Translation to Origination: 4 Approaches to Multilingual Content Creation

Quill Content CEO Ed Bussey at SlatorCon Remote

As the world moved online in 2020, consumer buying patterns changed, putting pressure on many e-commerce companies to localize offerings for new markets faster than they otherwise would have. The change is permanent, according to Ed Bussey. “While offline commerce will re-emerge, e-commerce will continue to dominate across most categories,” Bussey told the SlatorCon Remote 2020 audience.

Bussey is Founder and CEO of Quill, which produces multi-language content for such e-commerce clients as eBay, Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, L’Occitane, Trivago, M&S, and more.

Quill specializes in what they describe as “Performance Content” — pre-purchase content about an e-commerce company’s products and services, such as product descriptions and buying guides.

Bussey said this content “sits at the end of the purchase funnel; whether that’s on Amazon or a client’s e-commerce site,” the goal being to convert browsers into buyers, boost search traffic, conversion rates, and basket sizes, as well as cut down on product returns. In short, to drive revenue.

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And, to achieve ROI, this content needs to be localized, as recent research has shown. Bussey pointed out, “Even with clients in markets such as Scandinavia, where there’s a very high level of spoken English, you can see quite significant improvements in performance by localizing into those languages.”

After a decade of producing content, Bussey said they have realized, “Not only do we need the right linguists on a project, we also need to use subject matter experts.” He cited the case of translating the word “pencil skirt” into Arabic, where “there are just not the same nuanced words for fashion terms as there are in English. To translate ‘pencil skirt,’ you really need somebody that understands fashion as well as being a native Arabic speaker.”

He added, “We also have a number of clients that we produce humor-based, lighthearted content for. It’s quite difficult to translate a joke and you’ve almost got to start from scratch.”

4 Approaches to Achieving E-Commerce Goals

The Quill CEO narrowed their approach into four types — translation, localization, transcreation, and origination — qualifying that not everything will fall neatly into these categories “but, certainly, when trying to achieve an international, e-commerce objective for a client, we normally consider these four options.”

1. Translation
Great for speed, but comes with the risk of more errors and harder to use in meeting a brand’s tone-of-voice requirements. “Actually, after 10 years of building this business, we’ve found that it’s very rare that our clients — and we’re working with over 250 now — would use purely translated content. It just doesn’t deliver content that performs well enough against e-commerce objectives.”

2. Localization
Quill’s preferred option instead of translation: “Aside from content that is pretty standard, with high repeat rates on words and terms, we do very little translation — less than 5%.” Localization, on the other hand, delivers high-performing product content at speed and scale. 

3. Transcreation
This approach usually entails referencing source text to craft new content, allowing it to comply with the brand’s tone of voice and account for cultural nuances “while enabling us to also provide some SEO value — although not as much as when doing content origination. Transcreation is typically more appropriate for slightly longer form content, including ‘get the look’ guides, editorial blogs, and articles.”

4. Origination
The Quill team spends most of its effort on originated content. “That is because, when we talk to our clients, increasingly the objective is not to write the content in Chinese, but to achieve e-commerce objectives, such as getting content indexed in local Chinese search engines; or optimizing conversion rates for the Chinese market.”

According to Bussey, “We’re being deployed to drive a commercial business or marketing objective. When you start from that place, you find that you’re, more often than not, needing originated content to meet specific SEO, brand, and conversion-rate requirements; rather than being hamstrung by a source text in a different language.”

But What About Machine Translation…

Although they find themselves invariably working with transcreation and origination, Bussey told the online audience, translation productivity (a.k.a. CAT) tools have their uses.

“The way we use technology is to try to remove the heavy-lifting aspects of content creation: work allocation, writing first drafts using CAT tools, and QA. However, we supplement this automation with human creativity and quality assurance; which is why we describe our use of technology as a ‘humans in the loop’ approach,” Bussey said.

When Quill blind tested product descriptions written by humans versus the output of CAT tools, consumers found machine and human translations equally easy to understand. However, 80% of those surveyed said human translations were more effective than machine translations in persuading them to buy.

Image: Ed Bussey, Founder and CEO, Quill