating, the only person for the job is a professionally qualified, experienced linguist who’s translating into their mother tongue from another language in which they are fluent. This is the most basic rule of thumb for any translation company…if they side-step this golden rule, you should side-step them.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
Okay, you’ve taken all of the above into account and you’re still faced with a tough decision…how do you make it?
Ask for sample translations, client references and evidence of experience in your specific industry sector. Research each translation company to establish how long they’ve been in operation for; have they won any awards recently or received coverage in the national/international media? Google is a wonderful tool – type in the company’s name and do a bit of browsing: you should be able to build your own balanced company profile in no time.
Quality vs. cost: achieving value-for-money
It’s understandable that you’ll want your communications localised for your international markets without spending a fortune: but as with anything in life, you only get out of something what you put in.
Quality translations take time and money – there’s no getting round that fact. However, by considering who your target audience is, what level or service you require and by researching your translation provider thoroughly, you can be sure that you’ll receive value-for-money.
Research, Invade, Conquer
What are emerging markets, and where do I find them?
Brazil, Russia, India and China are collectively known by the acronym ‘BRIC’ and are grouped together in such a way as they are considered to be among the fastest growing developing economies in the world. They’re emerging markets.
However, an emerging market isn’t restricted to the above definition. An emerging market can be any country, or demographic within a country, that is increasingly requiring a specific product or service.
Indeed, this product/service could be anything. The important thing for businesses to realise is that an emerging market has to be emerging for whatever it is they are selling. The BRIC countries may be fantastic target markets for trading certain products, but you need to research which countries are most likely to engage with your offering.
Establish proof of demand
The best way, and certainly the cheapest way, to identify your key international target markets is by searching online. In a nutshell, if there are existing companies within your industry sector operating within a specific country, that’s a good sign, as it demonstrates a demand.
Next, try and find out as much information about these companies as possible – how long they’ve been in operation, what their turnover is and where they export to. Moreover, check exactly what services they offer – if there are clear gaps, you can then turn up and exploit this.
Of course, be wary of too many companies operating in any one country: market saturation can mean there is no room for you. So research and choose your target markets carefully.
Armed with a list of countries to target, the next stage for any business seeking to globalise should be to localise their communications.