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Joe has a great idea for foreign-Language Site…If Only He Spoke The Language!

Meet Joe. He wants to connect American Bonsai tree enthusiasts with Japanese gardeners (a mini-tree hotline). If he could just get his site idea up and running in both English and Japanese he’d be rolling in cashola. Just swimming in it.

Problem is Joe grew up in Wisconsin, and his only impression of Japan comes from Hollywood portrayals of tea ceremonies and ninjas. Clearly, he’s not fit for the localization job.

So, Joe does the next best thing. He opens up Internet Explorer and starts translating his site copy into Japanese line by line. Not knowing a lick of Japanese doesn’t deter him. Surely, Japanese gardeners will understand his unique vision. He can even ask his otaku friend to smooth over the translations and everything will be just peachy. Right?

Wrong. Not in any of the universes would this work out for Joe. Not only would his translation suck, his website design would be completely off, and most importantly, the technical hurdles would prove too much for him to overcome.

…Runs into 110 Meters of Technical Hurdles (in List Form)…

  1. SEO

The first thing Joe realizes is that he doesn’t know anything about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Even if Joe did have a passable understanding of SEO, how would he optimize his keywords and metatags or make a sitemap in a language he doesn’t know?

Answer: He can’t. SEO is an entire industry in and of itself. Site discoverability is no longer just a matter of making sure you type the right words into WordPress’s automated SEO tags. If you don’t know what the word “sitemap” means or what a “crawler” is, you’ve already dropped the ball, and when we say “ball” we really just mean the English language market.

SEO optimization for a foreign language site? Even if it is just ONE other language? Totally different ballgame. Which leads us to the next technical hurdle:

  1. Cultural Differences

Even masticated Japanese can be SEO-optimized, but it doesn’t mean anyone in Japan who stumbles upon Joe’s site is going to give it more than 15 seconds of their time (even if they’re bonsai enthusiasts).

Now would be a good time to point out that the average attention span of most Internet users in 2010 was less than 9 seconds. In other words, a goldfish can remember things longer.

With this in mind, Joe probably wouldn’t want to rely on Google’s translation tool (which, of course, doesn’t take SEO into account). He probably won’t want to rely on his Japanophile friend, either.

What he might think he needs is a professional consultation to account for cultural differences that might cause him to unwittingly offend his readers. What he doesn’t know is that a professional translator and programmer will cut a hole in his pocket the size of his car. Not only that, a professional translator isn’t scalable due to the need for…

  1. Manual Updates

Everytime Joe wants to add a single line or even change a specific word in the English version of the site, he’ll probably want to do the same for the Japanese version.

If he was using a basic CMS (Content Management System), it would be a nightmare. CMS’s aren’t optimized for this sort of thing at all, not to mention each addition is another piece of the SEO puzzle. And if he relied on a professional translator, it would cost too much in the long run.

Neither option is appealing – the best solution would be for Joe to somehow automate the entire process on the Japanese end and not have to worry about a thing. Even so, he’d still be spending tons of…

  1. Time & Effort

This is the straw that would really break the camel’s back. If Joe was doing all this on his own, tweaking, monitoring, and optimizing the Japanese version of his site (forget about writing new content and communicating with clients on the English side), he would burn out. The toll on his quality of life just wouldn’t be worth it.

…And Realizes He Needs a Scalable Solution

Even if Joe did know Japanese, translating and maintaining a site in just one other language is a gargantuan undertaking. The technical hurdles aren’t worth jumping over each time he wants to add content.

Moral of the story? Website localization is a hugely sophisticated industry. In our next post we’ll go over how Joe should go about putting up the Japanese version of his site.