Updated in 2021
Before we begin, let me tell you a short story. One day I came upon a misleading article that encouraged small companies to use machine translation tools. Sadly, its author had no idea what he was talking about. He promised magic results, but the translation was awfully bad. In fact, it was impossible for a native reader to understand what it was about. The author just did not know the language to be able to understand that.
To tell you the truth, that article made me infuriated. I wrote a nasty comment to the author, which I am not proud of. I admit to overreacting, but I firmly believe that marketing content should be engaging and interesting.
It must be absolute top. Otherwise you can throw your copy away, since it will do more harm than good.
I stand for what I believe. And I hate it when people deceive others just to make a quick buck on an affiliate link.
So when I cooled down, I wrote the first draft of this article. I’ll explain why it is better for small businesses to refrain from using machine translation for marketing copy.
Read on, and you will benefit from not making mistakes some of your less experienced colleagues did.
Being able to deliver your products and services to other countries is great. And expanding your client base by reaching foreign markets seems to be the easy way to go.
If you have a solid proposition, you can get tons of new prospects just by localizing your website. The cheapest solutions out there are based on machine translation. Some of them are free and widely known. Some come as plugins for your CMS that promise to do everything for you.
Sounds great? Please don’t be quick to judge and read these 3 reasons why you should refrain from machine translation for this type of content.
1. Low quality.
A couple of years ago I took part in the localization of a popular online mobile game. Its creators hired a bunch of professional translators to localize the interface. I wanted my translation to be as accurate as possible, so I played that game (a lot). There was a live chat in the game which any player could use, powered by machine translation to facilitate understanding.
At least, that was the purpose.
Although the results weren’t that great, players managed to understand each other most of the time. I mean, who uses complex language in a simple chat? It was sometimes hard to make out what Hungarians meant. But nobody ever got what the Japanese guys and gals said. The automated translation returned complete nonsense.
And what happened soon? Everybody stopped trying to understand the Japanese players and just ignored them.
This is the last thing you want people to do with your content.
Linguists know it pretty well: since all languages are different, you may get great results for one language combination and absolute garbage for another. If some MT engines boast that their translation nearly equals human translation (but not quite), it does not mean it would be perfect for all the target languages concerned.
Whether you use a fancy new neural machine translation tool or an old-fashioned solution based on a statistical model, the translation of a marketing copy would most definitely turn out poor. The algorithms based on neural networks could show pretty impressive results for some domains – if fed with enough high-quality data. But this would hardly be true for marketing texts.
Your copy needs to be translated with multiple cultural nuances in mind. Ideally, it should be adapted. Some sensitive texts require transcreation, or reimagination of the original text, to grab the attention of the new target audience.
And machine translation is just not capable of that.
One peculiar (and, sadly, pretty common) mistake is translating a popular slogan “Everything in one place” into Russian as «Все в одном месте». Guess what? It directs one seamlessly to a widely-used euphemism for buttocks. Try to enter this phrase into a machine translation engine and see the results for yourself.
The problem of low quality brings us to Reason number two, which is
2. Scaring your prospecting customers away.
That’s what low-quality translation does. Always.
One of the courses I’ve completed had a very interesting module on product-oriented vs. customer-oriented marketing. But more recent books I’ve read describe the purpose of marketing as serving the customer in the best possible way.
To put it simply, customer-oriented marketing has become the marketing.
Prove me if I am wrong. Who does not hate pushy salespeople who rob you of your precious time, desperate to make the deal?
Don’t we love it when companies use various media to impress us and win us as customers? When they meet and exceed our expectations? And when it is done in a smart way – oh my! Shut up and take my money!
But when prospects land on a badly translated website, they think that the company does not want them as customers. The company did not even bother to make the content understandable for them. They think that the company does not care, so why should they?
A couple of years ago I had a water heater installed in my apartment. It worked well for some time, but soon problems began to surface. I opened the manual – and woe is me. The Ukrainian translation was awful. I sent a complaint to the Kyiv office – and no one even bothered to respond.
Would I buy anything from this company again?
Sure, I care about translation because of my profession. But here’s a thing.
Remember the story I mentioned in the beginning? The author of the article also promoted a website with poor English copy. And the people who commented expressed strong distrust to the website and its services.
Note that they did not evaluate the product themselves, the judgment was based solely on the language quality. The author argued that the product was okay, so he did not care about bad English. We can respect this point of view, but people in the comments did not share it, alas for the author.
And so we’ve come to the Reason number three:
3. This would eventually cost you more.
With plenty of options available on the market, why would a prospect stick to the brand they are dissatisfied with? Moving on has never been easier.
Let’s imagine you’ve used MT for your copy – and the increase in sales is not impressive, to put it mildly. That means it’s high time to invest into professional translation. So you get to pay twice – first for the MT, and then for a proper translation.
Why not start with the professional translation? It will save you time and money. Moreover, you won’t lose any prospective clients who will be very hard to win back.
Hopefully, you now realize the benefits of staying away from using machine translation for marketing copy. Consider investing into professional translation, because all those affordable solutions are cheap for a reason.
Hire a professional and make your website shine in other languages!
Because quality content is invaluable.