17 Website Translation Traps to Avoid in 2017

While you diligently plot your path to global growth in the coming year, enemies near and far are already conspiring to drag you hopelessly off course.

These ruthless foes would love nothing more than to ensnare your strategy in a web of chaos, complexity, and uncontrollable costs, but their favored devices are easily defeated when armed with the right weapons.

So read on, warriors of website translation, and gather any elements necessary to fortify your arsenal of insights for 2017.




1) The Phantom Business Case
Failing to identify exactly how website translation will create business value

Sooner or later every business strategy has to stand and face the same question: Why? Beginning translation before you have a well-reasoned answer may get work underway slightly sooner, but it ultimately puts your whole plan in peril.

The absence of clear goals inspires aimless operations, aimless operations lead to a lack of demonstrable results, and a lack of demonstrable results makes it easy for executives to abandon initiatives and reallocate resources.  

Pinpointing your desired outcomes at the start triggers a much more rewarding chain of events. Operations get more tactical, results emerge earlier, and executives trust the path to translation ROI.

2) The Silent Treatment
Sharing the business case with only a select few stakeholders

Executive sponsors, business leaders, project managers, and software developers all have a part to play in the symphony of website translation. Keeping your business rationale a secret to any one of these stakeholders is no way to win their support.

Until everyone has a clear picture of the greater goal they are contributing toward, translation tasks will always struggle to find a place in their priority lists. But when you give each individual contributor a compelling reason to care, engagement is assured and cohesion becomes a strength.

3) The Ambiguous Audience
Launching localization plans without a detailed description of your target audience

Imagine if the only demographic data you had on your domestic audience was native language and country of origin. Messaging would be broad, relevance would be reduced, and engagement would surely suffer.

That scenario doesn’t suddenly become acceptable when you’re communicating with an international audience.

Linguistic accessibility is just one of many criteria global audiences will use to rate the resonance of your website content. Market penetration plans must account for cultural values, local customs, and consumer trends as well.

 4) The Industry of One
Ignoring the competitive landscape surrounding your target audience

You probably aren’t the only global contender who’s been courting your prospective customers. That’s nothing to be discouraged by, either. Competition creates valuable opportunities to study  separate localization strategies and supply a smarter alternative.

Unfortunately, many teams elect to skip over the admittedly boring work of benchmarking and adjust their market positioning strategy after they’ve entered the arena.

At best, this approach wastes resources on localized websites that go far beyond strategic requirements. More commonly, though, it spawns sites that fall well short of competitive offerings or lack any distinguishing features at all.




5) The All-or-None Approach
Deciding to translate websites either all in one go or not at all

Some content strategists seem to suffer from a lack a confidence, convincing themselves that international audiences won’t find value in anything less than a localized copy of their complete website experience. Or perhaps they simply take great pride in the prior work and prefer to see it showcased in its entirety.

Whatever the reason, the result of this go big or go home mentality remains the same: Companies are forced to either absorb a large upfront expense or delay market launches until more resources materialize.

The former approach tends to reduce the number of markets a brand can address while the latter leaves potentially eager audiences waiting months or years for personalized engagement.

Agile translation offers a welcome third option, enabling you to quickly address multiple audiences with a limited catalog of content before strategically scaling communications in response to their early feedback.

6) The False Equivalents
Treating all of your content, in every language, exactly the same

The same good intentions that convince content strategists to translate websites exclusively en masse also lead many to adopt a policy of equality. Every page should be available to every audience and translated with similar precision. Right?

Unfortunately, that premise rests on the notion that all website content is equally valuable, and in reality that just isn’t the case for most businesses. A checkout page viewed by your largest international audience is obviously more impactful than a three-year-old press release viewed by your 10th-largest international audience.

Acknowledging these differences and prioritizing website assets opens the door to an entirely new layer of decisions that can have a dramatic financial impact. Talent can be better orchestrated, workflows can be strategically customized, and you can be sure resources are only flowing into areas that truly justify the investment.

7) The Island of Localized Content
Translating websites but neglecting to localize complementary content

Your website may still be the trunk of corporate communications, but your messaging will feel pretty sparse if it doesn’t branch out into any other channels and formats.

The email campaigns, landing pages, CTA banners, and helpdesk utilities that surround customers in a complete brand experience domestically must make their way abroad as well. App localization should also be a top priority if your target audience happens to reside in a mobile-first market.




8) The Incomplete Receipt
Failing to quantify all the costs associated with website translation

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to, and they certainly don’t want their boss to believe they have. But a continued lack of transparency in the translation industry has made financial due diligence surprisingly difficult.

Very few translation vendors have committed to clarifying their fee structures, leaving clients with no true way of knowing which categories are responsible for their surging invoice subtotals. At the same time, many companies struggle to see the internal cost of supporting translation until it’s already disrupting multiple departments.

The first step toward solid financial footing must be proactively seeking and honestly accounting for every potential source of expense.  

9) The Black Box
Partnering with a translation vendor who offers no visibility into their processes

The initial appeal of working with any translation agency is the immediate access to linguistic talent. The implicit trade-off, though, is that you never quite know who the talent is or how their activity is actually managed. All you can do is submit your request and hope a satisfactory output is returned relatively soon.

This strategy works well enough for some companies, but after a few missed deadlines and embarrassing errors, many regrettably realize that translation transparency is more than just a financial concern.

Adding transparency to your vendor criteria is a great place to start, but true accountability will always be a challenge until activities are recorded and analyzed with translation management software as well.  

10) The Data Deficit
Managing website translation without a data-driven view of activities

What gets measured gets improved. We know this adage well and apply it in countless areas of our professional lives. But as previously discussed, the translation industry is not exactly structured to support the interests of curious clients.

What was last month’s average turnaround time?
Who is my most accurate translator?
How many layers of review are really necessary?

These astute questions have historically been met with a hearty shrug. If you’re truly interested in transforming translation into a data-based discipline, though, you can’t afford to wait for the answers to come to you.

The only way to gain the necessary perspective is to proactively bring teams onto a single translation management platform. Until then, your plans will continue to be governed more by gut reactions than objective insights.




11) The Manual Transmission
Gathering, sharing, and uploading website text via clumsy manual methods

If a professional translator can accurately process 2,000 words a day, why is it that website translation projects often take months to complete? The answer lies in the process inefficiencies that typically bookend linguistic activity.

Many project managers still manually copy text from their websites and paste it into a spreadsheet they can email to translators. Then, on the return route, the translated strings contained in this updated spreadsheet must patiently wait until developers have time to issue a website update.

Multiply those responsibilities by 500,000 words, throw in a few hundred formatting errors, and suddenly it’s clear how a company could miss its deadline by a full business quarter. But by simply automating the exchange of text between a website and a translator, you can start reliably publishing localized content within hours of its initial request.

12) The Inbox Shuffle
Relying on email to track progress and communicate with collaborators

No amount of tags, labels, folders, or filters can make managing translations via email a scalable process. Nevertheless, a certain segment of project managers will always try to beat the odds.

Some may succeed for a time, fixating on their inbox for the duration of the day to keep up with the steady stream of files and requests coming from every corner of the team. But as the scope of translation strategy expands and the demand for efficiency increases, key items start slipping through the cracks and the need for a more sophisticated method becomes inevitable.

Proactively avoiding this fate requires the courage to break out of your inbox and into a more modern collaboration space. Only there can localization managers create the dashboard views and real-time conversations they’ll need to keep teams on track.

 13) The Hostage Content Crisis
Delaying delivery by letting content sit idle within translation workflows

Translation projects touch many hands on the path to completion, and each set has the potential to hold content captive along the way. These delays have little to do with criminal intentions, of course, and everything to do with the absence of accountability in email-based workflows.

If a project manager has been waiting five days without a reply from a proofreader, for example, email offers no way of knowing whether the work request was accidentally misplaced, strategically depriortized, or completely misunderstood. Meanwhile, the developer who was told to prepare for a website update and the marketer who is hours away from a critical deadline still have no idea what is causing the delay.

That scenario could look dramatically different if workflows were centralized on a shared platform. The proofreader would have received an automated notification as soon as the translation job was ready for review. And with progress constantly visible to the rest of the team, the proofreader would have an even stronger incentive to either begin work immediately or turn to his colleagues for assistance with unanticipated obstacles.

As a result of this truly collaborative approach, dozens of innocent oversights can be prevented before they ever have a chance to prolong translation turnarounds.




14) The One-Way Street
Failing to engage translators in two-way conversations

Translators are popular scapegoats for poor results. They rarely have the ear of executives, they’re relatively easy to replace, and there’s little risk of ever crossing paths at the office water cooler. But before embarking on a new talent search, a more revealing exercise would be to ask what you are doing to foster translator success.

In many cases, companies discover that disappointing performance is primarily a product of dysfunctional working relationships. Context is absent, feedback is limited, and resentment is silently harbored by both sides.

Transforming this unfortunate dynamic into a productive dialogue takes a bold commitment to transparent communication. Companies have to be more generous with their initial instructions and create guides that educate linguists on the subtleties of the brand. At the same time, translators deserve a direct channel for relaying questions and suggestions that could inform the efforts of everyone on the team.    

15) The Blind Leading The Blind
Translating, editing, or proofreading without visual context

Nothing communicates a commitment to transparency quite like showing translators exactly where their words will live on a webpage. Unfortunately, that’s still a privilege most teams are asked to work without.

If localization managers are especially diligent, they may find time to annotate spreadsheets with a column of contextual notes or share a URL to preview. More often than not, though, translators must make dozens of judgment calls each day without the benefit of any visual perspective.

The resulting formatting issues and semantic errors trigger a slew of downstream problems and force frustrated translators to make second and third attempts. All the while, program costs incrementally increase and unrelenting deadlines draw near.

16) The Empty Recycling Bin
Missing out on major financial advantages by working without translation memory

Localized content falls into that highly-coveted category of investments that yield compound returns. Although major marketing results take a bit more time to materialize, one immediate dividend is the completed strings themselves.

When a recurring phrase is first translated for a single webpage, translation memory tools can capture that linguistic intelligence and apply it toward future instances all across the site. These automated suggestions reduce the mental effort required from translators and enable clients to pay a proportionally reduced rate. And as you continue to process more content and expand your collective memory, the more significant your financial leverage becomes.

This virtuous cycle cannot happen, however, without the proper technology in place. Translators would have to treat each string as entirely new and charge the full rate even for redundant content. As a result, translation memory continues to be one of the selling points that first convinces companies to abandon spreadsheets in favor of more sophisticated software solutions.

17) The Dusty Dashboard
Leaving valuable data untouched and letting complacency sink in

Not all companies suffer from a scarcity of resources. Plenty of localization teams have thoughtful plans, powerful tools, and trusted translators already in place. In these scenarios, though, complacency often emerges as an unexpected threat.

Once early momentum gives way to modest success, translation management can start to feel as mundane as any other business task. As a result, the appetite for experimentation often fades and strategies gradually grow stale.

The best way to resist this trend is to remind yourself that translation is not a project — it’s a continuous process. Media evolves, markets change, and technologies emerge to present fresh challenges and opportunities every day. And if you actively listen to what the the analytics are telling you, you’ll have every chance at responding with grace.

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Contact us today to see how Smartling can save your website translation strategy from an uncertain future.