Preparing for Website Translation: Why It’s Worth the Trouble [Part 1]

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Most of us have heard that famous Benjamin Franklin quote, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Website translation is no exception.

In order to prepare for website translation, it helps to have the right background information—the kind of information that puts the whole process into context. It enables you to make educated, strategic decisions about who to target with your site, how to target them in their own language, and when to implement translation.

A content audit—the process of reviewing your website’s content in preparation for translation—is a critical step in finding this information. Why? Because it helps clarify the why, what, and how of website translation. In other words, a content audit answers sample questions like:

  • Why should I translate this particular page into Japanese?
  • What current web content should I translate for each market?
  • How do I translate my site’s wide variety of content?

But before embarking on a content audit, it helps to understand the value of website translation to both your organization and your customers.

Website translation has a powerful business impact

Website translation offers several universal benefits—no matter your company, industry, or products/services. Here are a few:

1. Website translation increases customer engagement.

February 2014 research by the Common Sense Advisory (CSA) outlined that visitors spend more time on sites in their mother tongue, and that most people prefer to buy in their own language online.

In fact, from a survey of 3,002 respondents with insufficient English skills—or no English skills at all, 85% agreed that they would prefer to buy a product in their own language. This research shows that language is an important—but not the only—influencer of purchasing behavior.

2.  Locally- and culturally-relevant content helps your customers identify with your brand.

As Melissa Akaka and Dana Alden wrote in The International Journal of Advertising 29, “Consumers understand Global consumer cultural signs and behaviors but continuously rely on their local meaning systems for interpretation…” So for a customer to identify with your brand, branded content must be available in their local meaning system: It must be localized.

3.  A website focused on customer wants and needs will drive a price premium.

A consumer-packaged-goods-focused study published in the Journal of Product & Brand Management found that “quality is a significant determinant of price premium, but … The strongest determinants of price premium are social image, uniqueness and home country origin.” Tailoring your web content to the local user is a strong way to focus on customer wants and needs.

Though these three examples apply to most website translation projects, your organization’s specific reasons for website translation will be different and more nuanced… more on that later.

Go beyond translation: localize your website

Regardless of your organization’s reasons for website translation, a distinction must be made between translation and localization. To meet your customer’s experience needs in their locale, you should go one step further: you must fully localize your site.

Ebay’s John Donahoe described this process in a recent interview with the BBC, saying:

“We treat each market a little bit differently. They’re all connected in a common technology platform, but balancing that local ownership, while also being part of a global technology platform, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Your customers’ expectations, needs, and preferences differ based on their culture. And as a result, you’ll need to take a cross-cultural communication approach to connect with a global audience.

A simple way to understand why cross-cultural communication approaches are important—and how they may affect your website and web content—is through Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory.

In his research, Geert Hofstede determined six dimensions of national culture. Outlined in the figure below, these include power distance and uncertainty avoidance, among others.

Content Audit Diagrams_Dimension Theory

These concepts are key to international marketing. They define national values, inform us how to engage different cultures, and they help to explain how your brand is perceived globally. For example:

“Cell phone marketing is an interesting example of the application of Hofstede’s model for cultural differences: if you want to advertise cell phones in China, you may show a collective experience whereas in the United States you may show how an individual uses it to save time and money.”

Adapting your website for these cultural expectations is critical to engaging global customers in their local context and culture.

What are your motivators for website localization?

Although we’ve covered some universal cultural, brand, and language-related reasons why you should localize your website, it’s also important to pinpoint reasons that align with your company’s specific strategy.

None of our clients say, “We’re localizing our website because we don’t have enough to do.” So what then are your reasons for website localization? Most of the time, the impetus comes from top-down, bottom-up, or a mix of both. It’s worth spending some time to dive into these motives.

Bottom-up, you may have analyzed your content and noticed that you have too much poor-performing content. Or your sales teams might be clamoring for more customized, personalized, and locally-relevant content.

Top-down, your company could be merging with a larger one, adding a new major product or service, or undergoing a strategic shift. Or maybe your CMO determined that going global on the web is a core part of driving company growth in new regions.

Going through this investigative process will clarify some important strategic and tactical direction for website localization. And it will help identify critical gaps in your site.

Taking this investigative approach—and applying Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to your web marketing efforts—will help you plan your content audit methodology, prioritize your content, and gain clarity on why your content is valuable to your customer.

> Stay tuned: In Part 2 of this post, we’ll deep dive into the process of how to conduct a content audit, how to analyze it, and what to do with content once analysis is complete.

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