Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of Germany, Europe’s most successful exporting nation, said, ‘If I'm selling to you, I speak your language. If I'm buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen (then you have to speak German).’ Sophie Howe, Managing Director of Comtec, looks at the implications of international trading for a website.

As companies look overseas for new business, the website becomes an even more valuable communication tool for meeting export objectives. But to fully maximise those opportunities, a company cannot expect that their well tended English language website will have the same impact in new markets.

In the global market, customers expect to be able to research, buy and use the products and services they need in their own language, and it makes good business sense to enable this. Although developing a multi-lingual website may at first seem daunting, the facts speak for themselves (Source: Forrester Research):

  • Businesses are three times more likely to buy when addressed in their native language.
  • Customer service costs drop when instructions are shown in the user's native language.
  • Visitors stay twice as long on websites with content in their native tongue.

As this research shows, localising your website will pay dividends. But to achieve the best results, it is vital to partner with a translation company experienced in handling the technical and cultural issues that go hand in hand with website localisation.

Localisation refers to the process of adapting the website and its content for a new market. This includes translation and localisation of all marketing content to take account of local values, cultural sensitivities and consumer behaviour. The outcome is an effective website with copy that looks and reads as though it was developed in the local market.

Issues to consider

To maximise opportunities in a new market, the foreign language content of your website must be up to the task. However there are a number of points to consider before getting started; let’s just look at a few:

  1. What is the scope of the project? How far should translation go? Does it just require translation of key pages or should it cover translation of all elements of the existing site? What about downloads, blogs, bulletin boards and newsletters? How many languages should be included?
  2. How can you ensure that the copy is properly localised to be both accurate and idiomatically correct for your target market?
  3. How should you manage content updates and translation?
  4. Does the existing website architecture support content in multiple languages? Does the content management system have a plug-in for translation?
  5. How will translation affect search engine optimisation (SEO)? SEO is very language specific. Whilst certain English words and phrases might be perfect keywords for the UK market, there is no guarantee that a direct translation of these will have the same impact in another country.
  6. How will the company handle an overseas enquiry received via the website?

Considering the scope of the project

The extent of the material that requires translation is largely dependent on the company’s stage of exporting activity. A company that is just breaking into the export market is likely to be targeting only a select number of countries and potential clients.

At this level, simply translating the content for a number of key landing pages, or creating a dedicated microsite in the target languages will be sufficient to get started.

For companies more established in an overseas market, the scope of the project may be broader, involving translation of a more complex website with a high volume of content.

In these instances the use of translation memory software comes into its own. The software works by intelligently storing previous translations for a specific client or sector, and can be carried across projects to ensure that key terms and phrases are used consistently over time.

Handling the content... watch what you say!

It is often the case that while great care and attention is paid to development of the original English content, the translation stage is left to the last minute and often rushed to ensure deadlines are met. To guarantee the professional image required to operate successfully in foreign markets, the foreign language sites should reflect the same high standard of the original content.

Serious website localisation cannot be attempted in a piecemeal manner and professional translation must be used. By working with a translation company specialising in this field, content is localised by professionals who combine experience in handling marketing copy with expertise in the particular terminology relevant to the sector in which the company operates.

Localisation involves the complex linguistic task of ensuring copy reflects the unique cultural expressions and values of the target market. Use of translators, who are native speakers is therefore essential.

Real Madrid belied their reputation as an international brand when the English translation of David Beckham’s profile on their website included such things as ‘His speciality are the central shots from the wing, called ‘bananas’, and free kicks, two types of plays where he displays a shooting technique which is unique in the world of football’. A company using slipshod methods for translation will not only struggle to be understood, but will probably fail to win over potential overseas customers.

Managing the translation process

A translation company experienced in website localisation will be able to adapt the translation process to the workflow of an internal web team to ensure the project is completed within the agreed timeframe.

Translation and Content Management System

Comtec recently undertook a review of a number of the most common content management systems (CMS) including Joomla!, Drupal and Ektron, and found that their approaches to supporting website translation varied greatly, as did the extent of their support.

Translation is a rapidly changing area in relation to CMS technology with new plug-ins and tools introduced in response to user demands.

Consideration needs to be given to the formats in which text can be extracted and reintroduced and to the tracking systems available within a CMS to allow monitoring of the progress of translations.

This is particularly important for any dynamic elements that require translation. The smoothness of the interaction between the website CMS and the translation memory management technology used by the translators is another important aspect of the process.

What about SEO?

Everybody involved in SEO knows that it is a process not a task. Continuous monitoring of keyword effectiveness is as important on foreign language pages as it is on the English, to ensure that these pages are highly ranked in local searches in target markets.

However, it is also important to get the basics right too. Attention must be paid to aspects such as the translation of metadata and the use of user-friendly URL links to include foreign language.

What Next?

The astute reader will have realised that the provision of language expertise into a website project cannot be a one-off. The localisation of dynamic content, the ongoing management of foreign language keywords, all require an ongoing relationship with a trusted localisation partner.

Added to these issues is the crucial question of how to handles enquiries from potential customers received via the website. It is vital to work out a strategy to ensure new leads are captured. This may involve providing a recorded message in the foreign language, setting up an automated holding email to allow time to respond in more detail.

Website localisation projects require careful planning and cooperation with an experienced team of translation professionals. Procedures for managing the partnership need to be set in place and both sides need to recognise that to be truly effective, activity must be planned for the long term.