The old adage “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” couldn’t be more true than on the Web. Savvy Web users — especially those conducting business via the Web — have been conditioned to avoid Web sites that don’t appear trustworthy or lack a quality look and feel. This is the most basic human defense mechanism to encountering risk; it’s naïve to think just because computer technology is involved that people will look past the surface. There is so much information to sift through on the Web when trying to find a product or service, users are now applying their own innate filters. We do this in public when engaging individuals we don’t know, and it’s to be expected on the Web.
That is why it’s so important to capture the attention of visitors to your company’s Web site, recipients of email or blog posts immediately. When international markets are involved the best way to capture a readers attention is to address them in their own language. Posting content in your customers’ (or more importantly, potential customers’) languages is guaranteed to get more attention, but you will quickly lose visitors if the translated content is of poor quality. It has become common to offer Google Translate as an option to visitors so that they can automatically translate your Web site into their languages. For certain types of content this may work fairly well, but you have to take into account the actual results that users will be see once they pass your URL through Google’s translation server. It’s amazing to me now much effort companies will put into creating and publishing their Web sites, but how flippantly they will then pass their content through a machine translator tool with little regard for the quality of the output. At best you might call it “Corporate Marketing Roulette”!
One reason why free machine translation is popular for automatically translating whole sites is the “free” part. It’s also fast and comprehensive — all the content of your Web site can be translated in literally a matter of seconds per page. In those few seconds, however, an impression is being made on the foreign language user, and here is what he or she is thinking:
- “Ha, ha, that’s funny. Look how ‘commercial services’ was translated; it sounds these guys run a brothel!”
- “Hmmm, this company produces really expensive machines. They can’t afford some decent translation on their Web site?”
- “What the text says almost makes sense, but I really can’t tell if this product will work for me.”
In the first instance, the reader has already forgotten about your company and its offering; he is too distracted by the humorous mistranslation. In the second case, the overseas vistior to your site has gotten the message that they really aren’t important enough or that your company isn’t capable of supporting overseas markets. In the last case, the lack of clarity of the message makes it difficult for your potential customer to proceed in his or her decision-making process.
The more effective approach is to use high quality human translation for only the most critical content on your Web site. This could be as little as one or two pages, but it must be very well written in all the necessary target languages, and it must be easily accessible from your company’s home page and should come up immediately in online searches. It is important that the translated content use terminology that is familiar to your potential customers and is consistent with the keywords they might use to find your products or services in a Web search.
My recommendation when it comes to corporate Web site translation and localization is that less can definitely be more. Visitors will be far more impressed and ready to reach out to your company if they encounter thoughtful and well-written content in their language.