copywriting tips for international markets

Writing for a global audience can be a challenge. Whether an entire country or a smaller region, each location has its own cultural norms, sense of humor, and approach to business, work, and play. All of which need to be taken into account when writing content for them. Below are our tips for writing effective copy for international markets.

Write in the native language

A seemingly obvious directive, people simply assume that there are enough English readers worldwide that it is unnecessary to go the extra step of having content translated. This is actually a reasonable assumption in some ways. English is a prevalent language worldwide, particularly when it comes to business and financial matters. Many countries offer business English classes, and young students tend to learn it early along with their own languages.

However, think of how it feels to travel to a country like Spain or Italy and see English signs. You feel welcome. Like they are taking the responsibility of communicating with you seriously because your tourism and business are important to them. They made an effort to ensure you are able to understand business communications, maneuver around the area without getting lost, and know that your presence is of value to them. Showing the same respect and care in return can earn you a lot of goodwill.

Even for a US audience, having your online content translated into several languages is a good idea; around one-third of the US population has a different primary language than English, predominantly Spanish, Chinese (including Cantonese, Mandarin, and others), Tagalog, and French. Translation can help you tap into those markets.

Hire professionals to translate your online copy

The creation of target language content does not have to fall to the copywriter. Even if a copywriter is multilingual, it is somewhat unreasonable to expect a writing service who only focuses on English (for example) to create multiple versions of the same piece in different languages. Many copywriters spend their lives developing their writing style and perfecting their content written in their native language; expecting the average copywriter to master translation is totally is unrealistic.

As such, you will need to find someone to perform the translation for you, which can be easily done online these days or by searching locally. Remember that the version of your text that you give to your translator should be the final draft; any source text mistakes will affect the final translation. Remember to use grammar checking tools to make sure there are no mistakes, and your style is consistent.

Is machine translation good enough?

It’s tempting to use machine translation programs instead of hiring a professional; however, in most cases, this should be avoided as these tools can still not achieve the nuance necessary to produce a high-quality text. If you do decide to work with machine translation tools, work with a professional proofreading and editing service in the target language to avoid costly mistakes, such as the disaster the bank HSBC experienced in 2009.

HSBC spent millions on the ad campaign “Assume Nothing” that was poorly translated to “Do Nothing” in a number of countries and ended up costing them an additional $10M to change. Make sure you work with an experienced translation service to avoid these kinds of mistakes.

The term “international audience” is a misnomer

There is no specific international audience; each country, region, district, and town has its own distinct cultural identity, including language, humor, and ethics. In Japan, it is considered extremely rude to be even one minute late, while in India, arriving 15 to 30 minutes late to dinner is completely acceptable. These attitudes can affect how business is approached. For instance, a company selling timepieces in these countries would need very different strategies for each of those countries.

The first step is performing a little research on the area. Here are a few questions that can help identify the most salient details:

  • What are the demographics of the area?
  • Is humor acceptable, and if so, what kind? Puns and clever twists in English rely on common knowledge of the source material, which will most likely not be known in other countries.
  • Will your product appeal to the same target market in each place?
  • What are the most common consumer tendencies? Such as, do women or men perform the majority of household goods shopping?

Be sure to follow the law

Just as there are regulations in the US about making false advertising claims, there are similar rules in place in most countries. The healthcare industry, in particular, can be very strident in some areas about what can be implied compared to what can be proven. Seek out local legal advice and never assume that the rules are the same as in the US.

Focus on a multilingual SEO approach

If you are going to the trouble of translating your website to be read in another country, then it is equally important to know the right SEO approach for that location. Like the problems literal interpretations can cause for the people reading the text, a search engine algorithm can confuse poorly translated keywords. They may not even register as the keywords you thought they were.

This is also an area where employing a human translator can be very beneficial. Or using a keyword tool from Google translate, for example, can tell you if the literal translations are the same as the colloquial terms most likely to be used.

Adjust the visual as well as the written

Images included in your posts or on your website are usually painstakingly selected to convey the exact message you want to get across. This is also an area where you may need to make some changes to suit a location better. Images, symbols, and even colors have different meanings from culture to culture. Consulting with a localization expert will avoid making a faux pas and offending your audience.

Your digital text layout may also need to be altered after translation to accommodate for different script directions or text expansion or reduction. It’s a good idea to build in some flexibility to your content templates from the start.

Final thoughts

Overall, there are many moving parts when it comes to creating copy that can be effectively distributed around the world. Be sure to invest the appropriate time and resources into making sure you aren’t losing anything or projecting the wrong message in the process. A good translator and some additional research can give you a handle on most of the challenges.

When you’re ready to reach out to a professional translation service, consider getting in touch with BeTranslated. Our team of experienced translators has a broad range of specializations from marketing translation to website translation, and our efficient project managers will guarantee that you are satisfied with our work. Call today for more information or a free, no-obligation quote.