Ten essential rules for successfully translating your B2B website to accelerate your international expansion
Being German and having lived and worked for almost 20 years in France, language has been a significant part of my personal and professional journey.
In all companies in which I have worked and in all international expansion projects that I have accompanied as a consultant, language and translation have always been a central point of discussion. In most cases, however, translation is seen as a burden, a necessary need, a budget that is always too high, and sometimes even a waste of time (“Can’t we just leave it in English?”).
But language is an essential part of your corporate identity and of addressing your message to the market. The importance you grant to translation shows the respect you give to your international audience and customers.
As we are currently onboarding some new projects where website translation will be a part of the discussion, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my learnings and advice to companies seeking to translate their website into a new language.
NB: This article focusses on a B2B context, B2C and e-commerce have specific rules I do not address in this article.
1. Take it seriously
Your website is an essential part of your communication strategy. Stakeholders that are seeking information about your company, your products, your business, your team, and what you stand for will, at one point, visit your website. Those stakeholders may be potential and existing clients, partners, candidates, employees, or investors.
In your home market, you most probably already have a brand image, and your stakeholders can embed the website as one part of the picture they have about your brand. In new markets, however, you do not have a brand image yet, so your website will be (at least in the beginning) the only source of information stakeholders can find about your company. It is, therefore, necessary to polish this image as much as possible.
Your website is your only chance to make a first good impression.
2. It’s a thrill, not a burden!
In international expansion projects, I quite often have a rather annoying reaction when I ask if the website has already been translated in the language of the target market: “Yeah, we know, we have to translate the website.” As if this part of the international journey was more of a burden than an opportunity.
The need to localize a website is excellent news because it means that you will engage with a new market, new customers, and new partners. You will widen your impact on the market and open a new chapter on the development journey of your company.
So it’s rather exciting than annoying! Do you agree?
3. Build a localizable website from the very start
It is (or better should be) a no-brainer, but we have seen some pretty bad examples that cost a lot of time and money. It’s less and less of a problem as most website providers (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wix, etc.) either have international features or integrate plugins like WPML to translate the websites.
Nevertheless, have the translation on your mind when setting up your first website. Include this requirement in the briefing for your website agency to anticipate the translation of your website in several languages.
We have seen cases where translating a website meant almost redoing the whole structure, which was a significant undertaking and took a lot of time and money, where it could have been straightforward with some proper planning and anticipation.
Repeat after me: prepare, prepare, prepare 🙂
4. I am here to stay; you can trust my brand and my team!
Engaging in new markets is a complicated process with a lot of pitfalls. Translating a website is maybe the most accessible part and reasonably easy if you follow some basic rules and proper planning. Translating your website is one of the first things you should do when engaging in new markets.
Supposedly you have completed first market research, secured a budget and the necessary resources, and now want to enter the market by first business development activities. Do your business development team a favor and have the localization of your website on the top of the to-do list (or at least the most essential parts of it).
It’ll make their task so much easier as the message you send to the market will be: “I want to genuinely engage in this market and not only get some quick wins or pick the low hanging fruits.” “I care that my future customers understand what I have to offer.” ”I make the effort of adapting me to them rather than asking them to adapt to me.” and most importantly: “I am here to stay, therefore you can trust my company and my business development team.”
5. In translation, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys
Trust me on this, and please, please, please choose your translation partner wisely. In times of the gig economy, everyone can call himself a translator and lure you with low prices. But cheap translation hardly never means good quality.
Choose a specialized freelancer or a translation agency that has been recommended by your peers, that knows your sector and has an excellent track record in translating and maybe even copywriting.
Keep in mind that technical translation is not a marketing translation is not a medical translation is not a legal translation is not a digital translation. Find a localization partner that has some level of experience in your specific sector, and that has at least some basic knowledge of your target group.
You will not talk to a brain surgeon the same way as to the CEO of a company in the manufacturing industry as to a marketing director of a major fashion brand.
So as much as you chose your marketing manager based on his knowledge of your target group, apply the same rule to your localization partner.
6. Team up with your localization partner
Rather than talking about translating, I prefer to talk about cultural transfer, meaning adapting the text to your target group and the target market. Your localization partner must not only copy/paste your text into a translating tool and run through it for expression and typos.
Your partner must do research, find the right wording and illustrations as well as the right tone of voice. Translating a website means rewriting the content for a new market (we talk about SEO further down). If you want your localization partner to do good work, invest the time and energy to onboard him or her onto your project. Spend time introducing your partner to your target group, send additional material and company information, set-up a call to present your project. The more your partner knows about your business the better the result will be. Also, allow your partner to allocate some budget to this step of the work.
Remember, your website is your first chance to make a first good impression, and you do not want to waste this opportunity, do you?
If you have evaluated the potential of the market, you know that the translation budget of a couple of thousand euros or dollars is a very small and good investment.
So do not seek the lowest price per word, and don’t be stingy. Put in the budget that is equal to the potential of the market and see the localization as a great possibility to engage with a new market and to make a difference for your clients.
7. Translating a website is an iterative process
Translating a website needs several feedback cycles. In the beginning, depending on the depth of your market research and knowledge of the market, you might want to translate the existing content, and together with your localization partner, you’ll find the best possible adaptation to the market.
The more you engage with the market, and the more you learn about the market environment and your future customers, the better you can adapt the language, wording, and content to the new market.
I recommend reviewing the website with your translation partner and the country team every 2–3 months in the beginning.
Integrate your insights on your USPs, your value proposition, and the buying personas you are targeting as you move forward. Not only is a regularly updated website important for SEO, but it also shows that you keep on adapting your messaging to the market.
Of course, always manage your versions and update the local websites following your main site.
8. A word on cultural transfer and adaptation
As much as possible, adapt your content to the local cultural context. For example, take a french and a german website: French websites are usually more text-heavy with more or less long product descriptions and explanations of how products or services work. German readers will prefer rather short and concise texts, which possibly convey the essential information with key points or key point lists.
9. Comply with the local legal context
10. Last but not least: SEO is for now, not for later
In most translation projects I have seen, SEO is unfortunately completely left out of the scope, even though it is a cornerstone of your online marketing efforts in every new market. SEO requires an entirely different set of skills, and you have to take this into account.
Translation may sometimes turn into complete rewriting if the source keywords give zero hits once translated for the target market. Maybe some entirely different keywords would work better, and the text would have to be written around them before any translation can take place.
Depending on if you have done your market research or not, a good localization partner can do some first SEO research for you as this is part of an integrated approach. You can also hire an SEO agency and have them work closely together with the localization partner.
Also, be consistent and integrate all parts of the website into the localization, meaning pictures, graphics, alt-texts, the URL structure as well as slugs, tags, and categories.