Review by Anna Livermore
The session titled “Search Engine Optimization: Website and Social Media Localization,” presented by Laura Ramírez, a lecturer at the department of translation studies at the University of Illinois, was one of the highlights of my visit to this year’s ATA conference. The content of the session was exactly as promised in the title (with one small exception), the subject matter was very relevant, the delivery was professional, and the examples were on point. I came away wishing the slot for the presentation had been twice as long.
First of all, Ms. Ramírez drew a distinction between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & SEA (Search Engine Advertising), which together make up SEM (Search Engine Marketing). She explained why different approaches are required when dealing with the 2 parts of SEM, both in terms of strategy as a website owner and impact on the translation. The better a translator understands the workings of SEM, the better they will be able to serve their clients’ needs and add value with their service.
Organic SEO is a strategy that yields better long-term results, but its ROI is notoriously hard to calculate. Essentially, by using SEO clients optimize their content for better indexability by search engines, thus affecting the rank the webpage is assigned when users search for certain keywords. In order to appear in the top search results, companies employ a combination of tactics: building good links, writing good content, using proper indexing, and integrating social media and blogs. It is time consuming for the client and, when translated into another language, it needs to retain all its parts from the obvious (content, URL name) to the subtle (meta tags and keywords). Those who offer website translation/localization services should remember that different search engines use different approaches to language tagging and educate themselves about the concepts of geo-targeting used by the search engines of their target region.
SEA, on the other hand, yields quick results and the ROI is easy to calculate, making it suitable for short, targeted campaigns. However, the conversion rates are lower (due to lack of consumer trust towards this kind of advertising) and it is an expensive option. When translating keywords for SEA, it is important to remember that repetition is good. Also, translated keywords will (or should) change depending on the target segment, audience, location etc.
As Ms. Ramírez pointed out, CAT tools are a good option for translating this kind of content: it tends to be repetitive, and consistent use of the same keywords is beneficial to a given ad’s ranking. One should also be aware of the limits set on the number of characters that can be used for ad headlines or ad descriptions, as it might become an issue when translating in certain language pairs: for instance, when translating English into Russian, the latter tends to require more characters.
Ms. Ramírez made an interesting point about translating SEA: the process can feel counterintuitive at first to translators who aim to produce a perfect translation. In this case, a functional approach serves better for creating the desired impact, which is to sell the product or service. When translating SEA text, one should always keep in mind the end user: what search term spellings are they likely to use, are there any regional variants to keep in mind, are there any synonyms that should also be included in the keywords, are there any other variants one should consider, such as calques from the source language and misspelled words (a quick Google search illustrates just how many ways there are to misspell the word pregnant).
Summarizing some of the characteristics of SEA language, Ms. Ramírez highlighted the use of calques, elliptical constructions, unusual punctuation (exclamation marks, apostrophes etc.), abbreviations, using all CAPITALS, and mixing registers when addressing the audience (using equivalents of Russian ты and вы in the same ad), which should all be reflected in some form in translation.
Drawing on her experience as a lecturer and a freelance translator, Ms. Ramírez noted another characteristic of SEA that influences the translation process: clients might ask for several equivalents for one keyword, and they will ultimately decide which one will be used.
The last notable point covered during the session is the importance of knowing how search engines other than Google work. This is significant because other markets might not use Google as their primary search engine: Yandex is the main search engine in Russia and Baidu plays that role in China. And although the essentials of the search engine functionality are largely very similar, there are some elements that differ and might impact the localization process.
Ms. Ramírez also covered practical aspects of managing ads, matches and click-through rates, as well as various tools for managing keywords and best practices for writing ads. With so much valuable information to deliver, there unfortunately was no time left to look at social media techniques and their impact on translation process, and I look forward to a future presentation where these would be covered.
Anna Livermore is an English>Russian and German>Russian translator and former marketing specialist. With a linguistics degree from the Oxford Brookes University and a Professional Diploma in marketing, she came to specialize in translating marketing materials, corporate communications, website content and various components of SEM. She is a member of the Slavic Languages Division’s Social Media team. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org