Cultural Consulting, Translation and International SEO

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seo_translation.jpgGlobalization service providers know there’s more to translation than just converting words from one language to another. However, they could further improve their services by properly researching the preferences and customs of the cultures they are targeting.

Daniel Freedman, Web Strategist for LinguaLinx and multilingualist, offers this  perspective on the world of globalization and of the companies that offer globalization, translation or SEO services. Cultural awareness or “cultural consulting” as he calls it must be taken into consideration – a drum that we have been banging here at Kwintessential since 2004.

In this article, Freeman agrees that the globalization sector is under constant pressure because of the growth of the industry and it having to deal and work with very tight deadlines. However, he believes they need to start being more consultative.

Globalization companies are only handed one piece of the business puzzle he states, however it is still important that they understand the whole in order to deliver a good service. Freedman’s advice: ‘serve your clients best by zooming up to 30,000 feet to see the big picture.’

When looking at online content about international SEO, Freeman praises the content that has already been published but believes it has focused too much on the technical side of SEO. He mentions Gianluca Fiorelli’s article about SEO, in which the author talks about translation and SEO matters. In it, Fiorelli argues that ‘It is equally unwise to rely on people in-house, who happen to know the language to be translated to.’

This advice is of great interest to Freedman. He expands on the advice by giving three case studies.

Case Study #1: Triviantis

Some time ago, the company Triviantis, known for its Lectora tool that is used for the creation of eLearning courses, started to rely on native speakers, mostly college students, to translate their documents from English. This went terribly wrong as the students did not grasp the subtle nuances of the English language.

When the company started targeting foreign countries in 2008, this tool had to be translated as well. Freedman says great care must be taken when translation those kinds of content. Positive messages must be send to existing and prospective clients: ‘We know you, we respect you and we have taken the time and trouble to get the details right.’ When translation becomes a rush job, the message is ‘We want your money, so please send it right away even though we can’t be bothered to appreciate what makes you and your culture special and distinctive.’ Not the kind of message you want your clients to receive!

Case Study #2:  Hanesbrands

Another client of Freedman’s, Hanesbrands, knows that accuracy is highly important. The company has 50,000 employees that work in over 25 countries, so handling multi-language documents is an easy task for them. Hanesbrands’ content is translated in 8 different languages.

Its manager of global ethics and compliance, Victoria Triplett, warns other companies against online translation tools. As it is generally known that these free tools do not always translate phrases correctly, it is unwise for companies to use them as substitutes for their human translators. ‘Accuracy — that’s important… You want to make sure the integrity of the document is maintained.’

Case Study #3: Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)

Deborah Stewart of the New York OTDA, that supervises programmes that give assistance and support, also stresses the importance of accuracy. In her work, she works with four different languages every day. As the company offers services to thousands of people, it is key that information is passed on in the right language and in an accurate manner.

On the OTDA website, information is available in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. This content cannot be generated by online translation tools as they ‘can take a word and translate it so wrong,’ Stewart says. ‘In trying to help the clients, if the word is mistranslated … it just totally misrepresents the program and we can’t have that.’ Stewart adds that translations are not word-for-word translations: the meaning of the text is very important!

And that’s exactly what Freedman thinks SEO and globalization companies should take away from his article: ‘If you want to serve your clients well, you need to go beyond getting the technical SEO details right.’ According to Freedman, most people believe the highest achievement in translation is to convey the subtleties of the source text. However, he believes things can be taken one step further: globalization requires “cultural consulting”.

“Your clients need to reach new target audiences in ways that best suit them.”

Freedman explains the care that must be given to cultural differences by comparing American culture to that of other parts of the world. He thinks that the habit of boasting about your product, for example, is very American. Even he, a Canadian, always found this strange, so what will countries where it is actually illegal to boast say about this practice? In addition, Americans believe their informality and directness is a virtue, but not all cultures would agree.

If globalization organisations do not pay attention to cultural differences, Freedman says, this could cost their clients both time and money: being insensitive to other cultures could severely insult people. This is why Freedman reminds globalization companies: ‘If you get the big picture translation and cultural stuff wrong, getting the SEO details right on stuff like site architecture, page titles and hosting really isn’t going to help much. You will have shot yourself in the foot.’

All fantastic advice….so the message is clear : get your translation on-point but dont forget to be flexible and always pay attention to cultural differences.

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