Culture, Competition, Context, Collaboration

The Four C’s of website translation

Image source: Unsplash

Image source: Unsplash

I bet you've spent more time, money and energy than you'd even know how to quantify on getting your business’s website just right. You've probably written, rewritten, tweaked and fine-tuned the content more times than you can count. Now, when it comes time to translate all that into another language, it may be natural to think all you need to do is give all this perfectly honed prose over to a decent translator and, voilà, a perfect website for a new market.

But hold on a second . . .

Are you sure the strategy you’ve used to target your home market is going to work just as well in a foreign country? And what about your competitors? Are they mostly the same as at home? Or is it a whole different ballgame? What keywords are going to attract the kind of traffic to your site that you can funnel through to actual sales?

You may not quite have to start all over again when localizing your website into another language, but in order to be effective you'll probably have to do more than just hand your current content over to the cheapest translator you can find. (I'm going to assume you wouldn't even consider running your site through Google Translate and calling it a day.)

Consider your target audience

For a marketing message to be effective, you need to keep your target audience in mind, but how similar will your target market abroad be to your target in your home country? Maybe it will be pretty much the same demographic, but it may be very different. And what if you're translating into English in order to reach a more diverse market in countries all around the world? Can you really just take your content intended for one specific country and culture and translate it directly into English and hope to attract much interest in your business? Probably not.

Let's look at an example. Let's say you design kitchens for the Italian market and that one of your key demographics is young, first-time homebuyers aged 25 to 40. Now you're expanding into the U.S. market and need to set up your website in English. The problem is that in Italy most homes come without a kitchen, so homebuyers need to pick one out separately and have it installed after they've purchased the home. In the U.S., though, most homes come with the kitchen already installed, so young homebuyers may not be such an important target audience. You may want to consider targeting a slightly older demographic of current homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens. Or it may be best for you to target builders and contractors and leave the consumer market alone entirely.

What are your competitors doing?

One way to help you figure out your target audience in a new market is to look at what the competition is going. Are their websites similar to the one you've set up for your home market? Does it look like they're selling to the same sorts of individuals or businesses as you? Or are they doing something different?

Look at the sorts of keywords they are using to describe their products and services. Are they what you would have expected? Or are there a few surprises? You'll want to be sure you use some of the same terminology so that people will be able to find you, but you'll also want to think about how you can stand out from the pack. How do you do that in your home market? Will the same strategy work abroad?

In my translation work, I often find myself translating Italian marketing copy (into English) that speaks to the local target audience in a way that relies heavily on intimate familiarity with Italian culture, obviously enough. But if I were to translate this directly into English with little change, it wouldn't have nearly the same impact on the reader, who would lack the specific cultural background to appreciate many of the subtle references and subtext. In cases like this, it might be better to explicitly focus on the fact that the product or service is Italian and to convey to the reader why this is a benefit to them.

It's all about context and culture . . .

Even in the unlikely event no change in strategy or content is needed, there may still be many things that need to be changed in terms of language style, tone, or usage. In Italian, for example, it's common for businesses to talk about themselves and the customer in the third person in marketing materials, whereas in English we more frequently use the first and second persons. Flowery, formal language is also typical in Italian, while in English we tend to prefer a more casual, personal tone and simpler words. Then there's sentence structure, paragraph structure, and on and on.

. . . and collaboration!

This is why it's important to find a translator or a language service provider (LSP) you feel you can trust and build a close relationship with when it comes time to venture out into a foreign market. You'll need someone who can make these sorts of recommendations and give you advice on how best to reach your new target audience. If you just send out your perfect prose to the cheapest service provider you can find, expecting to get the same content back faithfully converted into another language, you may very well be disappointed with the results in terms of business performance - even if the translation itself is of decent quality technically speaking.

So remember the Four C's—Culture, Competition, Context and Collaboration—the next time you need a translation, and be prepared to let go of some of that copy you've worked so hard on in the past. It's the efficacy of the message that's important, not so much the technical accuracy of the translation itself.

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