3 Frequent Fails in Webshop Translation

We’ve all encountered our fair share of examples: bad translations, clearly the result of Google Translate or a similar service. And let’s be honest, here, these are the nightmare of any self-respecting marketing department, because a slogan like ‘Whatever you are looking for, we are ready’ isn’t quite as inviting as you’d like. In this blog, we’ll highlight 3 frequent fails in webshop translation and discuss how you can avoid these pitfalls. 

It’s Literally Confusing

You’d expect a literal translation to be understandable, at least, because it closely follows the source language. Sometimes, that’s just not what happens when using literal translations. The screenshot below shows a prime example of a Chinese webshop offering its Dutch-language users these two options: ‘Aanmelden’ or ‘Aanmelden’. After switching to the English version, it turns out that these are the buttons for ‘Register’ and ‘Sign in’, respectively. The translation ended up using the same term for both buttons, which probably left more than a few users tapping a random one in a state of mild confusion.

AliExpress Login

This sort of mistake wouldn’t be picked up by most automated checks, because ‘Aanmelden’ is both a correct word and an accurate translation for either of these English words. You can prevent this type of fail in your webshop by creating a terminology list before starting the translation phase: this way you can avoid such overlapping terminology and make sure the translator consistently uses the correct translation for each button. The fact that this issue has been present for years, at this point, also highlights why multilingual quality checks are a good idea after each major update. 

Looks Good – But Why Should I Care?

A second mistake many translated webshops make, is neglecting to tailor their content to local contexts. Dutch shoppers, for example, aren’t used to measurements in feet or fluid ounces. If somebody buys a nice vaze and discovers, upon delivery, that it is just big enough to hold three flowers, there’s a good chance they’ll return the item. Clothing sizes are another area where using correct size conversions is crucial: that cute top might turn out to be a little small if the size 38 you ordered turns out to an Italian size 38, rather than a Dutch one. Obviously, you should give clear instructions to your translator about this. 

Italian sizeNL/EUFRGB/UK

But there’s many more ways a lack of local relevance can hurt your revenue. Think, for instance, of references to local celebrities or organisations. In a best-case scenario, a recommendation would just be a little underwhelming, but connotations could also be negative in a different market, damaging your brand reputation. Product descriptions can also contain instructions that need to be adapted in translation. In the Netherlands, it’s likely that instructions for lemonade mix will suggest mixing with tap water. However, this advice needs to be modified for areas where tap water tastes bad or is non-potable. This is an important reason to have your content translated by somebody familiar with the target market and culture. Depending on your instructions and arrangements, a translator will then notify you of such issues or even modify the content to fit the context. 

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Next Stop: Uncanny Valley

For the third challenge, we will take a closer look at the example from the introduction: ‘Whatever you are looking for, we are ready’. This is not an example we encountered in the wild, but it is a real machine translation. Although such translation technology has made huge strides over the past decades, it still tends to fall just shy of the fluency of a good human translator. Even if the result is grammatically correct, the result can feel awkward, phony or even uncanny. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this: by having a human translator edit the machine translation output, you can combine the cost savings from using machine translation with the translation quality that makes your content shine. 

And remember: not every line of content on your website needs to meet the same standards for quality and fluency as your eye-catching marketing material. Especially for a webshop, it can pay off to divide your content into seperate text types. Your user interface and marketing material need to be flawless. Product descriptions, on the other hand, can be a little more functional in many markets, while pure machine translation might even be sufficient for lists of properties and database entries. A good translation partner will be happy to help you categorise your content, so you can strike a balance between costs and quality that truly fits your business. 

Forewarned Is Forearmed…

These are the issues we hear about most often from companies approaching us because they’re unhappy about their current translations. Armed with this knowledge and our suggested solutions, you’ll be fully prepared when you need to find a new translation partner. You know what to look out for, what questions to ask and how to employ machine translation effectively without falling into these traps. Did we spark your curiousity? Download our whitepaper on webshop translation if you want to learn more about the importance of good e-commerce translations and about the best and most cost-effective ways to get started. Of course, we’re always happy to help too, so contact us if you have any questions or schedule an meeting for a quote tailored to your business needs. 

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