Translating your website into other languages will almost always pay dividends. It’s one of the most cost effective methods for expanding your reach and penetrating new markets. But that doesn’t mean you can simply copy and paste your content into Google Translate and expect to get a fully formed and functional website in a different language out the other end…
Multilingual website translation requires careful planning and attention if you want your site to get your message across to your new audience as effectively as it does to your current one. But also, it requires something more than direct translation:
It requires website localisation.
Many of the most important tips for website translation will include aspects of localisation. Because direct translation alone rarely gets the job done. Just consider:
1) Take the basic differences between languages into account
Let’s start with something relatively simple:
When you translate the content of your website into another language, it’s almost certainly going to take up a different amount of space on the screen. If you’re translating from English into German, for example, you could see an expansion somewhere in the order of 20-30%, depending on what you’re trying to say. If you’re translating into Japanese on the other hand, you can expect the amount of space you need to be reduced.
This means your newly translated website will need to be carefully formatted. It’s particularly noticeable in navigation bars and other constrained elements, so make sure that your website will be set up to handle changes such as this.
Other basic aspects of multilingual translation should also be considered, such as whether your target language:
• Is read from left to right or right to left
• Accepts capitalisation, italics, or other methods you might have used to highlight particular words or passages
The ways in which you are going to accommodate or deal with these issues needs to be planned in advance.
2) Don’t rely on Machine Translation – use professionals
Machine translation has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, but no machine can really compete with a professional human translator – especially when it comes to properly localising text. If you don’t have the necessary in-house expertise to translate into your target language, it’s time to search for a suitable Language Service Provider.
There are many examples of poor translation and mistranslation tripping up even the biggest names in business when they tried – and subsequently failed – to enter new markets. One of the most enduringly infamous is HSBC’s mistranslation of their “Assume Nothing” slogan, which became “Do Nothing” in some parts of the world; not the most motivational of catchphrases. Repairing the damage reportedly cost the company around $10 million.
These days there are many translation companies which offer scalable services which can meet even limited budgets. At Asian Absolute for example, we’ll always provide a free quote – so you’re not spending anything to find out how much translating your website into a certain language will cost.
3) Be specific with what you translate – and why
Content such as corporate messages, product descriptions, and branding will usually need to be translated into every language option you offer on your website.
But not every page will need to be translated into every target language. Some examples of content that is likely to be localised and different for individual markets includes:
- Local press releases
- Legal information
- Regional events or offers
- Local customer support options
- Directions regarding how to get to your local branch – sometimes including local attractions, parking facilities, and public transportation options can be very helpful in terms of conversion
This regional or market-specific content will not be applicable to every audience, and will only end up costing you money while adding nothing of relevance if you get it translated into every language version of your site. This will of course be different for you depending on whether your business has local branches in each region or market, or whether you have an online-only international setup.
Creating objectives for your multilingual website based on your business structure is key to making sure you deliver useful functionality for your users, as well as keeping your spend well targeted.
4) Use the right CMS (Content Management System)
You might already be thinking that planning and monitoring your site is going to be hellishly complex now that you’re adding extra languages on top of everything else…
That’s where a Content Management System comes in. A CMS which is designed to be used globally will allow you to:
• Work in all the languages you’re targeting
• Create a plan or workflow for adding updated or additional content
• Easily import and export content that’s in a format ready to be translated
The best ones will also allow you to:
• Have a shared database allowing for easy centralised stock control
• Update all sites at the same time
• Reduce hosting space, potentially reducing costs
The leading Content Management Systems are currently WordPress, Magento, Drupal, and Joomla, but there are several others out there which offer good functionality for multilingual websites.
Keep in mind that you will often need to install special modules to make your CMS multilingual-capable, and some of those on offer work better than others. It’s advisable to consult your Language Service Provider before deciding which to go with, as they should be able to steer you to the option which will make for the most efficient and reliable localisation process.
5) Saving the best for last – multilingual Search Engine Optimisation
This is perhaps the most important tip for website translation:
Multilingual SEO is a critical part of designing your website to be effective in other languages. Simply translating your site into another language doesn’t necessarily make it easy for people to find it when they search, and won’t automatically bring you a glut of new customers.
The process is the same as that which you’d use to achieve effective Search Engine Optimisation in your own language, and will include:
i) Researching keywords relevant to the target language
You can’t expect a direct translation of the keyphrases you use in English to be effective in your target language. Consider the most obvious regional differences even between those cultures who primarily use English. For example:
Potential vehicle hire customers in the US will almost certainly search for “truck hire”, if that’s what they need. Whereas there’s a relatively high chance that a potential customer in the UK might try searching for “lorry hire”. This is only a very simple example, but imagine the variation between regions, dialects, and others in the English-speaking world, and then multiply that by all of the other languages you want to target…
Will a potential vehicle hire customer in China be searching for the equivalent of a “car” or an “automobile”? Or something else entirely?
In short, you need enough local or cultural knowledge to select the correctly localised version of your keywords.
ii) Taking different search engine preferences into account
Google isn’t quite so dominant in every language as it is in English – China has Baidu, Yahoo is still pretty strong in Japan, and there are many others. These search engines will have different “rules” to Google, and making sure that they will index and locate your site is a key part of effective website localisation in that target language.
iii) Localise your metadata
Linked to the above, different cultures and search engines will expect different things from your metadata. Baidu, for example, prefers specific separators and keyword placement to be used.
Don’t just translate your metadata directly, plug it back it in, and expect it to be effective.
iv) Localise your content
This, of course, is the big one. Directly translating your content into your target language without taking into account local cultural preferences – well over and above the very basic requirements of language differences mentioned in Tip 1 – is a recipe for disaster.
A good example involves the nappy (or diaper) manufacturers Pampers. When first trying to break into the Japanese market, the brand kept the same European folklore-inspired image of the stork which delivers babies on their product packaging. Because the approximate Japanese equivalent of this myth genuinely involves a giant floating peach, the brand’s Japanese audience were at best faintly perplexed by the bird on the package.
In more general terms, your target culture might have different colour associations. China, by way of illustration, associates red with fire, but this has connotations of prosperity and happiness rather than the death and destruction which European audiences might picture. Despite these positive tones, the colour should not be overused – this might imply that your content is intended for the Lunar New Year festivities, sidelining it at other times of the year.
It’s this sort of cultural knowledge that helps to bridge the gap between an understandable translated page and a truly effective localised multilingual website.
When you need tips for website translation, one of the most important things to realise is that what you really want is tips for website localisation.
Asian Absolute Makes Website Translation Easy
With more than sixteen years experience of website translation and localisation, Asian Absolute knows what it takes to speak to your target audience – no matter what language or culture they favour.
Fortune 500 clients and leading businesses in every industry sector have used Asian Absolute to reach into new markets across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas too.
Request a free quote on your website localisation needs now. There’s no fee or obligation – just talk to your local Asian Absolute team whenever it’s convenient for you.