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The Importance of Translating in E-Commerce

Posted on 8.15.2011

Thanks to a recent study by TransPerfect, the important role that language translations play in e-commerce finally has some measurable data to be analyzed.

While the positive effects for e-commerce stemming from rampant globalization through the Internet are obvious, such as having a larger, worldwide assortment of potential customers, there are some issues that undeniably need to be addressed before the market can reach its fullest potential.

One of those problems is a widespread language barrier that moves from country to country, and sometimes within them, that makes it hard for some e-commerce retailers to market to and reach groups outside of their local region. The survey in question aims to address this problem, with TransPerfect, the world's largest privately held provider of language services and translation-related technologies, comparing the views of both e-tailers and consumers as it relates to their different expectations concerning online translation.

What the results show is a noteworthy disparity between the way that executives and e-tailers, from companies of varying sizes, consider translations, and the way that global consumers weigh them. Just 19 percent of executives surveyed said that translating information online was a high priority. Does that sound like someone in the e-commerce game you might know? Because, if so, you may want to let them know that 63 percent of consumer respondents said that they are more likely to buy from a website available in their native language.

That number is underscored by the fact that 73 percent of surveyed consumers said they encounter e-commerce websites that aren't available in their native languages. What's more, over half of those same consumers said that, when left to their own devices, they will either attempt to translate material on their own, rely on a browser-based translation application to do it for them, or, far worse for e-tailers, will simply end their shopping sessions and move on. This could potentially mean substantial revenue losses for many e-commerce companies because of a lack of translations on their websites.

Also important to note is the fact that almost 68 percent of respondents said that they "sometimes" or "always" encounter website translations that aren't correct or are confusing because the translations lacked an understanding of their culture. This seems to show that it is important to invest in online translations in more than just a superficial way, because it can not only turn off customers, but straight up confuse them if you don't take the time to make sure your translations are done right.

That being said, here's a list of things e-commerce businesses can do that will translate to success (get it?):

- Take notice of local sites
Really understand the different markets that you're trying to reach. It helps to have a design that can appeal to various cultural backgrounds and is accessible to (almost) everyone to visits your site, so follow the lead of Facebook or Amazon when it comes to creating an all-encompassing approach to your website.

- Become local
One thing you can easily do to appeal to a specific overseas market is to create a localized Top Level Domain (TLD) for each country or language.

- Ponder your keyword selection
You need to be sure that your SEO and PPC keywords that you use in copy and tags are properly researched for each target market. Also, it would help you to know what the successful keywords of their local competition are, as well as maybe using some specific, local terms along with your more generic words. And, please, make sure you test and analyze your selected keywords. You won't be sorry.

- Start small
To see both how well your translating skills are working and how your e-commerce business is going over in a new market, start by just offering a limited (and targeted) range of products when first launching your site overseas.

- Human translators work best
We've all seen the hours of mindless fun that can be had copy and pasting between various online translators, but I think you may want a bit more security when translating for your business. Poor grammar and awkward phrasing are off-putting for anyone, so make sure that you're content is translated, or at the very least checked, by a professional, HUMAN translator before your site goes live.

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