Translating and writing for the web involves tasks of various nature. You have to be a translator with skills in fact-finding, web editing, and SEO. Not only that but you also need to have terminological expertise, be familiar with usability, user experience, accessibility, web design, and even cognitive science.
I am a translator, web content manager and a terminologist. The majority of the projects which I work on are commissioned by the European Parliament in Luxembourg.
With this in mind, I am now going to show you a few ways a translator can utilize these varied skills to make an awesome multilingual website.
As a translator, I am a mediator between the client and the reader of the website, and I have to respect both of them. During the translation process I adapt the content to make it easier to read, which could mean that the target language content might be shorter than the original content in the source language – therefore making it more suitable for the web environment.
Sometimes I receive content in languages which I am not an expert in. In this situation I use machine translation, but only when I feel confident about the topic and the related terminology. During this process I will post-edit it, remove unnecessary and unclear information and apply subject-related terms. Of course, this is a very risky situation, so the validation by the client before publishing is mandatory.
Translating website UI
Translating the User Interface (UI) of a website would appear to be an easy task. If you compare it to a normal translation project, you would think one only has to deal with a small bunch of words. This is where you would be mistaken – translating website UI is far more complex than it seems.
UI is the real and most interactive part of the website. It must be clear and intuitive; the users must immediately know how to interact with the website and how to find what they need. Wrong wording choices may have a devastating effect. In website UI, terminology is particularly important because terms are operational components of the websites themselves.
The speed with which a user can make decisions and the efficiency of browsing a website depends on how effective the chosen terms are. UI terminology is crucial, as it provides the most significant information for the user (e.g. login, payment, donate, cancel etc.) The user does not want to deliberate on how to complete a registration or how to transfer their money online. They need time-efficient procedures, which depend on the accuracy of the used terms.
I write content for various websites, but I do not want to repeat how to write the perfect blog post (F-shaped reading rules, strategic keywords placement to improve SEO, etc.). There is plenty of information on the web about that. What I want to stress here is how many ways you can find yourself writing content in the real world.
For instance, previously a client asked me to interview people on the phone. I had to collect information by asking questions and creating content according to the data they provided. Another time, which was quite amusing, I had to interview people during a conference and create Twitter-suitable content. I have also written articles despite having had zero knowledge about the topic. So as you can see, there is a variety of channels for which you can write content.
Translators by default are not web writers. Translator’s job requires precision and staying true to the text. Different types of content in translation require more: not just saying the same things, but create different moods, different look and feel, adapt the content to other contexts such as an e-book, a Slideshare, a blog post or a tweet. In this case translators have to be creative; they have to put ideas into people’s minds, create connections, convincing, selling, inspiring, educating or whatever else.
I think that if a person has a background in translation, they should have no problem writing for the web. However, it is also a matter of adaptability, creativity, and a problem-solving mindset.
Improve the terminology of a website
Terminology is a resource made of information units that can improve the performance and effectiveness of a broad range of language and usability-related applications of websites, which is a separate issue from translation.
A “terminological makeover” might be needed when inconsistencies throughout the content are spotted. It might depend on the content being written by different editors, thus causing the website to suffer from a lack of uniformity in style and tone and consequently failing to express a clear message. In such case, you need to go through the whole content and review and replace inconsistent terms with the ones provided by the client.
A terminological makeover of the content might also be needed because the company or institution might want to stress its identity through a precise use of terms while simultaneously improving its visibility. This can be quite challenging at times.
When trying to improve a website’s visibility, you have to be acquainted with the topic and find out to what extent the terminology used can work in the informal web environment. If one works on a website for expert audiences, it is important to ensure the unambiguous understanding of the text by using the terms provided by the client.
When the website is up and running, it is vital to use words that non-specialists use to increase visibility. The wording has to be chosen with the reader in mind; words and expressions have to be understood even by the occasional visitor, and they have to match the ones that are being typed in search engines.
For terminology work, I use Google search or the keyword tool on Google AdWords to identify and understand the most popular search terms in a given field, as well as to see what words people are typing in search engines. When search engines do not provide adequate solutions, I have to consult relevant websites to collect search-friendly keywords that users search on key elements of website including title, meta-description, header tags, alt keywords of images, category, etc.
Website content should be search engine optimized to communicate the right target, improve ranking on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), drive traffic, increase awareness in search engines, and improve website visibility in organic (unpaid) search engine results.
It does not take a specific certification or 20 years’ worth of experience to make web content search engine-friendly. It takes very little effort, but the impact of it, or rather the impact from the lack of it, is huge.
Glossaries also are very helpful, as they provide readers with explanatory information. On website glossaries, users can find the meaning of corporate/institutional terminology at a passing glance. Those glossaries not only cover an explicate function, but also improve the SEO of the websites, in being descriptive keywords for search engines to index.
Another solution is to include the layman’s terms in the metadata for the webpage so that users are more likely to find the page via search engines.