Going Global


Going Global

By Liz Elting

Talk Business UK - March 2013

Leading analyst firm Euromonitor International revealed in a recent study that global consumers rank language as a significant factor in their online purchasing decisions. When it comes to high-end purchases like electronics or luxury goods, this is especially important to non-English speakers. To engage this fast-growing audience of international online shoppers, businesses must provide positive experiences in multiple languages, delivered through relevant, localized messages and images that are in line with the cultural preferences and practices of the targeted region.

What’s the difference between translation and localization? This example illustrates it quite well. One financial services company, while preparing to open offices in Japan, designed a document that included a large photograph of a bridge in Tokyo. While the image was both local and striking, the bridge-building project was a topic of debate and criticism in the city. In short, it was a very big risk for a financial services company to associate themselves with such a controversial topic. Too often, businesses focus on translating words without thinking about the impact of all elements of their communications in diverse cultures.

UK businesses have begun investing in integrated language translation and localization as part of their overall e-commerce globalization plans. For example, easyJet recently translated its online materials to better communicate with an increasingly international customer base. Translation and localization helped the airline ensure a unified brand voice in Spanish, Catalan, Czech, Danish, German, Dutch, Greek, French, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, and Turkish. For the 55 million passengers who fly easyJet each year to more than 110 destinations, this means they can continue to see easyJet as a service-oriented organization that both recognizes and cares about customers’ individual needs.

In the past, only the big players could afford to invest the time and strategic resources needed to localize their websites for global markets. This is no longer the case.  A rapidly growing number of businesses are realizing that consumers prefer to communicate in their own languages and will happily engage with companies that demonstrate cultural understanding and awareness of current word usage. Some experts say that the online sales conversion rate can be boosted by up to 40 percent by investing in language translation and localization. Further, customers who are presented with positive experiences in their own languages will return for future purchases and even share brands with friends and colleagues.

There are several best practices businesses should follow when it comes to translation and localization: 

1.  Words matter. Businesses operating in global markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do, and why multilingual customers should care. Web copy optimization and proper keyword selection is the first item that should be on the minds of companies that want to build relationships with non-English speaking audiences.  It is essential to validate keyword choices before going live in other languages. 

2.  Avoid simple machine translation.  It takes skill and training to choose content that maintains both the tone and the purpose of the original source language..  Machines cannot accomplish that, and when companies rely on machine translation, their multilingual search engine optimization (SEO) shortcuts become apparent to a native language speaker. Machine translation is not adept at catching this kind of subtlety—and it can make or break a campaign.

3.  Consumers want choices.  Automatic redirects to a particular language may also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to website translation. In many Pan-European countries, residents of varying regions speak multiple languages and dialects. A drop-down language menu is a simple but thoughtful way to avoid customer frustration.

4.  International SEO: Get found.  Once a company has made the decision to invest in translation and localization of online content, the next question should be, “Will our audience be able to find us through a simple Internet search?” SEO is not a strategy one should employ after the fact.  Rather, it should guide the overall content development and site architecture strategy.  Otherwise, you’re building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information.  Only when international SEO and design are done in conjunction can a company clearly answer the above question.

The pay-offs for businesses that globalize and localize are great.  To reap the rewards, organizations must put in appropriate effort on the front end of their website projects.  Professional translation services offer businesses the means to truly localize their communications and hence, their brand voice.  This demonstration of authentic interest in local markets is directly related to increases in revenue and sales figures, which is an attractive outcome in any language.

Liz Elting is the co-CEO and co-founder of TransPerfect, the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services.  Elting has earned numerous awards for her outstanding entrepreneurship, including Working Woman's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Customer Service, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and American Express and Entrepreneur’s Woman of the Year Award. Elting is profiled in several books, including The New York Times bestseller "Succeed by Your Own Terms" (McGraw-Hill), "Leadership Secrets of the World's Most Successful CEOs" (Dearborn Trade Publishing) and "Straight Talk About Starting and Growing Your Business" (McGraw-Hill). She is featured regularly in the media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, O (The Oprah Magazine), Financial Times, Reader’s Digest, and Crain's New York Business. 

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