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.