It works for Google. But most things work for Google, so perhaps that isn’t saying too much. Log in to the search company’s AdSense blog and you’ll be able to read all about online advertising in twelve different languages, including two different types of written Chinese.
For a company the size of Google, that makes sense. There is a recently-discovered, isolated tribe in the Amazonian rainforest which, they claim, has never heard of the goings-on at the Googleplex… but most people think they’re just putting it on for the tourists. When you’re this well-known (and have that sort of money to pay for translators and foreign writers), it makes sense to have people who can talk in your market’s tongue, even when that tongue is Turkish.
For the rest of us, going international can also sound like a good idea. While English – or rather American – might have become a true international language (a kind of Esperanto with fries), it’s only spoken as a first language by about 17 percent of the world’s population. The remainder would probably prefer to read the Web in a language they really can understand.
Be Big in Japan
Producing different versions of your blog in languages to suit every type of reader then will remove the language barriers and open it up to everyone. Instead of only talking to readers in America, the UK, Australia, South Africa and India, you’d be able to toss in the rest of Europe, South America, Russia and China, potentially increasing your readership by hundreds of millions. If you’re looking to make a splash, that’s always going to be a necessity.
But doing it right is difficult. WordPress offers a bunch of plugins that can create mirrored versions of a blog in a number of different languages. Earnersblog.com, for example, uses Taragana which offers fourteen languages including Arabic and Norwegian. The site itself noted that it saw its traffic double in two weeks after installing the plugin — but it didn’t mention what that traffic did. One bilingual commenter described the Chinese translations as “laughable” and reasonably questioned whether the traffic would convert.
There’s also the question of what the traffic would be worth if it did. Some advertising programs have been known to pay less for users from certain countries and even leading services like Kontera and Chitika limit their ads to English language Web pages, restricting the options for converting users.
And not everyone wants to make a splash. There’s little point in offering a French version of your blog if it promotes a business that can only handle local clients. The sort of publishers who are most likely to benefit from a multilingual blog are those who make use of pay-per-click advertising that also works in different languages (it’s no surprise that Google does that pretty well). Marketers of information products whose ebooks have been translated should, in theory, do pretty well too.
But do Japanese Buy?
In practice though, international sellers haven’t always succeeded globally, and that might provide a clue to the limitations of multilingual blogging. Joel Comm, for example, an Internet marketing guru whose book on AdSense has been translated into Spanish, Japanese and French, used to use a program called Translation Gold to provide automatic translations of his blog posts. No longer – probably because neither the posts nor the translations produced significant revenues. But back when Joel was starting out in Internet marketing with his site WorldVillage, he was kept afloat by a Japanese firm that offered his content to its readers. They didn’t just translate the articles though, they also localized them – and that’s an important difference.
Automatic translation software doesn’t just mangle words; it also takes them out of context. Professional translators know what to do with idioms that don’t translate and anecdotes that don’t ring bells. That means offering a multilingual blog is rarely going to be as simple as tossing in a plugin and watching your page count multiply. It will mean having local experts reviewing the results, making sure they’re up to scratch and changing the ideas to make them match the market.
And that sort of thing doesn’t come cheap – or fast. When it comes to translation services, prices are all over the place — elancers can be fairly reasonable but you usually get what you pay for – and there will always be a delay before the translated post is ready to go live, an important consideration for sites that offer news.
The bottom line for bloggers looking for markets beyond those of their own language is to ask first what foreign speakers are really worth to them, which languages they should be aiming at – and how much they’re willing to pay to post translations that work. While it’s nice to speak to people from around the world, if it doesn’t pay, then it’s probably best to say “Hasta lavista” to multilingual blogging.