It often seems that the primary purpose of localization is to create unreadable English that is cheap to translate into unreadable German.A great many organizations do not believe content has any real value. They see it is as a cost, a necessary evil. Thus, they want to produce content for the lowest possible cost.
This approach leads to awful websites that lose sales, infuriate customers and damage the brand and reputation of the organization. What senior managers in particular have failed to realize is that these days the first impression many customers get of an organization comes from its website. First impressions last.
Let's say that the primary market of the organization is America. Whatever attention the American website gets, you can be pretty sure the Japanese or German versions will get much less.
A large European multinational once ran a workshop in Japan with a view to helping it do a better job on its Japanese website. During the workshop the team was shocked to find out that hardly any of the Japanese customers in the room were going to the Japanese website. Instead, they were going to the English version. Why?
"The English version at least has a chance of being up-to-date," one Japanese gentleman stated. "And the quality of the Japanese is not very good." I dealt with a Danish company once who I'm sure had a very good Danish-language website, but whose English-language version was awful.
I want to let you in on a secret: You don't get brownie points for trying on the Web. Web customers are ruthlessly impatient, skeptical and cynical. They don't look at your badly translated content and say: "Well, at least they tried. I think I'll buy from them."
Do you know what some organizations are doing in order to address the problem of having to have multiple-language websites? You won't believe this unless you work for a large multinational. Pull up your chair. Take a deep breath.
What they're doing is reducing the quality of the content of the primary language so that it's cheaper to translate. Here's the way a typical conversation goes:
"You can't write it like that."
"Those words are not easily translatable. You have to use these words that are easy to translate."
"But these are not the words that our customers use."
"Doesn't matter. You still have to use them. Saves money for the organization."
You may have heard the old saying: "penny-wise, pound-foolish." Well it truly, truly applies to how many organizations manage-mismanage-their content. Somebody please tell these people who run these content sweatshops that in a race to the bottom everyone ultimately loses.
Cheap, badly-written, awfully-translated content spends its toxic life circling the drain. But it never really flushes away. It just leaves a stain on your reputation and brand. And if you don't believe that then you don't believe in the power of the Web.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.