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Should You Localize or Translate Your Content

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Should You Localize or Translate Your Content

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There are several signs that your business is ready to expand internationally. If the thought of reaching customers aboard brings you more excitement than anxiety, that means that you are on the right track. In addition to that, if you have established contact with suppliers from the target market and you are feeling confident about your future collaboration, you are taking one step further. And the last step to be determined before you take a leap concerns the preparation of a structure that can support the target market.  

This structure contains many parts, including your website and marketing campaign. However, even the most humorously written blog post and engaging marketing campaign will not achieve their purpose if you don’t communicate their messages right. A reputable business will not consider Google Translate as a tool for this task, so at this point, the pivotal question is whether the content should be translated or localized. 

Differentiating between translation and localization

It comes as no surprise that a lot of entrepreneurs haven’t heard of localization since this is a term familiar solely to language experts for the most part. So, on one hand, there is translating, that is, the process of communicating the meaning from the source language to the target language. This means that texts, eBooks, multimedia, apps, etc. are translated into another language all the while paying attention to the context. 

On the other hand, there is localization that goes beyond translation in the sense that the web content and applications are adapted to the local (target) target. This is done not only by taking content into account but also the cultural elements of the target language, as well as, in some cases, historical, geographical, and economical. Essentially, any elements that shape the target audience’s preferences. So, now, let’s take a look at when we should apply which on the source content.

Consider your SEO efforts

As you have learned so far, working on your ranking is a long-term strategy and your SEO strategy plays a great part in your efforts to improve search engine rankings. If you decide to use machine translation or some free online translation options, you cannot hope to rank high in your target market because the search engine will see right through your awkwardly-translated content. 

When it comes to the choice between translating and localizing, you might also want to consider different search engines’ requirements. Things that are valued by Google’s algorithm may not be what is important to Qihoo360, the second most popular search engine in China (the first is Baidu). For instance, you need to be careful about your choice of words so as not to offend anybody which is why localization might come in handy in this case. 

Assess the market’s needs

From the above-mentioned example, one might think that all foreign markets require localization and that is not completely true. For example, if the target market you are expanding to is culturally (and geographically) close to yours, there will be little need for translation and let alone localization.

However, if you plan to expand from, let’s say, the USA to China, you will find the market, culture, and customer behavior to be very different. This is why it is best to hire trusted local agencies that provide professional English to Chinese translation services and vice versa and by being familiar with both languages and cultures, they will be able to faithfully adapt your message to local audiences.

Chose the method based on the content type

Another element that should influence the decision of whether to opt for translation or localization is the type of content. For example, legal pieces of content are not translated but taken from the appropriate legal source on that language. Technical information is usually straightforward and written in plain language which means it usually doesn’t require any particular adaptation. 

Highly emotive and creative content usually needs to be localized to become appealing to the target audience. In addition to text, elements that would also need to be adapted are visuals (e.g. a couple kissing might be offensive in the Middle East), units of measurements, colors (they carry different meanings, e.g. white is the color of mourning in India, while green is considered to be an unlucky color in China), etc.

Final thoughts

While translation is not always enough, localization is not always necessary to convey the meaning to the target audience. This means that it is best to use both methods when it comes to your content, depending on its type, the target market itself, the search engine’s ranking algorithm, etc.

If you wish to expand internationally, for the venture to be a success, there is no doubt that the language, in the broadest sense, needs to be taken into account. Conveying your content message isn’t a word-for-word process but one that requires paying attention to the context, local culture, and preferences. If you offend your target audience or you end up with an ill-translated message, none of your other efforts will matter. This is why you need to have language experts, preferably local, translate and localize the content, as necessary. 

Guest Poster – Elaine Bennett

Elaine Bennett is a digital marketing specialist focused on helping Australian startups and small businesses grow. Besides that, she’s a regular contributor for Bizzmark Blog and writes hands-on articles about business and marketing, as it allows her to reach even more entrepreneurs and help them on their business journey.