From translation to multilingual content creation, or why translation needs marketing

Content is king, but only if you treat it like a queen. How do you deal with multilingual content on your website? Do you outsource marketing texts to a translation agency or language service provider? It is not the only way, and not necessarily the best option.

Risky business
The internet is full of multilingual websites that are meant to drive traffic and increase sales in the local markets. A common practice to deal with texts in many languages is to create a source text in English and hire an established translation agency to take care of the translations, which are then sent back to the company and published. Quick and convenient and, with constantly falling translation rates, possibly the cheapest option.

Well it may be cheap but is it good? Whilst there is no doubt that the translation industry possesses a great deal of knowledge about languages and translation software, there is no guarantee that the translators have a sound understanding of content marketing, web writing and SEO. There is a high risk that those important marketing texts are produced by linguists who may know everything about the target language but who often lack sufficient information about the company, the products, the website and the target audience.

Local markets have local market needs
To assure us that outsourced translations are of good quality, translation agencies tend to be big on QA processes that aim to make sure that translations are “correct”, or in other words as similar as possible to the original. It usually involves translators checking each other’s work against the original and/or ticking boxes according to a set range of criteria.

There is something terribly wrong with this method, especially when it is applied to marketing texts. Checking a translation meticulously against the original, which (hopefully) has been optimised for the source culture, says very little about whether the translation will match the expectations of the target culture. If the QA process is carried out in isolation, without sufficient knowledge of the published context, it will inevitably fail to consider all the fundamental aspects that are crucial in text production: Where is the text going to be published? What is the purpose of the text? Who is going to read it? Local markets have local market needs.

Texts need context
Some translation agencies try to convince potential clients to buy their services with promises like “we only use qualified translators”, “all our translators have a minimum x years of experience”, “our translations are optimised by effective use of CAT tools”, and/or “we only use freelancers who live in the target country”. Some agencies promise “localised” translations (making sure that metrics, punctuation etc. match the target culture) or charge extra for “transcreation” (translations that are rewritten for the target culture).

None of these statements, however, is a guarantee in itself that the text will be suitable for the client. This is not necessarily the translators fault – if you have hired a respectable agency, you can be fairly sure that their staff have carried out the assignment to the best of their ability, based on the information they have. The problem is rather inherent in the business model – texts need context to be effective, and outsourced translations are created too far from the published environment. When did you last discuss your campaign goals with the translators who work for your chosen agency? Do you even know who they are?

It’s good to talk
The situation can be improved greatly by ensuring that there is more direct communication between the clients and the people who actually create the texts, i.e. the translators. The problem is that many translators are required to spit out up to 3,000 words per day, every day (a common daily target at many agencies), so there is simply no time for discussion. At one agency I worked for, we did not even have telephones. Questions were rather gathered in a spreadsheet that was sent to the client. Sometimes the questions were answered, sometimes not. In any case – anonymous, often cryptic messages through an Excel sheet, when most issues could have been clarified through a quick call or a short email to a real person? It is not effective communication.

From translation to multilingual content creation
So what is the solution for companies who want to make sure that their website’s language versions shine as brightly as the English content? There are several options:

  • Employ native in-house translators or web editors – the translators have easy access to copywriters, designers and developers, and can take charge of the publishing process too. It is costly however, and medium sized and small businesses may struggle to keep the translators fully occupied.
  • Build long term relations with freelance translators, who learn gradually about your company and products. The downside is that you will have to deal with one person for each language version, rather than having a single point of contact, and you will need somebody else to take care of the publishing. You may also have to look hard for freelancers who are content-savvy and have a good understanding of web marketing.
  • Outsource not just translations but also the publishing and other related services to a consultancy that offers multilingual content marketing, without having to commit to employing full time staff. This is how we work at Making Waves: we have an international team of native content editors, who communicate directly with our clients’ marketing teams in the target countries. The local marketers have the knowledge the editor needs and can answer the where, the what and the who. The editors have control over the publishing process as well as the translation, which means that they can view the finished publication in its relevant context and put the icing on the cake. This way, the translations are viewed as texts in their own right, i.e. they are evaluated according to the context in the target market rather than just compared to the original text. It’s multilingual content creation rather than standard text translation.
  • If you do continue to outsource translations to an agency, find out if you can establish contact between their translators and your marketing staff. If this is not an option, my best advice would be to cut down on the QA process and rather make sure that the texts are edited by local web editors before they are published, and don’t be surprised if hefty post-editing is needed – at least that’s what we have found when we outsource translations!

Managing multilingual online content is a complex process. If you want your language versions to rule online, you have to give them the attention they deserve. In the long run, it will be worth it.

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