Because business is global and your website can be accessed and read from all around the world, the contents of your site need to be universally understood. There are several ways to go about this.
One way is using responsive design. This allows you to include different images, different colors, different layouts and different text specifically geared to the user, depending on device, language or location.
But if your site doesn’t use responsive design, are there ways that you can still make it global-friendly? In this blog post, we look specifically at web copy and how you can tailor your words for worldwide use.
Knowing your audience is essential for any company and any kind of marketing or PR effort.
Clearly defining your market is even more essential when you are thinking about international usage, so it pays to take time in considering exactly who you are writing to, in terms of demographics, geographics, psychographics and cultural differences.
Your website needs to work not only on multiple platforms, but potentially for people with very different ways of life and business cultures. It may also need to work in different languages, or in variants of English.
One way to cater for this is to start from a ‘big idea’, something that everybody can relate to. A universal truth, if you like. While the way you phrase your idea may change, the concept will remain the same across your brand.
From US and UK English to Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Nigerian, Indian or Caribbean variants, English is either a first or second language for almost the entire world’s business population. But choosing to always use English doesn’t always provide a failsafe solution.
Indeed, differences in English usage across the globe can lead to epic business fails (as well as great hilarity to the reader), such as the Disney cookbook ‘Cooking with Pooh’ or the ‘Nothing sucks like Electrolux’ campaign, neither of which had the desired impact on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
The lesson here is that not paying attention to differences in word usage, colloquialisms and slang can have devastating effects in terms of brand image and credibility and should always be taken into consideration before launch day.
Other languages – translation versus transcreation
Translating your website can open up a minefield that you didn’t know was there. The famous advert with the image of the cute little girl saying, “Mummy, that one, that one, that one!” that when translated into Dutch read, “Mama, die, die, die!” is a typical example of how things can go wrong in translation.
So if you are planning to have your website copy translated, it’s important to write it with an international audience in mind. Make sure that the words you are using exist in your target language (some language don’t have words for ‘love’ or ‘insight’, but all have words for ‘happiness’, for example), can be translated easily and are free from cultural bias.
Using the services of an international copywriter and/or getting some local expertise will help here.
Of course, there is an alternative to translation, and most large companies will choose to have their copy instead ‘transcreated’. In this way, your entire concept is rewritten and in some cases reworked for your different audiences, so that you can target your clients effectively whilst maintaining your brand’s voice and without losing meaning.
Employing a specialist copywriter in the region you are targeting is the best way to do this.
Even between English-speaking countries, cultural differences are huge, and this has an impact not only of word usage, spelling and punctuation, but on tone of voice, length of sentence and writing style.
So while Americans want to be sold to, the English want to be seduced. Australians and New Zealanders have quite different business and lifestyle cultures. And whilst words like ‘traditional’ and ‘dependable’ work well in rural parts of America, ‘innovative’ or ‘dynamic’ would have more of an impact on city-dwellers.
Being aware of cultural differences is particularly important in order to avoid embarrassing blunders or accidental political incorrectness. So make sure your colours, images, product names and so on are examined from an international perspective.
To conclude, here are some general tips to keep in mind when tailoring your copy for a global audience:
- Avoid idioms and clichés
- Use simple sentence structure
- Don’t use the passive voice too often
- Avoid words with variant spellings (e.g. colour and color)
- Pay attention to any references to weather, currency, units of measurement, religion, politics, holidays, laws, date format, meanings of colours and so on
- Customise your SEO based on local searches
- Look at other successful (and unsuccessful) international websites and campaigns to examine what it is that makes them work (or fail)
And finally, if in doubt, always get a second opinion from somebody in your target audience. Writing for an international readership can be a challenge at times, but when you get it right, your company can greatly benefit from improved brand awareness, heightened reputation and increased sales.
What better reasons to make sure you’re using the power of words of build your brand across the globe?