Lesson 49: Do we use right words on our websites? Part 3: Copywriting tips for translators

Lesson 49: Do we use right words on our websites? Part 3: Copywriting tips for translators

As promised, here comes the third part of “Do we use right words on our websites to offer translation services” series. In this last post, I’d like to draw some conclusions from the agency approach and sum up my findings regarding translators’ websites. But I’m sure that what you’re really waiting for are the copywriting tips. Why don’t you read this article and work on your web copy and other communications over the weekend?

What agencies do wrong and right

The majority of agency websites concentrate on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) values, rather than greatcopies (texts); their websites are stuffed with keywords and rank higher. Fair enough, but at the end of the day, people are the ones who decide, not machines. So if you have two translation companies ranking 5 and 6 in Google, you’re ultimately going to base your decision on what you read, not on the search engine result.

However, it’s fair to say that agencies make sure their copy is relevant. Frequent repetitions of key phrases work with human brains as well. Just one remark: do people really look for translations using “translation services” as a keyword, or are they more likely to type something like “translation to English”? Agencies seem to be doing better with adjectives describing translation. They’re also generally better in creating a rapport with the reader: a we–you approach in the copy is much more frequent than on freelance translators’ websites.

What freelancers do right and wrong

I was rather happy to see that the majority of freelancers realise the power of an individual approach. Most of us are open and honest about being freelancers —and hey, that’s great! We can’t compete with translation agencies, so being individual is our true benefit. Freelancers quite naturally adopt “I” and don’t use weird third persons or plurals.

However, freelancers seem to lack some basic copywriting knowledge. Almost 9 of 10 pages start with “Welcome, I’m a Swahili to Hindi translator with 66 years of experience. I’ve been translating for various industries. Having lived in…” etc. It’s all fine and impressive, but your client doesn’t care. Really. The only thing they care about is if you can translate their document and for how much. One of the other striking examples is trying to explain what translation is. The home page is not the best place to elucidate the intricacies of our profession, or to say that translation is not only the transfer of words from one language to another, but it also involves the cultural and pragmatic aspects of the message…. Let’s not do that.

But how to make a copy look and work better? Here are some basic copywriting tips for translators to improve your own web copy, and other communications.

1. The audience

You really can’t start writing without analysing and defining your audience. Who’s going to read your website? It’s not likely to be a PM in a translation agency —they don’t have that much time. It can be a direct client: a company or an individual. Depending on your areas of specialisation, various people will be looking at your website. If you’re working in legal translation, just imagine a lawyer browsing through your pages. What’s the language this lawyer would use? What’s going to appeal to him or her? How do you impress a lawyer? You know all that anyway —you’ve been translating their language for years! If you’re working in the creative industry, you’re more likely to gain a client if you’re equally creative. If I were translating for the music industry, I’d probably try to tell my story using songs and musical metaphors. Keep your audience in mind when writing, or even pretend that you’re talking to a potential client. Imagine that you’re at a trade show, there’s this one lawyer who works for an international company and who’s in charge of translations. Imagine the way he’s dressed, the way he moves, how he talks to others, and then imagine that you approach him, you introduce yourself and start a conversation. And start writing this conversation down now.

2. The purpose

While writing, don’t ever stop thinking of what your ultimate goal is. Every sentence of your copy should take you closer to the goal (which is, I’d presume, getting a client on board for more than just one translation). Check every sentence for achieving your purpose.

3. The needs

After you’ve established who is going to read your copy, think of their needs. To a certain extent, it is about the types of documents your clients may want to get translated, but most of all it’s about everything around the service. Lawyers are very likely to need something certified, very accurate, in compliance with regulations, etc. Marketers will need something for yesterday, but creative, something to impress their clients. I know that it’s heart-breaking, but your client won’t probably care about your translation, but about their own job. Maybe their boss told them to have it translated and they don’t want to fail? Or is it a nervous speaker who needs copies of his presentation translated before the speech so as not to look like an ignorant? Learn as much as you can about your audience and their needs.

4. The benefits, not features

Now, this is a very difficult one. I’ll use my own profile as an example. I’m a Polish «» English translator living in London. I’ve been translating for more than 6 years in law and business. I use SDL Trados. I’m a member of CIOL and ITI. I’m also a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Oh, and I graduated in translation. These are all features; just a pure (and quite boring) description of my professional profile. Nothing in here is really useful or even convincing for my potential clients. The greatest task you have when writing about your services is to talk about the benefits to the reader. Just a little example:

Feature: I’m also a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Benefit: Your marketing copies are likely to be very effective in Polish, because I have experience in marketing gained from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

5. Everything is a copy

A final point I want to make is that every piece of communication is your copy. The principles I talked about above apply not only to websites, but also to emails, cover letters, brochures, social media, or even invoices.

I know I have plenty to improve on myself. Changes are good —both for human readers and for your SEO.

13 Comments

  1. Al Navas , on Dec 7, 2012 at 16:40 Reply

    Marta,

    You make excellent points in this article. However…

    My teeth start feeling like they *need* to bite something when I read:

    “…Why don’t you have a read…”, and others similar to this one.

    I guess I am old fashioned. I know – language changes…I would much rather have a good cup of tea, or a good lunch.

    I know, I know. These days, “have a listen” and “have a read” are all the rage.

    But, in the spirit of good copywright, would you suspect that a client might also grit his/her teeth?

    I suspect I am wrong on this. But I am still gritting my teeth. I will now try some relaxation exercises, and *then* I might have a good listen to a good show.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 7, 2012 at 16:42 Reply

      Haha, it sounded perfectly fine to me, but I’m always grateful for suggestions. Where’s ‘edit’ now? Thanks, Al!

  2. Al Navas , on Dec 7, 2012 at 16:49 Reply

    You are a terrific sport, Marta! I am grateful you are around, for you keep me on my toes. Terrific series!

    Al

  3. Carolyn Yohn , on Dec 10, 2012 at 16:47 Reply

    Good points as usual! Websites that start “Welcome ” is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you’re in the language industry, you should know how to use words to make people feel welcome—without that particular phrase. Thanks for the helpful tips in the right direction.

    • Jacek Iciek , on Jul 28, 2014 at 20:48 Reply

      That’s what copywriters often call a ‘welcome text fiasco’…

      If a website is up and running, every living creature of the Earth — capable of using a browser — is welcome to visit it because it’s available for general public — as simple as that.

      Instead of the wooden “Welcome to my page. I am a professional translator and my translations are slicker than Zac Efron’s hair:)” there should be an engaging headline providing real value and enticing your prospect to read further.

      P.S. Thanks for the article, Marta! Great read, as usual.

  4. Nathalie Klepper , on Dec 17, 2012 at 07:52 Reply

    Thanks a lot, Marta – I really love the sentence “People are the ones who decide, not machines”, and I wish more businesses would pay attention to that. When I see a website that is stuffed with the same repetitive keywords just to improve Google ranking, it deters me from doing business with them.
    The key is that people know, like and trust you – especially translation has much to do with trust, and that the customer believes his text is in the right hands with the translator.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 2, 2013 at 17:33 Reply

      I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Nathalie. Trust is always key in business relations. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Tatyana , on Feb 19, 2013 at 17:19 Reply

    Thanks, Marta, for your website series! This ist exactly what I was looking for (a new translation website is being planned) 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 24, 2013 at 22:48 Reply

      I’m glad I could help! It’s still important to look at SEO, though.

  6. Jana - Czech English Translator , on Apr 4, 2013 at 22:05 Reply

    You’re right, those agencies certainly have it “sussed” when it comes to SEO. Well, we all need those direct clients to come to our wonderful websites, don’t we 🙂 It’s been a steep learning curve for me in terms of optimizing my website. It’s all about the right balance between making it attractive for bots and people. It would be interesting to see statistics on the number of clients clicking through to agencies’/freelancers’ websites and buying their respective services. I wonder who would come off better in that contest.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 1, 2013 at 15:16 Reply

      I think that clients often look for freelancers when they’re already “converted” to using our services. Otherwise… we don’t stand much chance against agencies…

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