You know by now that localization is best planned from the start. So, if you’re getting your website overhauled, be sure to factor in internationalization and design elements right away. Leaving space, allowing for multiple characters and creating complete strings will make rolling out different language versions easier. But what about when the time comes to write content that’s easy to localize? A skeptic might say that writing content for an international audience is nothing short of impossible and unless you have the budget of the big players like Coca-Cola, HSBC and Nike, you don’t have the luxury of using transcreation techniques in every new market.
Is Content That’s Easy to Localize Restrictive for Copywriters?
Frankly put, yes. But if you want to optimize your workflow, reduce costs and the margin for error, they’re going to have to deal with it. You already dragged a reluctant team onto the SEO bandwagon and made them write with keywords in mind. And now you need to get them thinking about writing for a global audience. They’ll come around. To write easily localized content, do you have to dumb down your message? You could look at it that way, I guess. But, in a more positive sense, it’s about removing colorful or colloquial language from your English source text. Taking out anything ambiguous or unnecessary. After all, English will very likely be the mothership content you’re working with. So for many it will make sense to start their efforts there.
Include SEO best practices
With a veritable crescendo of noise competing for their attention, the average reader only spends around 15 seconds on any given webpage. That means I’ve already lost around 55 percent of people reading this article! If you’re still here, you may be pleased to know, you’re not an average reader. I’ll be handing out prizes later! But, how do you keep hold of people’s attention for longer than that of a gnat or mosquito? By including SEO best practices into your content. Working on readability and user experience is vital to keep the hook baited. This is true of your source content and when you write content that’s easy to localize as well. The right keywords will vary from market to market, but the need to use them should be the same. If you’ve already got your writing team following a keyword density of 1.5 to 2 percent, working your H1 and H2 titles and metadata, you’re off to a flying start. Your content from a user perspective is already primed for optimum readability and experience. Whether you use a plugin like Yoast, or run your articles through Hemingway app, they should flow nice and easy. You’ve already cut down your long sentences, removed the passive voice, chopped up your paragraphs and taken out unnecessary adverbs. Making sure that your content team is writing according to SEO best practices will give you a huge head start when it comes to content that’s easy to localize.
Remember the all-important issue of space
Don’t write an essay explaining your products or describing your services. It’s very nice that you’re proud about what you do. Your passion may be contagious. But here’s a cold, hard truth. No one else cares as much about your company as you do. Not your employees, not your mother, and certainly not your customers. They don’t want to hear all about your history and the lengthy process of sourcing materials. Or how you were a young boy when you became interested in technology or making people more productive. So, get to the point. Don’t write War and Peace on any of your pages. Keep the content concise, to the point, and relevant to your customer. The grand majority don’t want to know all about your product features. What they want to hear is how those features will benefit them. Instead of talking about the extra cushioning in your leather hiking boots, explain how it will keep their feet cooler and more comfortable. Don’t mince your words and don’t expect them to read a one-sided monolog. Shoot for between 300-500 words on your web pages. This way, your customers will be able to zoom in on CTAs, and find what they’re looking for easier, without getting bored (or wandering over to the competition). You’ll also write content that’s easy to localize, leaving enough space for it to be translated into languages that take up more room, like German, Italian, or French.
Avoid humor and idioms
If you want to write content that’s easy to localize, avoid humor and idioms at all costs. Any translator will tell you, humor is one of the hardest things to translate. Many jokes only apply to a certain region with a shared cultural and value set. Take the joke overseas and it will fizzle out like wet sparkler. If you want to get your content localized faster and easier (who doesn’t?) keep the jokes to a minimum, or keep them out. And as for idioms, don’t even go there. If your writers are including sentences like “throwing good money after bad,” or “at the drop of a hat,” get them to rip them out immediately. Or you’ll be opening yourself up to an onslaught of bizarre and uninterpretable translations.
Avoid complex sentences and phrasal verbs
If you’re already following the above advice, you’ll know that complex sentences are a no-no. Yet, depending on the nature of your industry, these may be impossible to avoid. If you’re a pharmaceutical or biotech company for example, avoiding complex sentences that require translator comprehension before translating may be impossible. In these cases, you’ll not only need native speakers to localize your content, but subject matter experts with a specialization in your field as well. If you sell products or services that are generally easy to understand, you can avoid sentences that require the translator to stop, look and interpret before getting to work. At the very best, complex sentences slow the job down. At the very worst, they end up being incorrectly translated. The same goes for language that is too informal or colloquial. English uses a lot of phrasal verbs (pull up, put on, get over) that can be hard to translate in other languages. If possible, cut these out and replace them with easier verbs, like lift, place, or recover. Example: “If it takes you ages to get over a broken relationship, you should put on a brave face,” will be easier to localize if it says “If it takes you ages to recover from a broken relationship, you should show a brave face.”
Stick to a style guide and glossary of terms
Most companies have their own style guide. In case you have more than one writer on staff, it is important that they follow certain norms. For example, numbers below 10 should be written out in full, and the % sign written as percent. If you don’t like the Oxford comma, or always spell a certain term the same way, make sure your writers have a copy of your style guide and enforce it. When you deal with regular terms, such as in the legal and medical industry, you can compile a glossary of the terms. This will make both the source writer and the translator’s jobs easier. Try to avoid too many synonyms. It’s hard to tell this to a writer, when synonyms are what they live for. When you want to write content that’s easy to localize, you’ll need to be consistent with terms. Five different ways to say “company” or “document,” will force the translator to find five different words and select the one they feel fits best. This leaves too much room for human interpretation, and what does that cause? Errors and inconsistency. It’s a much better strategy to choose just one agreed-upon term. Use it consistently throughout your texts to avoid confusion and ensure your localized versions are consistent as well.
Provide your translators context
If you’ve managed a localization campaign before, you’ll know about the necessity of context. Once your content is correctly prepared and ready to localize, don’t send it to your translators as isolated strings. Use a translation management software that allows you to upload screen shots, relevant images, and a layout of where the content will sit on a website, software, or app. A good translation management software will let your translators type directly onto the web. So, they’ll know how much space they’re working with and what to expect next.
Use images wisely
With the cultural issue varying from country to country, it’s wise to use images sparingly. You’ll have to spend huge amounts of time and money replacing images that might be culturally sensitive. Also, doing research on the kind of images better suited to your new target, as well as the ones that might offend. This racks up costs with image banks and slows your site speed down. It’s also a tiring process swapping out hundreds of images manually. And when it’s time to write content that’s easy to localize, avoid images with text in them completely. Images containing text are a big headache all around. If you have a lot of them, you’ll need a decent supply of Tylenol. Every time you localize the texts in the graphics, it will have to be done manually. Subsequently, this has to be manually uploaded once you localize for another language. Even more complicated is the issue of space in your images. Very likely, you’ll be dealing with limited characters to fit your image descriptions in. When you try localizing that text into different languages, it may be almost impossible getting it to fit. Which means changing images, paying extra for a designer, or not being happy with the translated text.
Get Your Content Proofread
The importance of proofreading can’t be stressed enough. The source content that you put out to be localized into other languages must be 100 percent accurate. It doesn’t matter how professional and diligent your copywriters are. Another pair of eyes on your texts will always catch mistakes. So, get your content proofread before sending it out to be translated. Then get it proofread again. Even the smallest errors in grammar, punctuation, or spelling can cause a large and expensive problem. As can the use of ambiguity or incorrect terminology. If your source content is wrong, all your language versions will be wrong. And that’s a lot of fixes and a ton of extra cash.
A Final Word
You may get some backlash from your writers at first who don’t take kindly to their brilliant work being somehow neutralized. But your localization project is a time to set egos aside. Your writers aren’t the ones tasked with the job of creating a credible and meaningful message around the globe. You are. So, don’t take any flack. If you do have a little extra budget, or you want to customize certain campaigns, get more creative with your texts. Tailor them for different markets and hire a transcreator in your different target markets. This is without doubt a more customized approach, but unspeakably more expensive. Write content that is easy to localize, and you can save as much as 10-15 percent in project localization costs. That number implicitly increases with the amount of new languages and markets you expand into. And that’s a significant saving. Asking your writers to write content that’s easy to localize isn’t all bad either. Not only will it make your localization project run faster and smoother, but it will get your team used to focusing on optimum readability and user experience. By cutting down on elaborate and unnecessary sentences, you will make your content easier to digest. This will keep the user on the page and lead to lower bounce rates and higher conversions! You may even benefit from improved SERP ranking as well, at home and abroad. Win-win situation all round.