Website Localization: 3 Common Translation Complaints and How to Actually Fix Them




  • Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!

    Entering a new market is a costly project that involves hard work on many fronts: technical, product, marketing and something called localization. This is the order in which companies prioritise their backlog when preparing to localize a website.

    The efforts are estimated in terms of how long it takes development to prepare the website for launch. This usually translates to a set of compliance features to meet the local regulatory requirements. Essential tasks, but not extremely time consuming.

    Product and marketing sprint around the tight deadlines to define product and marketing goals. And at the end of the food chain localization is squeezed in: ‘We’re just gonna translate what we have in the target language!

    When the launch day comes, everyone pats each other on the shoulder and there’s a nice party and a thank you to all involved in making this a success.

    (Except for the translators…)

    And by success I mean the website launch and not the market entry.

    Because for the market entry to be a success, localization should be the starting and not the end task in the website localizationprocess.

    But since this is not the case, important website localization steps are overlooked and the result is a choir of complaints from all sides.

    Without further ado, here are the 3 most common complaints I hear every single time a website was translated without a localization strategy in mind. And what you can do better next time you a translate a website.

    1. Microcopy: ‘It sounds translated!’

    ‘It sounds translated!’

    –A developer’s friend who’s a ‘native

    This is the dreadful feedback we all fear when localizing a website into a new language. The first instinct is to blame the translator, pay for a complete review with a new translator or – worse – have a ‘native’ redo the copy.

    (I’ll let you in on a little secret: Professional translators always translate into their native language. Did you hire a professional translator?)

    But after spending more time and even more money patching up the translations, you realise that it doesn’t get any better.

    Tough stuff this translation business, ain’t it?

    Actually, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

    The usual culprit for the dreaded ‘It sounds translated!‘ is usually the translation of the microcopy, a.k.a. resource strings, GUI interface or those short texts that appear on a website such as menus, headers, section names, account details etc.

    The reason the microcopy runs a high risk of ‘sounding translated‘ is that these texts are very context-dependent. The translation of the word (or words) might actually be correct linguistically but it is not correct in the context.

    What does this mean?

    It means simply that the translation doesn’t use the wording that the user is expecting to see on a certain section of the website. It’s not that the user will not understand the translation or that the translation is not correct. The wording is just not what the user sees in a similar context on other websites.

    There’s an expectation that is not met. And that’s why microcopy ‘sounds translated‘.

    How can this be avoided?

    There are two simple things you can do to mitigate this risk: the translator should get

    1. a short description of the web features with screenshots, and
    2. a list of the top competitors to research when choosing their wording for the translations.

    While this doesn’t guarantee a 100% improvement of the microcopy translation (you will still need to do a localisation test before launching the translations to make it to 100%) it will save a lot of headaches and time in the long run.

    2. Marketing localization: ‘But the source text said *insert metaphor* and not what the translator translated!’

    ‘But the source text said *insert metaphor* and not what the translator translated!’

    –Stressed marketing manager who wants the text to ‘flow

    I hear this complaint more often than I would like to and there’s an important reason why I don’t like it.

    You cannot have the translations flowing like ‘they were written by a native‘ and a word-by-word translation at the same time. You have to decide between the two!

    So which one do you pick?

    Exactly.

    The function of marketing copy – a.k.a. marketing product descriptions, newsletters, teasers, banners – is to influence the reader to take action: purchase your product (or service). And every language has different expressions and metaphors that create certain images in a reader’s mind.

    A metaphor might sound great in the source text, but the image created by this metaphor will have no cultural meaning in another language. Even worse, it could have a negative connotation or mean something completely hilarious that will make you look ridiculous.

    (And like you have no clue who you’re talking to.)

    In order for marketing localization to work in the target market, the translator needs to have the freedom to reformulate the package of your core message: ‘This product is great and you should purchase now!

    In this context, the translator becomes a copywriter and experimenting and testing paired with feedback are essential in finding the right tonality for the new market. It might sound like a lot of work, but it will save you from paying for bland marketing translations that don’t get the desired results.

    3. SEO localization: ‘This is not grammatically correct!’

    ‘This is not grammatically correct!’

    –Overly worried translator (a.k.a. SEO agnostic)

    Translators say this more often than not especially in relation to SEO and UA translations. And time and again are proven wrong by test results.

    Because, sometimes we have to bend the rules (a little).

    In order to get customers to buy products online we need to make them aware that the products exist. For that to happen, said customers need to find the website that promotes the product. And this is where this nifty invention called SEO comes into play.

    Google is the no. 1 customer when it comes to writing and localising SEO and honestly it doesn’t care much about grammar (nor style).

    Google cares about keywords. And guess what?

    The role of keywords is not to be grammatically correct but to rank the website high in online search results. This end goal cannot be compromised.

    So how can you do this better?

    In order for SEO localisation to work, provide the translator with a set of targeted keywords – if possible, the localised version – and with instructions on how to use them in the text.

    A little cooperation goes a long way in reaching the best results with SEO localization.

    Conclusion

    Website localizationis not as straightforward as it might seem, but it is also not an elusive art that can never be mastered. Quite the contrary: by applying a couple of logical steps and understanding that localization is a cross-functional task, you can improve your localization results with no extra efforts.

    I hope you enjoyed these ‘complaints’ and tips on how to fix them. Please do let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

    And if you feel particularly inspired by this post, why don’t you hit the subscribe buttonto our monthly newsletter for more love and tips on localization strategy?

    Claudia Befu

    About Claudia Befu

    Localization expert with 11+ years in the digital world. Creating content strategies and solutions for large enterprises. Mentoring, educating and consulting are part of my daily life and passion.

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