Found in Translation: Growing Your Audience by Crossing Language Borders

What if you could find a way to increase key reach and revenue KPIs at a fraction of the cost of original content? You can. Indeed, it is less expensive to increase your online audience by translation of existing content than creation of new content. But how do you translate and localize your valuable content most cost-effectively? 

We consider best practices, tips and tricks for content producers to enter foreign language markets, even on a tight budget. Specifically, we discuss the pros and cons of engaging with translation agencies, working with freelancers, and doing it yourself with neural machine translation.

Increasing your audiences and revenues, one country at a time

Before you plunge into a foreign language or a foreign country, it’s key to conduct initial research on market size, key drivers and to consult with experts on how well your product is likely to be received.  You’ll need to adapt your marketing strategy to the international context, considering everything from infrastructure (who will sell, deliver, and otherwise need to be involved in your business there to customs (both at the border and in the local culture), values and beliefs that might impact how your product and marketing campaign is likely to be received. If you want to get your international business marketing strategy right the first time, take a look at this resource to learn more.

A crucial aspect in a successful international business marketing strategy is incorporating localization, which is the adaptation of your content and market to local language, local standards and local cultural norms. In fact, an entire industry has arisen to meet these needs. Take a look at this cool article that shows how global brands killed it with their localization strategies. If your budget affords, seek out a localization company or translation company offering integrated localization services, including website localization, app localization, social media localization, and marketing collateral localization.

Working with Professional Localization and Translation Agencies

A professional translation agency these days knows that it needs to go beyond words and provide more than just website translation services. It’s a lesson epitomized in the famous story about GM investing millions in its Latin American marketing campaign to sell the Chevy Nova model. They did the heavy lifting to translate everything in English to Spanish only to realize that “No va” translates as “doesn’t go.”  So don’t go there. Instead, do your homework first, and think out of the box about how words and ideas are interpreted and “felt” in your target market.

Working with Freelance Translators and Localization Consultants

Professional language services companies should avoid common pitfalls, but you will pay a premium for the one-stop-shop and for the value added services of accessing a network of expert linguists, account managers, and for the security of an agency infrastructure meeting its commitments of delivery and quality. If you are on a tight budget, however, don’t despair. These days there are freelance marketplaces – like Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork – where you can likely find highly qualified localization and translation talent to execute your campaign. You will need to vet the candidates, looking at their profiles and checking their ratings and reviews. You will also want to clarify about availability and commit your chosen freelancer to specific milestones and deadlines. A few tips:

  • Hire freelancers in pairs. A primary should be selected on the basis of perceived value for money. A secondary should be an editor/proofreader in the target language in addition to having translation abilities in the language pair you seek. Don’t skimp on this latter resource, because they will be checking the work of your primary and also providing a fallback in case the primary gets the flu or decides to have a lost weekend in Las Vegas.
  • Watch out for machine translation cheats. Some freelancers, even some who have high markets and ratings in their profiles, have been known to use online services like Google Translate or Microsoft Translator in place of their own native knowledge. That is lazy, unethical and you should be explicit in your contract that machine translation must NOT be used.

Use Machine Translation Yourself to Check Work and Reduce Costs

Despite amazing improvements in the last five years or so by AI-driven Neural Machine Translation, software algorithms still trail competent human linguists in translation quality. But the race is starting to be close. Machines can be near-flawless when translating structured content like weather reports, sport results, or government reports.  On more creative tasks, or those requiring cultural sensitivity, they fail… sometimes catastrophically.

However, you can and should use NMT – Google Translate and DeepL are favorites – to translate low-priority documents during research, or if you are “spinning” pages in foreign languages primarily for SEO purposes or to seed articles with revenue-generating ads and links.  Consider using NMT also to evaluate the readability of the work delivered by freelancers or agencies. Consider these online (and usually free) services as you would an internet or research assistant, to save the time and cost of more expensive resources.

Bottom line: All three localization options – agencies, freelancers, and algorithms – have a place in your marketing strategy and execution. Mix ‘n’ match them judiciously and you will be able to penetrate and profit from new foreign markets more quickly and cost-effectively.

Image credit: Business Translation via fizkes/shutterstock

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