Marketing Information

Translation and Your International E-Commerce Strategy


Most businesses realize that they are simply a click away from any corner of the globe. Well, actually two if you include the Yahoo! search a potential customer does to access your shopping cart. What most businesses, unfortunately, do not realize though, is that their shopping cart is struggling to make it to the checkout counter. Bill Dunlap, managing director of Global Reach, Inc. notes that "for every $2 million a site is doing in domestic sales, they're leaving another $1 million on the table in international sales if they're not making themselves easily available."

To paraphrase the above, let me draw on a quote from Willy Brandt. The former West German chancellor is reported to have once said: "If I'm selling to you, I speak your language. If I'm buying, dann muessen Sie Deutsch sprechen (then you must speak German)."

In economics this is referred to as opportunity cost -the cost of something in terms of an opportunity foregone. The opportunity cost of not speaking "German" is a whopping 50%! This simple truth is supported by statistics.

Donald A. DePalma reported in a study conducted for Forrester Research that "Visitors linger twice as long as they do at English-only URLs; business buyers are three times more likely to buy if addressed in their own language; and customer service costs drop when instructions are displayed in the user's language." (Donald A. DePalma, Strategies for Global Sites, 1998).

Another Forrester Research report, quoted in an article titled "Reasons for Success in International E-Commerce" (webpronews.com) provides statistics that indicate "over 55% of the online world accesses the Internet from countries where English is not the native language."

The message is loud and clear: Do not assume that there is no reason to translate your marketing materials or that English is used in other countries! To be sure, English is the lingua franca of the world, and many people do have the ability to read English. But, faced with a choice, would you pull out your wallet for a company that caters to your needs in your non-native language, or your native language?

If translation is not part of your international e-commerce strategy, then you may be leaving money on the table!

And, if you see the truth in this message, you have a couple of options available: you can develop an in-house translation capability, or you can commission a professional translation service to translate your marketing materials. Developing an in-house translation capability is prohibitively expensive, not to mention that it is a long term effort. An appropriate analogy to illustrate this point is that of an IT department.

Buying translation, however, can be overwhelming with all the technical jargon, and frustrating with all the endless marketing hype and "mission statements" that are thrown at you. Fact is, the basics of purchasing translation are easy. Read on.

Your starting point should be the clarification of your translation project requirements. Consider:

  • Whether your marketing materials are for internal consumption (including partners) or external consumption?
  • Whether cost is more important or quality is more important?
  • What is the time frame for your project?
  • What are your ongoing (long-term) professional translation service needs?
By clarifying project requirements, you are establishing the framework to answer the 2 most important questions that will determine the success of your translation project. Namely, what is the right type of translation, and what is the right professional translation service for your translation project?

There are two types of translation:
  • Machine translation (MT)
  • Human translation
  • In machine translation, a human translator supports the machine. In other words, a computer program translates the source text (i.e. the "from" language), with the resultant target text (i.e. the "to" language) then being edited by a qualified human translator, if it is edited at all. Machine translation (MT) is employed for "gisting" or, to get the general meaning (gist) of a document which can be useful when marketing material is only for internal consumption.

    Is machine translation right for your marketing materials? "Free online translations, is, well...free-the cost is right, but can you live with the quality?" is a short, informative works on machine translation (MT). Read it before continuing.

    Consider this recent headline from the Yahoo! Odd News section (2005-07-05)-"The Wurst museum in the world?" You guessed it-it is not a bad museum but one dedicated to...German sausages! If your marketing materials are rich and descriptive, and for external consumption, then machine translation (MT) is not an option.

    Commission a professional translation service, and put human translators to work on your marketing materials.

    Selecting the right professional translation service can be just as frustrating as selecting the right type of translation for your project. Do you go with a professional translation service provided by a translation company, a translation agency or a free-lance translator?

    Review the requirements of your translation project. Now ask yourself "What is the right professional translation service?"

    "Free Online Translations Guide-Professional Translation Service" provides a check list that is helpful in determining what translation service should be entrusted with your marketing materials. While the list is not exhaustive, it will guarantee that you get the most value for your investment in translation in terms of cost and quality.

    Establishing a criteria list provided the basis for determining what the right type of translation, and what the right professional translation service, is for your translation project. Now, before you hit the search engines, guarantee the success of your translation project by taking a few more minutes to truly prepare (peace of mind; priceless!). Read "Buying Online Translations Tips and Techniques."

    And that is it-it is that simple! Translating marketing materials will ensure that your international e-commerce strategy speaks "German," will ensure that your shopping cart makes it to the checkout counter, and will ensure that no money is left on the table.

    About the Author:
    Ivan Vandermerwe is CEO of Saeculii, LLC., the owner of Saeculii Professional Translation Service. Visit Saeculii Professional Translation Service for the latest translation articles and news.

    Copyright © 2005 Saeculii, LLC. All rights reserved.
    Reproduction of this article is permitted with inclusion of the "About the Author" reference as is (including a link to Saeculii.com), and this copyright information. Articles may not be altered without written permission from Saeculii, LLC.


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