Pro Tips to Help You Take Control of Your Company’s Translation Efforts

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Editor’s Note: This post is based off of a presentation that Nataly Kelly, HubSpot’s VP of Marketing (Localization), recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2015, the event attracted more than 2,000 content professionals from around the world.

It’s not always easy to get consistently good results when you work with vendors to translate your content. A vendor might be really good at translating one particular language or type of content, for example, but not another. As a result, you never know if you’re going to wind up with a piece of content that reads beautifully or one that sounds like it was slapped together with Google Translate.

To be successful at content marketing for a global audience, that’s just not good enough. Fortunately, Nataly has devised a number of steps that you can take to help ensure that you get great results every time. Fundamentally, she believes that the root of most translation quality issues is trust, and that you can get around those issues by following some simple advice.

Vet agencies and translators carefully

Finding and working with an agency is like “taking a turn playing The Dating Game,” says Nataly. You don’t ever know who’s on the other side of the wall and what exactly they’re doing. Her advice is to do everything you can to break that “wall” down so that you get a better understanding of both how the vendor, and the translators they employ, work. For instance, she’s got the following suggestions:

  • Ask for references or referrals.
    Talk to marketers at the companies whose content you admire and see if they can refer you to anyone. When you do, ask them what they like about their translation vendor and whether or not they think the vendor would be a good fit for your company.
  • Ask to see translators’ resumes.
    Don’t just assume the agency is picking the best candidates. Ask for candidates’ resumes so that you can look to see if they have the qualities you look for when hiring employees. For example, do they have the right experience in your industry?
  • Request sample translations.
    The best way to get a clear indication of the quality of a translator’s work is to review some samples so that you know what to expect from them.
  • Get direct access to the translator.
    Make sure that your vendor gives you open lines of communication and direct access to the translators so that there’s full transparency. If the vendor is always the middleman, things can easily get lost in translation. Beyond that, you’ll also want to understand the nature of the translator’s relationship with the vendor, such as how long they’ve been working together and how many projects they’ve collaborated on.

In addition, Nataly recommends asking the following questions as part of the vetting process:

  • Does the vendor have experience working on the specific type of content you need translated?
  • Do they have subject matter expertise and experience translating content in the same domain you’re working in?
  • Do they have experience translating into your desired language? (Note, they’ll always answer yes, so you’ll want to know how much experience they have. Ask about volume and frequency.)
  • Do they already handle projects with the countries you’re marketing to?
  • Can they support any technology you might be using?
  • Is the vendor easily accessible, not just in your time zone, but also in the time zones where your stakeholders are located?

Once you’ve done your due diligence and selected a vendor you’re confident with, it’s time to take some additional steps on your side to help ensure you get a great result.

Context and quality source content are key

When it comes to translations, there’s a lot of truth to the old adage “garbage in, garbage out.” One of the best ways to improve the quality of your translations is by improving the quality of your source content and giving your translators the context they need to do their job effectively. To do so, Nataly has a few suggestions:

  • Write up a clear description of your target audience and pass that along to the translator. This will give the translator a better picture of who they’re translating for so that they can tailor their efforts.
  • Always explain the purpose of the content to the translator so that they know exactly what it’s intended to communicate. The more context they have, the more effective they’ll be at the task at hand.
  • Define any company-specific terms and acronyms that you use so that the translator can find the right equivalents as appropriate. Make sure that you highlight any terms you don’t use too so they know what to avoid.
  • Train source content writers to write with translatability in mind. That means using shorter sentences, avoiding colloquialisms, and doing everything else you can to ensure the writing is clear and concise.

Focus on planning more than process

Nataly’s last bit of advice is to really be focused on the planning piece of your translation efforts, rather than getting hung up on just the process. For her that means having all of your ducks in a row, which includes things like sharing your goals with your vendors and having clearly defined expectations so that everyone is on the same page. She’s also a fan of having detailed company style guides and glossaries, scheduling regular communication as part of an overall translation plan, and establishing a robust network of reviewers who are native speakers in each language you’re working in and can review translations to ensure their quality.

Ultimately, Nataly believes that the key to getting great results when working with translators is building a strong relationship with them that’s based on trust. With that as a foundation, she has found that the chances of consistently achieving positive outcomes increases exponentially.