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To translate or not to translate? That is the question

As companies look at expanding their international footprint, using their websites as an essential channel to market, localisation of marketing materials and websites will be an issue that they confront.  We are in the fortunate position to have English as our mother tongue, the most common language on the web. The other most commonly used languages on the web are: Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Japanese. European markets are there – they are sizeable. Germany, France, Spain & Italy equate to a 200 million marketplace.  These markets are online and doing business and, increasingly, we are using the internet to target these markets.

If you are aiming to win market share from your local market competitors then communicating in local market languages makes sense. If we care to interact and communicate with the customers in these regions – we can do business.
By interacting in their language – we are INCREASING our chances of being successful.
It’s Glocal: Think Global, Market Local.  Multi-lingual websites enable organisations to reach more customers online.

According to Mark Rodgers,  CEO of Cipherion Translations,  “During the 1990s, American organisations pioneered globalization. A successful product in the US could be sold throughout the world – as long as the people in that country could find out about the product, could read about it and know how to use it. Consequently, these US multi-nationals rapidly built“Translation / Localization” into their market strategies. Their offices around the world sold and marketed the same US product / service to local populations. As an Irish organisation, if you have a product that can be sold internationally, then your key focus is to MARKET this product internationally – ie to local populations.  It’s about letting your customers know that your product exists and
why they should choose to purchase your product”.

A localized website will:

  • Shorten the time to market
  • Increase global revenue share
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Ultimately, decrease the cost of doing business

Irish Case Studies

Ryanair is probably the most well know Irish enterprise that uses translations to maximize revenues. Ryanair’s website is available in over 7 languages.

Hostelworld is its website available in 22 languages.

From a marketing perspective, both Ryanair & Hostelworld have focused on making it easy for customers across Europe to make a booking.

Amberbay B&B
West of Ireland B&B with website in 4 languages. Bookings increased and
re-couped translation investment within 6 months.

Steps to Website Translation
Mark recommends following these steps for website translation:

1.    Develop and  plan translation of your website and SEO optimisation in each language. Translations are a process; not an event.

Google ryanair search

Google ryanair search

2.    Extract the text for translation, including any text hard-coded into menus, images or flash animations.

RyanAir menu schematic

RyanAir menu schematic

3.    Don’t forget about keywords and meta-tags, it’s important that these are translated also.

4.    Get your website translated professionally: it’s Marketing.

5.    Insert the translated text back into the html coding

6.    Add the flags or drop down menus

7.    Carry out a final online proof read, and bug-check

8.    Start SEO and Google Marketing and watch the hits increase

SEO RyanAir Esp

Develop and plan translation of your website and SEO optimisation in each language.

Are you translating your website?  What difference has it made to your sales?  How are you measuring?  We’d love to hear your comments.

I am an International Strategy and Marketing Consultant with over 20 years experience in marketing and strategy and international operations both in the US and Europe. Broad functional experience in: Marketing and Communications Strategic and Financial analytics including Business Case Development Consulting and Operational management Client Relationship Management Deep financial services sector knowledge. Worked in organisations ranging from technology start-ups, fast-paced direct marketing agency to large corporates. Member of Enterprise Ireland Mentor Panel Member of IIA (Irish Internet Association) International Strategy Working Group Committee member of the MBA Association of Ireland:

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  • Great post Una. Couldn’t agree more. We’re working with a client now that ha presence in several countries and for ages have not capitalised on localisation. They found constantly a big barrier and obviously they were missing a big chunk of business too. Hopefully we’ll revert that in 2010.
    Regarding this post, thanks to the Google “translate” button, the text can me translated into more than 40 languages 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Very good points here. I was reading an article just yesterday where they were saying that 50% of Tweets are not in English. I think it is also important to get really good translation done as well. That may sound obvious, but bad translation, and translation that doesn’t take into account the cultures associated with the language (and that can affect design and content as well), can create negative outcomes – or hilarious mistakes.

    In Canada, where I lived for some time, French is an official language, and has to appear on packaging alongside the English. It seems to be a bit of a nuisance for some companies that would really rather not bother, and leads to funny messages. A couple I remember were on food products. ‘Sans preservatifs’ for ‘without preservatives’, but that actually means ‘without condoms’. ‘Farine Ecrit’ for ‘spelt flour’ but that actually means ‘written flour’. And so on. So, the messgae is, don’t take translation lightly or regard it as a chore that needs to be done as cheaply as possible!

  • Hi Una. Great points received with thanks. This will apply to my product and we’ll be doing this during the year. It is amazing that a lot of businesses still think that everyone is happy to use English as their first language!

  • Thanks Fred. I’m just back from the Digital Landscapes conference (see under announcements). One of the key messages from the very distinguished panel of speakers was to encourage Irish companies to view their businesses as global businesses – the web has enabled us to transact, and now interact, on a global stage. To follow that route, as the blog says, it’s a glocal strategy: think global, act local. Think how you can best interact with your prospects and customers – what’s easiest for them.

  • Thanks Lewis. I’m sure the translate button (machine translation) will attract some comments. However, it’s a great start. I have a human translated French version on my own blog, linking back to hear – for demo purposes: – walking the talk. But, there’s a financial and resource cost involved in translation, which will be an issue for the SME and those operating on a tight budget. And, another point to remember is to interact with local country networking platforms: glocal – think global, act local.

  • Hi Barney, I’m talking at Wordcamp Kilkenny this Saturday on Blogging for International Markets: I’ve got a few interesting case studies of Irish companies who are using blogs and their blog posts as an anchor to their Social Media Marketing Strategy. Very few are translating their blogs – well, very few are blogging for international markets, but it’s coming. We all know the commitment required to deliver new content: it’s another commitment to translate. But, that’s what’s got to be done if one wants to win interational business.

  • Una, great post as always! interesting discussion going on at the mo as to the impact/potential of online/social media on cottage industries and how even lifestyle businesses can now market to a truly global audience. I think it’s a powerful example of many of the points that you make in this post.

  • Same comments were made yesterday at #DLUCD – the Digital Landscape’s UCD conference (under Bloggertone announcements). People like Damien Mulley pointed out that many small businesses can now look to a global market place as opposed to depend on local footfall for business. John Herlihy, CEO Google said Irish companies can solve “complexity” through our online world – we have multi-lingual, multi-cultural capacity.

  • Hi Bertrand. See, I did actually get the blog translated into French version on my own blog, linking back to hear – for demo purposes: – walking the talk.
    One of the issues with just translating the blog is that it may set a false expectation – what happens when it elicits French comments? Do you have the resources to interact at that point in French, for instance? Entering new markets requires planning and resources. Understanding one’s opportunity versus other markets is the first step.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Una, I really like the “global” nature of the responses. Its a pleasant surpise! How refreshing!

    A couple of years ago, most answers in Ireland would have been “Isn’t Google Translate cheaper”. Really, it was shocking how insular we were..

    From our own interaction with multi-nationals – a global “mind” recognises the value of communicating to a French Audience in French. Afterall, a multi-national’s BURGER tastes the same in 140 counties – just the message is communicated locally in a way that makes (marketing) financial sense.
    A slight exageration on my behalf, perhaps ; – )

    If you think about it, translation and localization are investments. Perhaps the real question for Ireland is whether the business owner has enough “GLOBAL CONFIDENCE” to invest in translations. Does he/she understand enough about GLOBAL MARKETING?

    Isn’t it fundamentally about MARKETING – just focusing on a different language / culture. If we were Chinese, would we hope that the French would buy from our Chinese websites? Nope! So if we are Irish, why do we think that they will buy from our English websites?

    Multi-nationals do have that marketing confidence, that global confidence – and therefore, they translate and localize and thus gain the financial results.

    As Bertrand says, there are many ways to skin a cat, however once the end result is that we are communicating with our target audience in a personalized way – then we are more likely to succeed and reap the rewards. Its actually quite simple really. Just a change in mind-set.

  • Anonymous

    Hi again Una. You are right. When somebody reads a comment, article or site in one language, they expect (and are right to) be able to interact with it in that langage. You therefore need a way to follow up on those leads in that langage. This is what I actually do for that customer I am translating the site for: I carry out offline actions, and I insure any lead from all marketing activities are delt with in French, including phone, email, proposals and so on. Technology allows that without the requirement to be in a physical location, so these is done in a very flexible way.

  • Yes, that is the way to go. It is about a) commitment to the market and b) marketing. See Mark’s post above.

  • Bertrand, are you on twitter? Are you a fan (Facebook) of bloggertone? We’d love to get more of your comments in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Tks Una. Yes, I am on twitter and facebook. However, i am using mostly linkedin, from which I follow a lot of Bloggertone’s discussions, even if with low participation so far. Let me know anyway if I can assist in some of your international marketing actions

  • Dermot Quirk

    The problem is that the ‘google button approach’ will work from some businesses, not others, in some countries and not others, for some products and services but not others, for some target customers but not others.

    IMHO, that isn’t exactly what could be described as a good start if you lack the judgement or experience to make that call.

    Bad starts are expensive to repair and may never be forgiven or forgotten. Those of us with long experience of Japan, China and South East Asia markets will know this. I think that mrodgers makes some very valid points about the true nature of internationalisation..

    Enterprise Ireland offer fabulous financial expertise and support for Irish businesses who want to develop international ebusiness and offline global strategies so it is utterly unnecessary to produce something third rate.
    Of course, if you haven’t done the research and planning and produced a proper business plan to enter a market then EI won’t give you support. But then you shouldn’t be entering a market if you haven’t done the basic spadework. True entreprenuers don’t take risks, they manage risk.

    My sense is that nothing has changed since the 2004 ‘Ahead of the Curve’ report by Forfas that documented the abysmal export performance of the Irish SME sector.

    A key issue highlighted in that report was state supports aren’t enough and that investment in producing good international marketing graduates with languages has been insufficient. Its really great that Una has created the space for us to re-ignite this debate.

    I think it is naive to see the translation issue as a binary choice between paying 80 euros an hour to a domain expert translator and nothing for google translate.

    There are other options – there are high quality crowd sourcing solutions to translation that are free – in addition, the cost of translation can be wound down over time by asking for a styleguide, a glossary and a trados translation memory as part of any translation deliverable. This allows you to switch translation company without having to pay again for the initial research costs while maintaining consistency of quality, tone, pitch, terminology.

    Another great way of saving money and site dev iterations is to make sure that when you build your English language site that it has been developed so that it can be easily translated. Developing your site right in English makes translation, SEO and quality less expensive when you get around to translation and it shouldn’t cost you any more money that developing a site that isn’t world ready.

    With content, make sure that you adapt the english text content for the new market (legal, product range, addresses, target audience etc) and text is frozen *before* you send it to translation.

    Finally, if you really must insist on ‘translating’ your website using Google Translate – try roundtriping the text in google translate e.g. translate it from English>Albanian then that translate it back from Albanian>English.

    This will give you some idea of the quality if you don’t speak the language. Watch out if your site uses a lot of jargon, idioms, slang and or non American English terminology and try to remove all these before you press the button.

    Don’t, under any circumstances, use Google Translate for any form of legal text! Leave in English!

    Beyond page text, watch out for text embedded in Art, concatenated strings, etc. If you are translating UI strings such as menu items, watch out if your target language is inflected… I could go on – if you haven’t asked your web dev for a world ready design, get the site audited for issues before you start translation. Having a site with mixed language UI or hardcoded syntax is a horrible and insulting experience for the customer you are supposed to be attracting.

    Be careful out there people!

    hoà bình! DermotQ.

  • Dermot, thanks so much for your considered and detailed reply. I gave a talk at Wordcamp Ireland (Kilkenny) this past weekend on Blogging for International Business #wcirl. The subject of internationalisation and translation came up. My comments were entering new markets requires initial research. It’s costly and risky. You’ve got to commit. Though there’s alot of talk right now about the global opportunities available to Irish businesses through online marketing and using the web as a channel to market, the reality is that any business automatically ups the risk and costs over a local market presence and we’ve now got another set of “local” competitors to deal with. There are no magic solutions to winning international business and it’s best to assume it’s going to be harder than winning share in one’s home market. I would go further and suggest you need a local marketing resource if you are serious about competing in overseas markets, which can of course be managed from the home territory. Interestingly, WordPress announed at #wcilr (@janeforshort #wordcampireland Kilkenny Mar 6&7) that the next release of wordpress, due sometime in April, wordpress 3.0, will have an internationalization component, being developed by Nikolay Bachiyski of the Automatic (WordPress) team It will be interesting to see how successful that tool will be – machine versus human transation – and without the industry expertise, which usually is crucial to making a translated piece sensible.
    Dermot, please do come back in future and get involved in the discussions under Global. I will be writing pieces under the topic of my wordpress talk – Blogging for International Markets over the next few weeks.

  • Hi Una, As I attended your #wcirl speech I will react both to your post and speech.

    My main issue is that, as a consumer, I am not so fond of websites translated from a language I speak reasonably well. If I can understand the original I always feel the translated version is second rate. Many translations are not good at all, more often than not they leave you with only partial translation of the website or bad language. But even when the translation is good a lot of subtleties and cultural context gets lost.

    When the content of a website is very factual, like an airline booking, working with a translated version is OK. But as soon as it gets more complex, like a technical explanation of a Google product, I’m feeling like “please help, where can I switch back to English?”

    What I consider more important than translation is whether you have thought about more practical market restrictions like sending and payment options or tax regulation. If you target the Dutch market, please offer iDeal payment and know about European VAT regulation.

  • DermotQ

    I enjoyed your talk at WordCamp and look forward to seeing your posting about that. It seems to me that you have identified one of the core issues – whether SMEs really know what they are getting into when they internationalise.

    A second – and quite seperate issue – is choosing processes and technologies for a localised markcomms strategy and project managing the implementation. SMEs often end up expending unnecessarily large amounts of blood and treasure on the technical process of creating a local online presence as they lack the knowhow to manage the localisation vendors. Very often they end up with a site that doesn’t meet their requirements and the online failure brings down the offline strategy which is otherwise sound.

    I can see why the varying levels of localisation offered by Google TT option might seem attractive and how the options offered by GTT could work in some scenarios – and I am sure that these options will expand over time. However, businesses need to be aware of the limitations and potential gotchas of using GTT as part of their localisation process, not least of which are concerns regarding intellectual property – American Translators Association Journal, June 2009:

    As a someone who has earned a crust from building intranets etc for SMEs on Google enterprise apps, this isn’t an anti-Google rant but we need to make decisions with our eyes open.

    Folks need to be aware that there aren’t any magic bullets for localisation – but the good news is that it isn’t brain surgery either. One important thing an SME can do is to ask the translation vendor for a plan of record that outlines the commitments of both parties in delivering the site on time, within budget, to a defined level of quality.

    I look forward to looking at Nikolay’s alpha when I get some time – my expectations are that it will make creating a world ready, localisation enabled site easy and include localisation kit support with a full set of 3rd party options.

    It’s a beautiful day.

  • Thanks again Dermot for debating the discussion. Interestingly, when I was recently chatting to @keithbohanna @dbtwang, he said he has found GTT useful (in a limited context). He recently received a German comment on Germany is not a market they currently support but of course he wanted to respond. He used GTT to translate the original comment and then translate his response. Other than that, I agree whole heartedly with your sentiments.
    And it is a beautiful day.

  • Thanks for your comments Berend and your participation at my session on “Blogging for International Business” at #wcilr (worcampkilkenny). I liked your point as well that multiple language websites and blogs result in fragmented conversations and dialogue as opposed to one big mashup. Do come back again and leave your observations. Great to get a foreign perspective.
    Groetjes en tot ziens.

  • Una, thanks for this post, which started quite an interesting conversation. It will indeed be very interesting to see how companies solve translation issues to get to untapped markets.

    If you think about it, it’s quite amazing that despite all the advances of modern technology and communications, you can still travel across a border and be completely unable to communicate with another human being because of language differences.

    Given enough economic motivation, companies will probably solve this issue online eventually.

  • Eddie, it’s great to see you coming to my blog via a linkedin discussion and our shared interest in the use of social media marketing in financial services.
    On your comment above, commonality of language in itself doesn’t bridge all gaps. Language is so much more than words. I remember years ago when I was working with a very multi-cultural company in the Netherlands ( a Portuguese colleague, expressing dismay and sadness, saying “My heart was bleeding all over the place”. As native English speakers we would never use such an expression. She managed to articulate her Latin temperament through English and a foreign language to her. Now, that’s translation!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Una, localised websites are most certainly the way Ireland needs to be going, attracting international business, in whatever way makes sense. Perhaps we’ll hit the tipping point soon enough and find the single language service offering websites amusing. Keep up the good work. John

  • Hi Una,
    Working in the travel sector for so long means translations and global coverage goes with the territory, but it seems, that other companies are lagging in this area.
    I’ve seen companies take the half-hearted approach – provide a basic site, but forget brochures, articles, polls, videos etc. This is a time for us to realise that global relations are key and that (regardless of the fact that other countrues speak English) they prefer to be presented with a local tongue option. It’s polite and well-recieved.
    Is this what you find?

    Google has a translation tool, but these are never 100% accurate. Could be a good time for a translation agency to step in and provide the solution ….

  • trade4target

    Thanks so much for this! I haven’t been this moved by a blog for a long time! Youu2019ve got it, whatever that means in blogging. Anyway, You are definitely someone that has something to say that people need to hear. Keep up the good work. Keep on inspiring the people!nregards:ntrade4target

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