How to create a localisation strategy that performs, beyond translation.
Translation is not simply a case of changing words to their equivalent in the target language. There’s so much more to consider – especially in the search landscape – to ensure your translated content performs in search and resonates with your target audience. From cultural differences and legal requirements, to search intent and keyword nuances, like-for-like translation just won’t hit the spot. That’s where strategising your use of localisation and transcreation comes in.
Translation vs. Localisation – what’s the difference?
In a translated text, all the information should stay as it is in the original. Translation is the recommended approach for any type of technical content, such as user manuals, specifications, and technical descriptions as well as for legal documents where fidelity to the original text is paramount.
Localisation, on the other hand, is a process of adaptation to the local culture and tradition. A simple example is changing units of measure from miles and pounds in British English to kilometres and kilograms in Spanish. More complex examples include changing the brand name to avoid giving any offence in the target language. Localisation is a more nuanced approach to localisation and content that’s been localised is more likely to resonate with your target audience.
What is transcreation, and how does it differ from translation and localisation?
Translated or localised texts can be traced back to their source as both processes rely on the primary text. Transcreation is a completely different process that is closer to creative writing in a different language. The idea behind transcreation is creating the content from scratch, making it interesting and appealing to the local audience. Images and layout could be changed completely to meet local expectations and product needs.
Brand vocabulary is often enhanced and expanded in the transcreation process. Transcreation is the best approach for PR campaigns, blog articles and other creative marketing communications. Why? Because most of the time these types of content are specifically tailored to the culture and the market it is aimed for – so tackling the brief afresh, creates relevant, engaging content.
A classic example of marketing transcreation
The Share a Coke campaign started in Australia in 2011 and ran in 70 countries all over the world. The idea behind the campaign was to replace the usual Coca-Cola logo on the bottle with a person’s name.
This campaign is a great way to illustrate the role of transcreation in a marketing strategy. As you can imagine, people’s names can be quite different from one country to another. Some countries typically don’t use first names to address each other. So, they adapted the campaign to each country they ran it int. In Ireland, they used a list of traditional Irish names. In China, where people more commonly address each other through nicknames instead of their first name, words such as “classmate”, “talent guy” or “roommate” were used on the bottles.
They executed this campaign perfectly, bearing in mind the different cultures of each country and adapting the strategy and copy accordingly, and collected seven awards at the Cannes Lions festival too.
Why a thorough localisation is important
Adapting the content to local culture and traditions
Native English speakers only account for about 5% of the world’s population, so an English only strategy won’t reach your entire international audience. It is therefore important to have a spot-on translation if you want other language speakers to understand what you mean without any loss of meaning.
Using the local language is a good first step of localising but you need to consider culture too, being aware of significant dates and respecting traditions. For example, the 4th of July is not a day of celebration in the UK like it is in the US. Instead, you could focus on Bonfire Night on the 5th of November, which is something a British audience will relate to. If you keep cultural aspects on your page that the target audience is not accustomed to, it might lead to low engagement as the reader won’t feel the content is necessarily written with them in mind.
The art of idioms
If you have ever dabbled in the world of translation, you’ll certainly have experienced the challenge of localising idioms. As they are very specific to the source language and the culture associated with them, you can’t translate them word-for-word. Instead, you need to use a localisation approach and find its closest equivalent in the target language. The best practice in this instance is to first find the specific meaning of the idiom and see if an equivalent exists in the target language. Native speakers will often know if a like-for-like swap exists, or you can do some research. If no idiom exists, use simpler words that convey the same meaning.
Imagery and design considerations
In content marketing, we often use imagery to bring content to life – think infographics, relevant photos or complementary sketches. The possibilities are endless. If your illustrations contain text, it is important to update the design with the translation in the target language. You don’t want to leave English text in an article written in Japanese. For standard pictures, you might want to use images of famous landmarks, landscape, or food, which is specific to the target market. That way, your audience will feel special and will engage more with your content, as they are more likely to enjoy it if they see something familiar. Also, it is always a good idea to do a little UX and UI research on what works best in the target market. Some layouts, colours or general styles might need updating to match what people prefer or respond better to.
Where you translate or localise, a bad translation can cause real problems. A poor translation can lead to information being missed out, dangerous situations (if you don’t translate a medicine description well for example) or offending an audience (if you have not considered traditions or customs that could offend another culture). Always be thorough in your translation work if you want to avoid mistakes and essential information being distorted.
Why localisation is important in a search strategy
Content localisation can play a crucial part in your search strategy. Typically, around 25% of readers online prefer content in English. This leaves you with the other 75% of users, who are potential targets for you and your brand.
Before diving into the different steps to take in the localisation process, the first thing that you should consider is having native speakers carry out the work, as they will have the most in-depth knowledge of the market and the language. Once you have the necessary resources, it’s time to get started. Here are the different steps to consider:
1. Read the source text thoroughly
Before doing anything else, start by reading the source text. It is very important that you familiarise yourself with the topic and the different themes it’s covering. This first read should give you a good idea of what will be needed for the target text, what can be repurposed and what will not work for the specific market you’re localising the text for.
2. Carry out keyword research on the topic
Once you are familiar with the topic, it’s time to carry out relevant keyword research, or map existing keywords and clusters to your page. If creating a keyword set, start the keyword research from scratch, although feel free to use source language keywords as a reference point. Keep this list close as you will need to distil those keywords in the target text to help your content to rank as high as possible for those queries.
3. Check local competitors and SERP features
After selecting your keywords, it’s time to check the local SERP and the competitors. Do so by searching for the top keywords on Google and having a look at the top results for each keyword that you picked. First of all, analyse the SERP – what features are pulling through from top ranking pages – FAQs, videos or anything else? This will let you know what you need to include on your page to take a top position. As a next step, clickthrough to competitor pages. Make a list of the different topics and sub-topics the competitors are talking about, as this will serve as a base for the target text. Consider as well, the design of the page and any components that might help Google to see the site as an authority – perhaps reviews or an established author.
4. Define a structure for the future localised content
By looking at the source text and thanks to your competitor analysis, you should now have a better understanding of the different topics you should cover in the localised text. It’s now time to structure all these different topics into headings and sub-headings. Think of having an FAQ section at the end of the content, as it will help with referencing, and might give you a valuable spot within the featured snippets of Google, when marked up with the right schema
5. Write the content
Now it’s time to start writing the actual content. Repurpose the content from the source text where appropriate, adapt existing content to the target market, and start from scratch for the new sections you decided to add. Don’t forget to use your keyword list as you go along – flowing in keywords where they naturally add value.
Make sure to remember to also localise the URLs and use local keywords where possible. It is always better to have the URLs in the target language as again it will help with the ranking and referencing of the future page.
6. Proof the content to make sure the intent fits the target market
It is essential to make sure the language is accurate and to check that you have kept the objective and intent of the source text, while still fitting the target market. A second pair of eyes is key here – someone who can review both the original and new copy.
7. SEO Translation: technical considerations
When creating web content in different languages for the same brand, it’s good to bear in mind a few SEO considerations to make it easier for search engines to rank your pages high in the local markets.
- Localise any hidden HTML markup and image ALT tags
- Avoid multiple languages on the same page
- Define character set in the HTML markup
- Avoid internal links between pages containing different languages within the website
- Create URLs in the target language if possible.
When to consider transcreation over localisation?
After you’ve selected the content or campaign you want to take to another market, you need to ask yourself what approach to choose. Will the fundamentals of the campaign work across markets? Should you pick localisation to make sure all cultural aspects make sense to the reader? Or should you start from scratch and choose transcreation to create unique content, tailored to the target audience?
These are the basic questions you have to think about before carrying out the work as each approach will require different steps. Choosing transcreation will mean dedicating more hours and resources to do extra research and execution but it is a better choice compared to translation when it comes to creative content such as blogs, PR campaigns, and newsletters.
Let’s have a look at some examples and the types of approach that work best:
Set your strategy, build a team of language and market experts, and choose the approach that is best for your objectives – both internationally and locally. Take the localisation route to ensure you are creating content that will perform well in the target market, and look to take the transcreation route to produce new and engaging content that will fit your target audience to perfection when the time is right. A blend of both will ensure you’re creating the right content, every time.