Internationalisation is Not Just Translation

Hello, my name is Judith Lewis and I am a searchoholic.  I live and breathe search and have done for pretty much over a decade.  It has become who and what I am more than any other aspect of myself.  It is easy to become a searchaholic in this industry with its own language, secret codes and instant gratification.  What we sometimes forget is that the world does not live and breathe search, a fact I was reminded of in the Pan European Search Strategies session at SAScon.

During a break between speakers, one of the attendees thanked the speakers for helping him to understand that he needed to target the Netherlands and Belgium differently.  While this seemed quite basic to me, it suddenly became clear to me that those who live in the Land of Search learn and understand localisation and targeting, do so slightly differently than those who do not.

As part of the naturalisation process when you immigrate to the Land of Search, you are taught about the global search landscape and how culture, language, platforms and other elements differ from country to country.  You are taught about Orkut and Brazil, Yandex and Russia, Baidu and China with its interesting politics and cultural norma.  You learn how a busy page works in Asia while a minimalist page works better in Europe.  You are taught that there are cultural, language and search engine preference differences globally and this becomes second nature.

Beyond this more obvious and easily measured uniqueness globally, is the understanding of how culture and regional politics factors in to everything.  Bas vandenBelt in his Pan-European search presentation mentioned how a predominantly orange coloured site in the Ukrane indicates a political affiliation while in Holland it represents a huge party celebrating the queen.  Andy Atkins Kruger pointed out how simply translating a site from English to other languages never works because of language usage and cultural differences.  These are all important points which are sometimes lost when creating a global web strategy.

Language is one of the things which makes each area of the world, each culture and each sub-group unique.  From the differences in Portuguese around the world, to Spanish, French and Chinese, each language will not only have its own nuances but culturally people will respond differently to the same sentiment expressed using slightly different words.  This is why translating a site is never enough – not only will translation leave a site unoptimised, it could also render it unreadable.

In Finland there are sometimes four or five ways to refer to the same thing.  Checking to make sure we captured the more popular forms of the words meant not only being aware of this, but understanding what the popular searches were.  What this shows is that a simple translation could end up using the wrong word, too formal a word, a word no one searches for or the right word purely by chance.  Localisation requires a local, expert hand.  Translation is not enough – understanding local language use is key.

In the Far East, not only is the use of language complex but the cultural and political issues must also be taken in to account when localising.  There are issues around what is said, how it is said and what the target audience is.  Even images which seem inoffensive or banal could be seen differently elsewhere in the world.  Understanding these cultural nuances when creating a site can mean the difference between success and expulsion of the company from the country.

Localisation and not translation is the key but also understanding the local market for each country you are going in to is important.  Barging in like a bull in a china shop will be more likely to alienate a potential market rather than win them over.

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7 Responses to “Internationalisation is Not Just Translation”

  1. Miss Zed says:

    Brilliant post! Having worked (lived/breathed) myself in multilingual/international search in particular over the past years I absolutely sympathise with the notion of ‘Land of Search’ and also how it changes your view on the ‘world wide web’ – which is a pretty local place really :) thinking local with your global web strategy is just a translation of ‘understanding who is your customer, what are they looking for, how and where..’ Really fabulous post ‘deCabbit’!

  2. Kate says:

    Brilliant post! Having worked (lived/breathed) myself in multilingual/international search in particular over the past years I absolutely sympathise with the notion of ‘Land of Search’ and also how it changes your view on the ‘world wide web’ – which is a pretty local place really thinking local with your global web strategy is just a translation of ‘understanding who is your customer, what are they looking for, how and where..’ Really fabulous post ‘deCabbit’!
    +1

  3. Al Sefati says:

    Very nice post indeed. I think from technical prospective, having a website with that country’s domain extension and hosted in country would defiantly help.

    For example if you are in US and want a UK website, then register a .uk website, add it to local UK directories and host it with a UK web hosting. Ofcourse relevant local content and all the things you mentioned as well.

  4. Ramon says:

    It so happens that a few days ago I wrote a post which is quite similar, and also highlighted that translation and localization is not exactly the same thing. I actually included a few examples that also illustrate your point.

    What surprises me -specially keeping in mind the title of your blog- is that you only very slightly hinted to the fact that SEO needs to be tailored for the translated page. That is why I started my blog recently – because the people that ask me to translate their sites seem to think that it is “just another” translation…

    BTW, I loved your example about “orange”. I lived in Holland for several years, and on the queen’s birthday you saw orange everywhere – because the ruling monarchy belongs to the House of Orange.

  5. Übersetzung Englisch Deutsch says:

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  6. I have a issue that is kind of related. What is the useful way to get low volume keywords? Best!

  7. Very good post. This is something that I try to explain my customers over and over again – that “translation” is not just copying into another language. A “pure” technical document might perhaps not require that much “localization”, but when the text is also used for marketing then you better be ready to “localize” it very well… or you end up with things like the Rolls-Royce “Mist”, which in German means “manure”…

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