Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
If a Tree Falls down in Translation. . . .
May 16, 2011 - By: - In: Localization - 15 comments

If a tree falls down on a Web page, and nobody’s there, does it make a sound? Not in cyberspace. People have to be there. Otherwise that mighty oak of a Website might as well already be in the cyber wood chipper. A translation read by no one is a waste of money. And the shocking truth: every year vast swatches of websites are lost in translation. This is because the keys to successful translation in this particular forest kingdom are the keywords. Without careful attention to the localization of keywords in translation, the locals can’t find it. So it’s strange to me that most keywords are translated by machine or by translators hurrying on to the next line of text. Doh!

The value of a translation on the Web is about how many people read it, which is about how well it is written for search, because it doesn’t matter what kind of conversion you get if interested users can find it. So keywords first. Always. Every time. Except no one seems to be doing it.

I’m amazed how little attention Webmasters and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) guys give to this, because it really is the key to success on the Web in any language. A successful international presence begins with an international SEO campaign that requires careful analysis by a team of native, experienced, qualified keyword analysts with a professional understanding of search algorithms and surfer psychology in their native language.

It’s a complex task, and we’ve found that it takes more than training to get qualified people to help our clients through the process. Few linguists have the personality and aptitude to do it well. Analysts have to be on their toes to make the connections that build search engine and pay-per-click success. This complicates recruitment and training, and makes management tough for newbies.

First a project manager gets debriefed on client SEO strategy and receives the English-language list. She and the assigned specialist translate the list and look at similar sites for ideas on what works best for the target audience. With that information, a conceptual translation is created. A single English term may lead to multiple translations to cover similar mental maps. Sometimes no translation at all is best. Every keyword has its own story.

Once the translation is complete, the next step is to validate it using search analytic tools for each language and market. We are looking for the right translations, or no translations at all, whatever the expression used by in-country surfers to find the products and services of our clients.

That’s what matters. If it costs $20 to translate a page that no one visits, it’s expensive. If it costs $50 to translate a page visited by millions, it’s cheap. But because of the way translation is billed and marketed, no one cares. Translation is billed by quantity, not by quality. So who cares about a few keywords?

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