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The Dos And Don’ts Of E-commerce Translation

The dos and don’ts of e-commerce translation

One of the biggest advantages of e-commerce is that it can allow you to reach new customers in markets all over the world. It’s true that English still appears to be the most commonly used language online and that English-speaking e-commerce markets are huge. According to an emarketer report the US market was worth a massive $305 billion last year while UK consumers spent more per capita online than any other country. This still represents only around a quarter of total spending however, and China is by far the biggest single market. In order to truly tap into the potential of e-commerce you will need to speak your customers’ language by translating your content.

Do target your markets

According to TechCrunch, 90% of online consumers can be reached using 25 languages. Localising your content can be time-consuming and expensive however, and it usually pays to focus your efforts. Some localisation projects are reactive; you may have discovered (using tools like Google Analytics or simply from your sales records) that you are getting a lot of attention already from certain markets.

Others are more speculative. You might simply have a hunch that your products or services could have appeal if given a push within particular markets, but any major foray into a new market should be backed up by thorough market research.

Do localise as well as translate

Translation is important but to have more of an impact in a new market you might also want to consider a more thorough process of localisation. This could involve transcreating your content rather than merely translating it – essentially rewriting material and adapting it for a target market. Many sites will include content such as videos, which may have to be created specially.

Elements such as prices and time and date formats should be converted and you might also want to go further, adapting design elements to suit the market. You should take care to remove any images that might be deemed offensive in more conservative cultures, for example and you might also want to use models that are more relevant to your target market.

Localising completely with separate websites hosted on local domains (such as .fr for France or .ru for Russia) can also bring certain benefits, including a more local feel and a boost to your SEO when it comes to local searches.

Do plan ahead

Even if you localise reactively or expand by one or two new markets at a time, you can still save time and effort later by building flexibility into your e-commerce websites from the start. For a bespoke, built from the bottom up site, this can involve the use of cascading style sheets (CSS), which allow you to keep design elements separate from your content. Keeping your content simple can help with any future translation and building in extra space can also help if you translate to a language that tends to take more space to convey the same information.

Don’t rely on automatic translation

Automatic translation tools can provide a quick and easy way to translate your content but should never be relied upon

That isn’t to say that translation tech can’t play a vital role in good quality translation. Post-editing, for example, involves expert translators casting a human eye over machine-translated content, considerably streamlining the translation process but filtering out any glaring errors. Custom-built translation glossaries and databases, meanwhile, can help with jargon, product names and technical terms and help to maintain consistency across all your translated materials.

Don’t partially translate

E-commerce sites will sometimes offer only a partial translation, offering localised prices and shipping options but leaving product details and information in the source language. This can be frustrating and off-putting for foreign visitors and can also confuse web-crawlers, potentially affecting your SEO.

Thorough translation and localisation can represent quite a commitment of time and resources but it is also the best way to reach foreign markets and take full advantage of the potential e-commerce offers.


*Photo credits: Cleomiu /

Steve Griffin

Steve Griffin edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Drama at Exeter University and completing a postgraduate diploma in Management at Durham University, he worked in Marketing & Communications in a global recruitment company for five years, before spending some time as a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. Steve enjoys bringing his creative flair to writing and marketing projects, and has always been a passionate student of language.

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