A company’s Web site is typically the primary vehicle for marketing products and services, and often the first touch point with potential customers.
Yet nearly half of the Fortune 500 and 80 percent of the top 100 U.S. retailers neglect to translate their Web sites into even one other language--despite the fact that more than 70 percent of the world’s 2.3 billion Internet users are not native English speakers.
While a growing number of multinational corporations have adopted localization practices as part of an effort to attract customers abroad following the U.S. economic downturn that began in 2008, many more still remain unaware of the compelling advantages. Even a U.S.-based business targeting only the national market--where a language other than English is spoken in more than 20 percent of homes--can significantly impact its bottom line by offering its content in translated versions. In California, for example, English is not the native language in a staggering 60 percent of households.
“Translation is a gating factor for market penetration. E-retailers that provide just English sites will only scrape the surface of possible sales in countries whose residents speak other languages,” said Ben Sargent, senior analyst at Common Sense Advisory, in an interview with Internet Retailer.
Translating Web pages into other languages also causes a multiplier effect. Every language added compounds the initial investment in content creation. For example, after Israeli underwear startup e-retailer Under.me created German- and French-language versions of its Web site, its conversion rates increased dramatically—doubling in Germany—and yielded an almost immediate return on investment.
“Translation into three languages can triple the amount of pages, downloadable content assets, and links in a matter of weeks or months,” Nataly Kelly, VP of market development at Smartling, a cloud-based enterprise translation software company, told CMO.com. “Simply put, Web site translation yields the fastest return on investment.”
Research also shows that e-commerce consumers and decision makers prefer to research, compare, and buy from companies that communicate with them via words and approaches they inherently understand. Harvard Business Review notes that nine in 10 Europeans (740 million-plus population) prefer surfing the Web in their native tongues.
Furthermore, 85 percent of Internet users do not make important purchasing decisions unless product descriptions are in the language they speak, according to Common Sense Advisory, an analyst firm specializing in translation services. And visitors stay twice as long on sites in their native languages, according to Forrester Research.
In addition, more than half of all Google searches are made in a language other than English. That’s why keyword translation is mandatory to ensure visibility in search engine results. The presence of locally relevant keywords increases Web site traffic by 15 to 40 percent, according to translation firm Lionbridge. It also becomes increasingly important given the wealth of inbound marketing opportunities presented by curated content supplied by social media. Knowledgeable translators will know the keywords commonly used in various languages and cultures, and can recommend literal translation alternatives to improve SEO.
In addition, less competition in keyword searches means more opportunities to gain exposure. With fewer companies in a particular industry sector translating content into German, for example, German-speaking Web surfers are directed more quickly to the sites reaching out to them in their mother tongue.
The perceived cost and complexity of localization may be hindering the pace of adoption. But in reality, the investment in localization of Web content and marketing material is a minimal portion of the total operating budget required for doing business in another country or region. Running at only about 10 cents a word, human translation is fast and affordable, especially for large enterprises and consumer brands. One new customer may more than offset localization costs.
“Most businesses that localize content by translating into one leading language that’s relevant for its products and markets will achieve return on investment in one month or less,” says David Shaw, vice president of business development for One Hour Translation, a translation services provider whose customer base features more than half of the Fortune 500. Global payments company Payoneer, serving customers in more than 200 countries, partnered with Shaw’s company to translate its Web site and marketing collateral, and now boasts 100 percent growth in each of the past four years.
Beyond increasing sales, other advantages of localization for global brands that make the investment worthwhile include effectively engaging target audiences, enhancing brand awareness and loyalty, expanding international reach, and ensuring the accuracy and consistency of core corporate messages.
A network of professional native-speaking translators with search and domain expertise who understand cultural nuances in target markets, as well as the competitive landscape, can generate valuable customer experiences. Automated machine translation, on the other hand, can yield incorrect word usage, grammar, and punctuation, which may inadvertently insult potential customers.
“As companies devise and execute their content marketing strategies, it’s critical to consider differences in regional colloquialisms and cultural norms,” explains Nick Sorenson, senior manager of digital marketing for SSH Communications Security.
Market intelligence can provide the insight to help ensure that Web content is effectively localized, segmented, and promoted for target demographic audiences. This can help avoid situations such as the recent Ikea translation gaffe, in which the Swedish furniture giant had to rename a stuffed wolf after it became an unwitting symbol of opposition to the government in Hong Kong.
Building Brand Equity
By neglecting to deliver multilingual and multicultural Web sites and marketing material, a vast majority of the world’s most influential enterprises and consumer companies are failing to capitalize on potential revenue in international markets. Savvy global brands and emerging startups that tap this opportunity should choose a one-stop localization service provider that offers:
- all required languages
- certified translation capacity, quality and speed
- domain expertise
- 24/7 support, direct access, and open communication with translators
- innovative integrated technologies and streamlined processes that align with company systems, requirements, and objectives.
One last benefit of content translation is its impact on earned media. In some cultures, word-of-mouth impact is much stronger than in the U.S. Brand awareness can proliferate quickly and can significantly impact both near- and long-term success.
“There are so many people in the world who can powerfully promote your brand and expand your global footprint,” One Hour Translation’s Shaw said.