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The 5 most important things to remember when localizing product descriptions

There are lots of important things you should consider when your localizing your product descriptions for new markets. However, because we believe in getting straight to the point, we’ve made a list of the top five absolutely crucial elements to remember in this process.

  1. Never, ever, rely on machine translation alone

If you’ve invested in the design and development of your products – and, of course, if you value your customers – it doesn’t pay to leave your brand reputation in the hands of a machine. 

While it may seem that product descriptions are often full of functional language that could be easily translated by a machine (size, colours, materials, etc), tools such as Google Translate simply cannot provide translations of which the quality is guaranteed. 

Try it for yourself. Take a product translation from another language and put it into a machine translation tool (such as Google Translate) and see if it reads perfectly in your mother tongue. Whether it’s the first try or the fifth, you’ll soon start noticing errors everywhere.

If you machine translate your product descriptions, these mistakes could be seen by millions of customers. Is it worth the reputational risk to get things wrong?  

In some cases, it may be suitable to use machine translation as a ‘first attempt’ in localizing product descriptions, producing content that is then post-edited by native speaking localization professionals. If time and money are particularly tight constraints, this could be a viable option – but always talk to a localization professional first. 

  • Use translators who are subject-matter experts

You wouldn’t expect a salesperson for BMW to know how to describe the latest Dolce & Gabbana collection. He or she could almost certainly talk you through an engine spec in their sleep but probably wouldn’t know how to describe the difference between an A-line and a bodycon dress. 

When you localize product descriptions, you don’t want to leave it in the hands of people who don’t know anything about your market. From fashion to finance, each industry has a specialized language and terminology that is understood and used by producers and consumers alike. 

That’s why it pays to use translators who are subject-matter experts, preferably working in teams where ideas, terminology and approaches are shared and standardized.

  • Get creative

For digital consumers, the look and feel of a product is as important as it is to those buying in physical stores. But while the look comes from the pictures, the “feel” of a product needs to be conjured up in words.

That means, if you’re serious about selling your product, a product description needs more than a description of key features. It requires linguistic panache and style to bring the product to life for the online audience. When you’re using creative language such as idioms, word play and humour that rely heavily on cultural context, these simply don’t translate word for word into other languages.

If your product descriptions are at all creative, you’ll need to use translators who understand the cultural context of the content and adapt it for a new market. 

Sometimes, it’s necessary to transcreate rather than just translate. The transcreation process involves significantly adapting the content for a new market, perhaps using a completely linguistic construction (different idioms or cultural references, for example) to convey the core message. That means you need to use a localization provider with transcreation specialists to get it right.

  • Localize SEO keywords carefully

It’s a simple concept. When people search for the type of products you sell, you want to be ranked as highly as possible in the results. If you’ve already created product descriptions in one language, you’ll hopefully already have a list of keywords that you’ve identified to help boost your ranking. 

But here’s the catch: these keywords rarely translate word for word into the same keywords used most commonly in other markets. Even in the same language. In the UK, for example, people search for “trainers” but in the US “sneakers” are the footwear of choice for the hip and happening. In Spain, you might be searching online for a new “ordenadora”; in Argentina, you’ll probably call it a “computadora”.

When it comes to multilingual SEO localization, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. It is calculated that ranking in the first page of Google results captures between 71 and 92% of all web traffic generated by searches. Ranking in the second page generates 6% of traffic.

It’s important to choose localization professionals who work with SEO professionals to identify the relevant keywords used by your target audience and incorporate them naturally into your product descriptions. 

  • Localize your images too

Images of products that go along with your product descriptions are culturally neutral, right? So, they don’t need to localized, correct? As you might have guessed, the answers to these questions are “no” and “no” again. 

For a start, many promotional pictures of products feature people using them. If you have, for example, images featuring solely Caucasian people, users in Asian markets are of course less likely to identify with the product.

There are lots of other factors to consider. Standards of what is acceptable dress vary considerably in different markets around the world. What people are wearing – and even the products they are using – should be considered carefully according to local culture and custom.

Even colour has significant cultural connotations. In the West, for example, red is associated with passion, danger and excitement (think love hearts and fire engines). In Asia, however, red is often associated with happiness, prosperity and good luck – that’s why it’s the colour of the dresses that Asian brides sometimes wear on their wedding day.

The final word

With the massive growth of ecommerce platforms, it’s critical to get your product descriptions just right – in every market. We think these top five tips are among the most important things to consider when localizing your product descriptions, but there’s a lot more we could go in to on this topic.

To find out more or discuss your particular needs, email us at lifestyle@thisisalpha.com.