The answer to this question might seem obvious: “Just like any other website.” Well, it’s true that the process of localizing online resources doesn’t vary too much from one kind of website to another. It’s made up of the same steps (preparation, translation, mockup, testing and bugfixes) you can read about here and entails the same challenges – for example, it might not be possible to determine where a given piece of text will appear during the translation phase. That being said, online stores do have their own quirks. That’s what this article is about.
The primary purpose of an online store is to sell goods. This defines its structure, which is centered around a catalog with descriptions of those goods. Its target audience can also vary wildly, from individuals of various ages, genders, professions, places of residence, etc. to entire companies. However, as a rule, the target audiences of specific stores are quite well defined.
So what does this have to do with localization? Since an online store is designed to sell things, the descriptions in its catalog need to be attractive and convincing. Moreover, they need to be attractive not to some abstract reader, but rather to the store’s specific target audience. In order for the translation to be successful, it’s crucial to study this audience carefully – to understand its interests, evaluate its knowledge and expectations, and reflect this in another language. So how do you do that? Read on.
First of all, you need to choose the right translation style. Descriptions of technical products, for example, are usually informative and devoid of imagery and expressiveness. In this case, the translator’s main goal is to provide the exact same information as the source. Descriptions of household goods for a broad audience (such as perfume or cosmetics) need to provide the same information as the source text, but they also require a creative approach, with language that is comprehensible, but still vivid and memorable.
It’s important for the translation agency and client to work together to determine precise stylistic requirements as early as possible. After all, localizing an online store is typically a large-scale project that will involve a number of translators and editors, each with their own notion of what an attractive, convincing product description is supposed to look like.
Second, the target audience will affect the choice of terminology. This applies not only to narrowly specialized products, but to everyday items as well. Here’s an example from our own experience. We once translated a catalog for a Turkish clothing online store. After a number of massive, complex technical projects, sweatshirts, long-sleeve T-shirts, and loafers seemed like heaven to us, since many of these terms were already familiar to us from everyday life. Boy, were we wrong! We soon learned that the boundaries between fashion terms are blurry – what one person might consider a hoodie, another will consider a regular sweatshirt; some people might think that jumpers and pullovers are different things, while others might think they’re all just sweaters. In order to unify the terminology, we sat down with the client and put together a glossary with images.
Is it a hoodie, a sweatshirt or a pullover?
Conclusion: no matter what the online store sells, you need to discuss and confirm terms (for example, once the first section of the website has been translated, you can compile a glossary and then add to it over the course of the project).
A third aspect that is inextricably linked to the target audience is search engine optimization. In order for a store to be found by members of the target audience, search engines (such as Google and Bing) need to know that it offers exactly what potential customers are looking for.
Our main tool here is keywords, which are not just implemented in product descriptions, but also added as meta tags on each page that are invisible to website’s users. Needless to say, keywords can’t be translated verbatim, since the results need to match real search queries made by users in the target region rather than whatever was in the source text. You can use special tools such as Google Keyword Planner to analyze the frequency of queries in search engines.
Depending on their frequency, it can sometimes be useful to leave two different translations of the same term when localizing keywords. This is particularly relevant to words that don’t have an established spelling. Here’s an example from the project we mentioned earlier. In the dictionary, the Russian word for “leggings” is spelled “legingsy,” with one G, but Russian-speaking users often search for “leggingsy” with two G’s based on the word’s original English spelling. Although the “one-g” spelling is technically correct, the “two-G” version is very common. In this case, we left both spellings on the invisible keyword list.
In addition to the target audience, there are also other factors that are important for all websites in general, but are especially vital for stores because they directly affect revenue.
The most important of these is ensuring that the translated website conforms to local law. So you might have to localize prices – not just to make things more convenient for the buyer, but also because it might be illegal to list prices in foreign currency. It’s especially important to devote attention to legal documents such as privacy and refund policies. Translating them can be trickier than you think. You definitely need to consult a lawyer who can help you adapt the text based on local law.
Generally speaking, legal issues aren’t within the scope of a translation agency’s expertise, but experienced localizers who have already worked on hundreds of international projects can warn the client about the dangers of local laws, saving them time, anxiety, and maybe even money.
And, of course, we can’t forget about spelling, punctuation, and other mistakes in the translation. Unlike keywords, search engines don’t care at all about a website’s grammar or spelling (Google’s official YouTube channel has confirmed that the search engine doesn’t take the quality of websites’ writing into account when listing them).
But mistakes could still push customers away. I’m sure you’d agree that it’s hard to trust a supplier that doesn’t seem to care about its website and doesn’t even know basic spelling and grammar. A buyer might see a resource with a large number of mistakes as fake and refuse to get involved with it. So it’s important to proofread translations carefully and make sure there are no grammatical or other linguistic snafus.
We’ll leave you with one more example (as well as a couple of tips) from our own experience. Let’s go back to that Turkish clothing store. Our difficulties in choosing terminology didn’t end there – linguistic differences came into play as well. Apparently the Turkish word “çorap” can refer to “socks,” “pantyhose,” “knee socks,” or any number of other sock- or tight-like items, each of which has its own name in other languages. It was difficult to understand what was being referred to and avoid mistranslations without pictures of the clothing, so we asked the client to us some photos. They really outdid themselves, providing us with multiple images of each item from different angles so we could get a really good look at it.
Conclusion #1 (specific): it’s important to prepare supplementary materials beforehand (images of products, catalogs from previous years, etc.) – this will make it easier to avoid mistakes and delays during the translation process.
Conclusion #2 (general): localizing an online store is a very complex process with a ton of nuances. The key here is making sure that everyone involved, from the manager on the client side to the proofreader on the agency side, is working together and helping each another.
Text: Daria Konovalova