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Best Practices for Translation Lead to E-commerce Success

By Liz Elting, Translations.com
Shop.org – September 9, 2010

E-commerce companies depend on their websites to engage and convert their customers.  Marketers understand that reaching customers on a personal level increases customer retention and attracts new customers, but they don’t always know how to accomplish this.  There are many options for engaging customers, depending on an e-tailer’s resources and needs.  For companies looking to expand their global footprint and sell in foreign countries, there is one technique that more and more e-retailers are investing in to reach a broader audience – website localization through translation.

New technologies for translation make it easy for virtually every business to convert material into multiple languages to reach consumers around the world.  While the many available translation applications have streamlined this process, e-commerce companies must be cautious about the tools and methods they choose for translation.  Regardless of the promises of a particular product, localizing communications for other cultures must be handled carefully by professionals who understand the nuances of word choice and connotation in any given language.  Settling for anything less puts the effectiveness of international campaigns at risk.

Working with e-commerce companies, I’ve found that the translation or localization of creative material is far more complex than many vendors make it out to be.  Translation can support, enhance or sabotage the most brilliant campaign.  Obviously, you want to get it right the first time.

There are several best practices businesses should follow when it comes to translation.

Localizing content is about more than just language
This is important to remember, particularly for any online business tempted by machine translation.  The copy is just one element to consider when adapting material for other cultures.  For example, one agency came to us with a brochure for a financial services client.  It featured dramatic, attention-grabbing photos from the world’s leading financial centers.  As part of our standard localization process, we researched the images and discovered that one of the photos featured a bridge that was considered a symbol of political corruption; it was referred to locally as “the bridge to nowhere.”  Of course, once the agency’s creative team had this information, it selected a new image with more positive associations.

Accuracy is not enough, particularly for creative copy.
There is a beverage company whose logo features a crown.  The company had an English ad headline that read, “When it pours, you reign.”  A team of translators and copywriters worked together to recreate equivalent versions in other languages, since the playfulness of the line would not easily or automatically translate.  Without informed, professional translation services, the beverage company could have ended up with translations that said something like, “When it pours, you are the monarch.” Accurate? Indeed. Effective? Not really. Humor, puns and references to local events need to be adapted by professionals who are trained to stray from the original copy to protect the intended meaning, something traditional translators cannot do.

Invest carefully
There are now translation products available to meet a wide range of needs.  For example, you might invest in your own glossary of management tools if you are translating materials frequently.  These products offer a consistency whose value cannot be overstated in terms of effective brand management.  The return on investment in these solutions is apparent in both the short- and long-term.

If your e-business is embarking on a major international initiative, say investing more marketing efforts in China, you should first spend some resources investigating that market and how to best communicate with local consumers.  Should your company name be translated, transliterated, written in English, or written in both Chinese and English?  Professional translators can inform you about the probable local reaction to each of these options.  Seek out these resources.  After all, you are already spending significant money on the initiative; don’t waste it by failing to tap into reliable expertise that ensures your material won’t appear dated or foreign.

The effectiveness of your written material is critical to your company’s success in the international marketplace.  When selecting a localization service, keep these best practices in mind to ensure the intentions of your business are not lost in translation.