Content translation: You like tomato and I like tomahto

Nowadays your customers could be based anywhere in the world, so do you translate or adapt your website to reflect that? It’s not that simple though, with regional variations and different dialects to consider

The Internet is read all over the globe – which makes sense as it’s the ‘worldwide web’. The majority of websites are produced in just one language for their home market and that makes complete sense. However, for many businesses, particularly those with customers in other countries, there is a decision to be made about whether their website needs translating into another language or, indeed, more than one language.

A quick online search will tell you that the most translated website in the world is not Google, Facebook or Wikipedia but the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The number of languages it is available in is growing all the time but currently stands at more than 1000.

However, it isn’t just a case of translating your website into a particular language. You might have a website in English but want to appeal to the US market. While we speak the same language, there are many words which don’t translate or could cause confusion. For instance, pavement in the US is sideway and the boot of your British car is a trunk in the US…

If you want to keep your US customers engaged, then you could insert some code which automatically translates words which might appear on your website. If you are an automotive business, then boot/trunk and gear stick/gear shift are likely contenders.

A potential problem of having two lots of ‘English’ website copy is that Google might flag this up as an issue, identifying it is duplicate content. One or both lots of content might then not get indexed and you’ll end up being penalised. To avoid this scenario and make it clearer to Google, consider cross-linking page by page. In other words, provide links between pages with the same content in different languages.

There are similar issues with many languages – including Spanish which is not only spoken in Spain but in many South American countries where some words are simply not the same. In addition, other countries have a number of official languages – Canada has two, Switzerland has four and even, Belgium, one of our nearest neighbours has three! So it’s not at all simple or straightforward.

Even across the UK, there are, of course, many regional differences in the English language. A bread roll, for instance, is known by a number of names, depending on where you live, including a bap, a barm cake, a batch, a stotty, a muffin, a morning roll, a cob and a scuffler! If you are a bakery business with ambitions to expand, how do you negotiate these types of issues?

You also need to consider how much effort you put into translating your website. Do you get it properly translated by a professional translator or do you simply insert a translating widget into the site? Google Translate, for instance, has improved immeasurably over recent times and it can help many of us translate something quickly. However, if you are trying to engage with customers online then you will probably want to ‘converse’ with them as clearly as possible.

It’s also worth considering that humour, for instance, doesn’t always translate well.

Aside from the actual language of the site, if you have visitors landing on your website from different countries and regions, is all of the website relevant to them, such as the news section? Do customers in the US want to know about what’s happening with your company in the UK and vice versa?

The first time you visit an international website, you may be asked where you are based? Once you’ve selected a location, then this will be noted in your cookies and you should end up in the right version of the website for your locality next time you visit – assuming you’re on the same machine and you haven’t gone ‘incognito’.

Does every new piece of content and every section of your website need translating? It’s a decision that you will probably need to make based on return on investment for your target audience.

If you’d like explore this subject more, then do get in touch with our team at Lake Solutions.

Article Details

Ian Jepp
26 April 2021