If you’re writing content that you know might be translated somewhere down the line, it’s important to craft content that will easily translate across cultural contexts.
Translation will only produce the same words in a different language; it won’t capture intangible things like puns, culture-specific references, or geographic issues. (That’s where transcreation and creative adaptation come in handy.) So no matter how hard you worked on that polar vortex joke or Marie Kondo reference, someone reading your work in translation might miss the point.
When you create content for translation, you can take steps to optimize the process. We’ve collected some of our best tips below, so you can create web content that translates flawlessly.
Optimize for cultural transmission
If you’re planning to translate only the words and not the cultural context of your web content, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not including culture-specific references in your text. It’s generally a good idea to avoid pop culture references or geographically specific issues, since every culture and region has their own superstars and major news issues. Just as American readers might not understand the finer points of K-pop fandom, Korean readers might not understand your joke about playing a country song backwards.
In fact, it’s probably best to avoid jokes and puns altogether, since humor is highly region-specific. There are plenty of ways to relate to your audience, and if you’re writing professional content, you probably don’t need to rely on humor to make your point.
And if you’re writing in an industry whose jargon or technical terms vary by country (for example, names for retirement plans like “401k”) you might want to simplify those concepts up front, so they don’t become even more complex in translation.
Optimize your tone
A lot of start-ups have begun to opt for a very informal tone in their messaging. This works great for a number of countries, but not every country conducts business so informally. In Japan, for instance, informal language is used strictly between family members and very close friends, and businesses still aim to take a more formal approach. The informality of start-up language would not only sound strange in Japan but would risk offending clients!
If you have a particular tone of voice that you want to stick with across your brand, you need to talk with your language partner and make sure they have the processes in place to train their linguists on your brand voice. The linguists should know what your desired tone is, as that will significantly change how they translate. If you are not sure if the tone you want will be accepted in the target market, your translation partner should have the expertise to help you out and confirm the best practices for a specific country.
Optimize for the way users search
One of the reasons that direct translation doesn’t always work for website translation is that it doesn’t often reflect the way users in other countries behave when they search. This is true even for people who speak the same language but live in different countries.
For example, British and American consumers use different search terms to make travel plans. In England, travelers might search for “weekend holiday” ideas, while American travelers might look for lists of “weekend getaway” ideas.
The same concept applies to business-to-business marketing. Let’s use security industry terms as an example. Take a look at how many people are searching every month in the U.S. in January 2019 for the following terms:
- CCTV – 53,000 searches
- Smarthome – 11,000 searches
Looking at the same time in the U.K., you see the following results:
- CCTV – 34,000 searches
- Smarthome – 450 searches
It’s important to focus on the proportion of searches to the total population, not just look at the numbers. For example, the US has nearly 5 times as many people as the UK, so you’re naturally going to get a higher search volume with any keyword in the US. But when you look at percentages, you can get a sense of your term’s relative importance. Take a look at the numbers above: the term “CCTV” has a bit over half the search volume in the UK as in the US. But since the UK has fewer users, the percentages tell us that it’s a more popular search term in the UK. If you do a bit more digging you will find that while “Smarthome” is not very popular in the UK, in Germany it has over 12,000 searches puting it even in front of the US for that market.
Even countries that speak the same language may use different terms to talk about the same topics. American and British English aren’t the only versions of a language with linguistic differences. There’s also Portuguese in Brazil and Portugal, Chinese in Taiwan and China, Spanish in Spain and Mexico, French in Canada and France, and differences in German between Germany and Austria. Getting the cultural nuances right is important if you want to optimize your website for each country where you operate.
Optimizing your web content for translation depends on more than just avoiding culturally-specific references. You must also do a thorough SEO analysis for each country to understand what your audiences are looking for.
In order to optimize your web content and SEO practices, you’ll need a language partner who not only understands the subject matter but knows how to research how consumers in your target region behave.