Search Goes Global

The complicated connected world never ceases to amaze me. As if people didn’t have enough issues with communicating, extending a search initiative beyond the borders of the United States represents its own unique challenges, not the least of which is that it looks easier than it is.

At this week’s SES New York conference, I was joined by an all-star cast, including Motoko Hunt, founder, Japanese search marketing strategist, AJPR LLC; Maura Ginty, senior Web manager, Web content team, Autodesk Inc.; Marjorie Madfis, interactive marketing manager, Web editor, IBM; and Erik Qualman, global VP, EF Education.

Our goal was to talk about some of the issues marketers face as they attempt to cross borders, reach new audiences, and break new international marketing ground. Here’s a snapshot of some the intelligence gathered.

Automated Translate

Going global isn’t cheap, and skimping can have disastrous consequences. Ginty cited the age-old Coca-Cola translation debacle in China. Loosely translated, Coke’s early efforts were a far cry from the brand name. Instead, Chinese audiences got “bite the wax tadpole.”

Lesson learned? Skip the automated translation services and go with local experts. Of course, you have to pay said experts, and that can get pricey. While my increased pressure to nail down some idea of costs went unanswered, panelists offered suggestions on how to approach international markets.

None of the suggestions included, “Hey that guy down the hall speaks [insert language of your choiceā€¯, so let’s ask him to do our search.” Simply finding someone that speaks the language isn’t enough. You have to use experts in your field, particularly if your vertical has a lot technical jargon.

Focus on Needs

Madfis offered a great deal of her experience in taking initiatives global. First, it’s important to distinguish which types of content must be local and which types can be translated. This is a huge step in trying to determine how to prioritize global efforts.

Starting with what some might view as obvious — user reviews, news stories, and promotions (along with contact information) — all fall into the category of content that must be local. From there, comparable content, such as comparable products, accessories/options, downloads and demos, features, and specs can all be translated.

Of course, when the cost issue arose, there was much discussion about how, when, and where content was to be translated and localized.

The End Game

Naturally, the world as we know it (whether we like it or not) is connected. At some point, language, translation, and localizing will become more sophisticated.

Many experts will tell you, “Don’t just translate, localize.” Getting the information to your constituency on the quick and cheap may not always be the best plan.

From my own experience, I can tell you that it’s possible to get highly subjective opinions as you approach each language and specific vernacular for each region, territory, and country.

Of course, I’ll own up to making the occasional faux pas as it relates to localization. This was largely due to the inherent technical nature of the work I do.

I’ve also been shocked at how very different opinions can be on the same types of translations. At the end of the day, it’s worth the investment and energy to get the opinions, get the facts, and get it right.

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