How to market your website to foreign-language speakers?

By Slava
Aug 20, 2009 · 5 min
Website owners and marketing professionals are usually focused on English-speaking target demographics, and understandably so: this is the language in which they can most easily communicate with their clients. When companies define the target demographic on which to focus when marketing their products, they often operate under the unwritten working assumption that the said demographic speaks English. Some marketing executives will claim that their companies' products are sold "around the globe", while in reality it may well be the case that only English speakers were exposed to these products, because their websites as well as their marketing people and materials are communicating in English only. About 29% of people who surf the web speak English, which without a doubt makes it the most important language on the Internet. But every organization or website owner should still ask themselves: could I reach more potential customers if I could communicate with those who speak other languages? There are many advantages to using foreign languages on the Internet:
  1. An immediate exposure to new target demographics, with a consequent increase in sales volume.
  2. An immediate advantage over competitors who do not translate their content.
  3. Reusing existing content for SEO purposes. For example, translating your blog to other languages does not require the creating of new content.
  4. Less competition over paid and unpaid keywords.
  5. A possible higher CTR for foreign-language keywords, leading to higher Quality Score for those words.
  6. Better chance of creating a 'buzz' around your product: many products and brands become hits with only one demographic with specific cultural characteristics. Orkut, Google's social network, can serve as an example: it became successful only in Brazil, thanks to its well localized version.
  7. Increased potential for business co-operation and for finding new partners through affiliate networks.
The decision to localize content is not to be taken lightly, and is subject to the kind of demographic being targeted, both geographically and linguistically. A few examples:
  1. If the target language is Chinese - what kind? Is it Mandarin, Cantonese or Shanghainese? What script, simplified or traditional?
  2. If Portuguese, is the target demographic that of Portugal or of Brazil?
  3. Spanish - that which is spoken in South America or in Spain (and in either case, which dialect?)
Since translation costs money, many website owners take the easy way out: machine translation. These days it can be done by adding a plug-in to the content-management system installed on the website, and voilà! The content on the website appears in other languages. This is a fundamental mistake that will damage the website and the product which it attempts to market, because a machine translation does not yield quality results:
  1. The assumption that visitors to the website will understand that the translation was done by a computerized algorithm and not by a translator has no basis in reality (except for technology-type websites). New visitors only see a website that was translated poorly.
  2. A poorly-translated website is immediately suspect of being unprofessional or even of being a scam.
  3. The quality of the translation (or lack thereof) reflects on the quality of the product.
  4. Machine translation of a website also pollutes the Internet and the search results on it, if it is not done using a code that dynamically changes the content of a webpage. For example, a "real" post with content generated through machine translation will bring in visitors by means of search engines. These visitors will immediately leave the website, thus increasing its Bounce Rate, not to mention carrying with them a negative impression of the website and its owners.
To summarize: there are no shortcuts to be made when localizing a website. The money saved on proper translation is not worth the damage done to the brand represented by the website and its owners. What can be done on a tight translation budget?
  1. The money can be invested in making a quality translation of only the landing page.
  2. In the short run, a sub-domain can be created, which includes only the homepage. Later, when the budget allows it, the translated content can be expanded.
  3. A portion of the translation fees can be paid through a profit-sharing agreement with the translator.
How to choose a translator or a translation service?
  1. A translator has to be native in the language into which he or she is translating, and if possible, to actually reside in the country targeted by the marketing effort. Every language and culture has their dialects, vernaculars and fine nuances.
  2. A professional translator - someone who studied translation or linguistics - is always preferable.
  3. One has to be careful hiring freelance translators from various websites. Often these are fraudsters who sell machine translations as if it was work done by a professional.
  4. It is advisable to have an independent translator double-check the text, along with additional editing and proofreading. Translation and editing/proofreading by two professional translators results in a better-quality text.
  5. Ask the potential translator to translate a test sample, and let another translator evaluate it.
  6. Translation is a slow process. A professional translates 250-300 words per hour. To have your translation project completed on time, demand from a translator a commitment to a deadline, and the ability to check the progress of the project on a daily basis.
To summarize, translating a website content has many advantages in marketing, but it is not to be taken lightly, with the value of the brand and the company's reputation being at stake.

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