How to Translate Your Website to Reach Customers in China

Question: I want to start selling products to consumers overseas, particularly [in] China. How do I get my marketing materials and website translated accurately and in an appealing manner, without paying a fortune?

Answer: The world of potential customers eager for American products and services is much bigger than just the domestic market. With more than 550 million Chinese residents on the Internet, expanding your sales into that country may be a great idea.

The costs don’t have to be huge. Translation may run from a “few hundred up to a few thousand for a big e-commerce website,” says Ofer Shoshan, founder and chief executive of One Hour Translation. “It will probably take just a few customers to get a return on that investment.”

Before you invest any time or energy into the project, however, make sure you have a real shot at attracting overseas customers, advises Susanne Evens, founder and president of AAA Translation. “The first step is to research if the Chinese consumer is even interested. Some products may flop,” she says.

She suggests that you create a Web page about your company and another that states exactly what you are selling and have them translated. Link those pages to your home page with a Chinese-language link in Simplified Mandarin, assuming your target customers are in mainland China. “Once you see a huge increase on the Chinese link via analytics, then you can think about expanding the Chinese site,” Evens says. “It can all be done in a very cost-effective manner and in a way that’s appealing to the Chinese consumer.”

If you decide to move ahead with a translated website, here are some tips for getting it right and keeping the cost down:

Start small. Identify the pages that offer the highest value and receive the most traffic and focus on getting that content translated first, says Nataly Kelly, vice president of market development at Smartling, a cloud-based translation software platform.

Be smart. Site pages duplicated for search engine optimization, or pages of U.S. legal notices, don’t require translation, Shoshan says. “It’s worth investing some effort into going over the process a customer will be taking when viewing the site. Decide which pages really require translation and which can be left alone,” he says.

Be picky. Invest in a translator who is a native speaker and who currently lives in the market you’ll be targeting, particularly if you’re reaching out to a younger demographic. “Never use a computer-generated translation, like Google or Bing translate, for customer-facing content. The quality is not guaranteed, and it isn’t worth the risk,” Kelly says. You wouldn’t buy from a company whose website was riddled with spelling mistakes and grammar errors, right? Don’t expect your customers to do that either.

Get expertise. If you’re translating marketing materials, choose a translator who can do the tricky job of conveying your company’s brand message into a different culture. Marketing involves slang, slogans, and names that cannot be translated verbatim, so you’ll need someone who can write marketing copy—or simplify it. Many cultures do not respond well to the “fluff” in sales messages that Westerners have come to expect, Evens says. “Most of them just want to know what you are selling and that you are a reputable company,” she says.

Keep it current. Translation is just the first step. You’ll need to get the new pages integrated onto your site, and if you frequently update prices and copy, you’ll need a translator who can work with you in the future. Also, don’t forget that once you have a foreign-speaking population ordering from you, you’ll need to provide customer service for them.

You can find more information at the American Translators Association.

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