Translating a website: localisation and SEO

Every company has its own website, but few business owners know what localisation is, despite it being their main asset for success in the international market.

Localisation is the translation of all content to be displayed on an interface: from mobile phones to websites, with GPS systems, medical devices or DVD menus in between. Basically everything that is formatted via software and displayed on a screen.

In this particular case, localising a website means not only taking account of the functional limitations and technical characteristics of the electronic medium used, but also adapting content to the target market by transposing cultural elements and adapting style and tone so that the message is perfectly received, understood and assimilated by the audience in the country in question.

If you plan to translate your website, here are the most common mistakes to avoid at all costs:


Lack of content management strategy

Website content is often underestimated. Once the entire budget has been spent on technical and graphic elements, plus writing of the source content, more spendthrift companies find themselves penniless when it comes to content maintenance and management. Localisation often doesn’t even get a look in (I still don’t know why companies think to conduct market studies and hire bilingual salespeople when they want to conquer a new market, but always seem to forget translation  – they must surely believe in the power of telepathy). Consequently, various parts of the website are entrusted to different service providers, or even members of staff, without any consultation or coordination regarding communications strategy and without nominating a sole project manager responsible for making all the decisions and answering questions from writers and translators.  Of course, this means that some pages are updated in one language and not translated, that some links do not work, or worse, information is not consistent from one page to another.  Often a single page will contain a mix of several languages because the developers forgot to define a default language!


Lack of internal consistency for each version of the website

This lack of single reference person for content causes major usability issues. The user gets lost: buttons, breadcrumb trails and menus are not consistently named; it becomes impossible to find them from one page to another.

Sometimes common guidelines lack for localisation and the choice of language or style. So we see websites mixing UK and US English; websites in Italian addressing users like a court bailiff and a nursery playmate on the same page; Spanish websites with some pages written in very formal language and others in a totally down-to-earth style; websites designed for Portugal but written in Brazilian Portuguese; literal translations, Anglicisms and Gallicisms (depending on the source language) or even worse, websites in Slavic languages without providing for the necessary declensions. You can just imagine the damage done when passing from a language written from left to right to one that is written from right to left…


Lack of SEO/SEM for translated versions

If you have invested in SEO or SEM for your website, be aware that it is not enough just to translate the optimised version. You have to go through the whole process again for each language and each target country. Translators specialised in localisation and referencing do exist. They can create a semantic charter, select keywords and expressions, and recommend style improvements for the current version of your website.  These service providers work hand in hand with SEO agencies who know how to incorporate the data supplied by the translators into an analysis of the site tree and monitoring of search trends. They know how to remove blocks that could hinder the correct indexing of content and can guarantee a truly efficient return on investment. In this respect, Fairtrad is pleased to be working with Première Position since 2010.

Not forgetting social networks: the language used may not be the same as for your company website. While the two are linked, it is important to review the general style and expressly predetermine the tone to be used on each social media and for each country in order to avoid a cacophony.


Entrusting translation to just anyone

A quick reminder that entrusting translation to non-professionals, or overlooking quality assurance (proofreading in context during the pre-production phase) mean you will have websites full of spelling or grammar mistakes, written in pitiful style, with incomprehensible or even offensive cultural references. All issues that will have the time to discourage many a potential customer before a sufficiently cultivated (and motivated) bilingual employee in your company sounds the alarm. This is usually the moment when you make a panicked call to the cheapest translation agency you manage to find. Before reaching this point however, you can decide to consult Fairtrad or another respectable agency for a quality audit and implementation of a reliable and effective localisation process.


Neglecting the impact of localisation on ROI and brand identity

These considerations for the quality of localisation complement and incorporate considerations for graphic interface quality and user experience, in other words navigability of the website.  It is unfortunate that companies displaying too low a conversion rate think to test the usability of their website in terms of structure and function, without concern for language quality, despite the fact that it is a key element in the presentation of their services.

Poor localisation gives an overall impression of incompetency and shoddy workmanship. For users, a company that doesn’t pay attention to the quality of communications in the language of their country is not worthy of their business. So next time you plan your marketing investments, remember to consult a professional and ensure that, as my philosophy professor would say, “the cover is as good as the book”.
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