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Content localization strategies for going global with Zeph Snapp

Episode Overview

In Part 3 of Searchmetrics’ International SEO podcast series, Zeph Snapp, co-founder and CEO of Altura Interactive and an expert in globalization, internationalization, and translation covers what you need to know about content localization strategies for expanding globally. An expert in “transcreation” and the intersection of language, culture and emotion, Zach goes in-depth on the important considerations for determining your international marketing and content strategy.

Zeph reviews:

  • Why do marketing and sales materials benefit from transcreation when it’s important to take into account context and the local environment?
  • How does a style guide help for defining brand voice, tone, and the key phrases to use and to avoid?
  • What are the strategies for localization when translation is needed for a specific region versus transcreation?
  • What are the best strategies for translation when you’re targeting a worldwide audience and are country agnostic?
  • What steps do you take when you’re creating unique content for a specific market and must address the underlying purpose of the original piece of content?


Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to International Search Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re talking about expanding your horizons and your search strategies to reach new territories. Joining us is Zeph Snapp who is the Co-Founder and CEO of Altura Interactive, which provides Spanish digital marketing services to international companies looking to expand their reach in Latin America and the United States. And today Zeph and I are going to talk about content localization for expanding globally.

Ben:                 But before we hear from Zeph, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. And we’d like to invite you, our loyal podcast listeners, to our upcoming webinar where we’ll discuss how SEO and SEM are joining forces to win the SERP.

Ben:                 On June 19th, Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Services and Leslie To Q3 Digital’s VP of SEO will dive into the ways that you can combine your paid and organic search marketing to be more effective together.

Ben:                 To register for our SEO and SEM Joining Forces Webinar, go to

Ben:                 Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Zeph Snapp, the Co-Founder and CEO of Altura Interactive.

Ben:                 Zeph, hola, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Zeph:                Thanks for having me, Benjamin.

Ben:                 It’s exciting to have you here. It’s great to have an expert in globalization, internationalization, translation … There’s a myriad of terms that we could talk about for taking a piece of content and it appropriate for another country, but let’s start off by talking a little bit about you. Tell me about your background and about Altura Interactive.

Zeph:                So, I have about ten years in search. Altura Interactive is a company that I started when I realized that companies were trying to reach international audiences but didn’t have a good provider. Basically your options were you could either hire an agency that was in the country where you were trying to reach or you could try and hire like a giant translation agency to do all the work for you. And what I saw is that there was a difference between the quality you were going to get from an agency that was in market and what you were going to get from a translation company. So what do we do really is we try and bridge the gap. All of our employees are bilingual so that we understand the messaging and the important aspects of what our client’s marketing and programs are. And we take that and we translate it. We turn it into something new for local markets in Latin America.

Zeph:                I’ve been fortunate enough to be recognized by a bunch of organizations and ask to speak at Content Marketing World and many other conferences in the US and abroad.

Ben:                 So, this is not your first rodeo in terms of talking about content, whether we call it translation or localization, I think you used the term “transcreation”. Let’s start off by just defining some of the terms. What’s the difference between translating content and localizing content and why do you have a separate term for transcreation?

Zeph:                Okay, so basically translation implies that there is a one to one relationship in language, right? That I give you a word and that it has a counterpart in another language that means exactly the same thing. But that’s just not the way things work. There’s nuance to the way that language is and words can even have the same base meaning, but in context will have a slightly different meetings with different intent. So translation is sort of kind of the catchall term for taking something and turning it into another language.

Zeph:                Localization implies that it’s for a specific place, right? So it would be … If we were doing on something that was just for Guatemala, the Spanish is going to be different than if we’re doing something that’s meant for the entirety of the Spanish-speaking public in the world. And obviously, Spanish is different in Columbia than it is in Mexico. If you’ve ever watched the show Narcos, which I’ve just finished, you’ll find that in Columbia they use a word  when they’re addressing someone, whereas in Mexico we would say, another word. So, there are some differences there.

Zeph:                Then the third part of this is transcreation. And transcreation, really, what it means is that to take the spirit of a thing but to create something new based on that that’s appropriate for the market. So that’s really appropriate when you’re talking about like more long form content. It’s really important to think about the context of the place that you’re trying to reach and the audience that you have. So you might have the same subject, but you might need to add additional information or context for people who don’t know as much about the stuff that you’re talking about or who see it in a different way.

Ben:                 So, there’s different levels of contextual relevance when you’re going through a internationalization process, right? And making sure that your content is appropriate for the right market and the right users that you’re talking about, there’s different approaches that you can take. It sounds like if you’re just translating it, that’s meant to be a universal translation. Localization is a translation for a specific region. And then what you’re calling transcreation is really making that you’re creating, really, unique content that addresses what the underlying purpose of the original piece of content was, but for a specific market.

Zeph:                Right. So basically like different strategies are appropriate for different situations, right? So if you’re Domino’s and you’re setting up your websites for every country in Europe, then you know you’re going to want to make sure that the language in there is localized and you want to make sure you have the exact language that is necessary for Spain, Portugal, right? Or another example, I use Latin America a lot because that’s where I work. In Latin America it’s the same thing, right? You want to write a certain way for one specific market versus another.

Zeph:                Translation is appropriate when you’re going after a worldwide audience in many cases. Like you’re country agnostic, but you’re worried about language.

Zeph:                And then transcreation is most appropriate when you’re trying to … Basically when you’re doing something that’s just a little bit more targeted.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk about the strategy there. You know, there’s different flavors and different levels of depth that you can go when you’re trying to repurpose a piece of content in a different country. When you are working with a client that’s expanding into a different region, how do you go through the process figuring out what you can translate sort of on a universal purpose, and what do you actually really have to get into being regionally specific or just rewriting the piece of content all together?

Zeph:                Okay. So we do a lot of groundwork beforehand. My stepfather was a carpenter and one of his favorite sayings is, “Measure twice, cut once.” And this is really a good description of how we work. So what we try and start with is creating a brief, which we call a style guide. And this is a living document that basically we started by saying, “This is your brand voice, this is your brand tone. These are the phrases that you do want to use, these are the ones you want to avoid,” and sort of give them a baseline.

Zeph:                And this is something that we create in the language that we’re targeting first and then it is back translated to English for review. So that way our contact at our client company can look at the style guide and say … they can sign off, right? They can check, right? They go, “Yeah, we agree this is right.” Or they might have feedback. They might say, “Well, you have suggested that you should speak to people in a more formal tone, and we would actually like to speak to them an informal tone.” Okay, that’s fine. And then they might give us a list of phrases that they prefer not to be used in English and we try and find their equivalents in Spanish and then send them back.

Zeph:                And like I said, this is a living document, so we keep adding to it over time. Any feedback that we get from our clients regarding how things are written or how their positioned is put there so that we can agree on the rules of engagement. Once we’ve done that, then it’s much easier to get started on the specific types of content.

Zeph:                The other part then becomes, again, planning. Right? You’re going to look at the website as a whole and all the content and you might say, “All right, well, you have a bunch of operations manuals. Those you can probably send to a translation company because it’s going to be cheaper and the quality is less important there because you’re really just telling them, ‘Well, first, you take the Allen wrench and you screw this thing in and then you, et cetera, et cetera.'”

Ben:                 It’s more of a literal translation.

Zeph:                Exactly.

Zeph:                But then for marketing material and sales material, that’s really where transcreation comes into play and where it’s really important to take into account context and the local environment. We have another saying in Spanish, it’s What that means is, “Going cheap gets expensive.” So the idea is if you go cheap on the translation website, which is sales material, you’re trying to get people to buy a product from you based on that information, if you have a poor translation or you have errors in the translation or you have pieces that aren’t directly translated or translated at all, then that that’s going to give you a poor user experience and your conversion rates going to be low. So it’s really important, especially on the pages that attract the most traffic, that everything be really tight.

Ben:                 So, talk to me about the difference in costs and timing it takes for the various types of translations. When you’re going straight to a translation agency and you’re looking for a universal transcription, a one-to-one change from, let’s say, English to Spanish, how do you benchmark what the cost is there when you’re, I’m using air quotes, but “going cheap”? And then what’s the difference for when you’re doing something that requires a little nuance and a little bit more, you know, personal touch?

Zeph:                So, with translation agencies, they’re going to quote you on a per word basis, and usually it’s going to be somewhere between three and eight cents a word. And quite frankly, this is a really horrible way to charge people because what you’re emphasizing is the speed and the quantity of what they’re going to do, not so much the quality. So what you end up getting is, you may get it relatively fast, but the product itself is not always going to have the context or the nuance that you want.

Zeph:                We don’t charge on a per word basis. We generally prefer to charge on a per hour basis because that encourages people to be more concerned with the quality of the output than just getting it done as quickly as possible based on price. And when you’re pricing things out, it’s important. Remember that the cheaper options are just going to not be as good, and so going cheap can be expensive. It’s better to spend a little bit more on something … If you’re really going to make the investment in going after the [inaudible] markets than to go with the cheapest possible option. Not to mention that translation companies usually are very poor in SEO and so they’re not thinking about optimization and [inaudible] research and search for intent.

Ben:                 Right. I think there’s probably a time and a place to take cheaper options, right? When you just need something.

Zeph:                Absolutely.

Ben:                 Maybe even your terms and conditions, something that people are not necessarily reading and you need more of a literal translation. And then there’s sometimes when you want something to be a little nuanced. So the price range is roughly three to eight cents, I’m assuming you’re talking in USD, for a piece of content to be translated at a sort of one translation per language. When you’re talking about the transcreation process, when you’re not just translating a piece of content word for word, but you’re going market specific and you’re rewriting the piece of content specifically to address the local market, how do you think about the upcharge in cost? I know it’s likely not on a per word basis, but what’s the premium you should be paying to make sure that you’re getting your content translated the right way for the right market?

Zeph:                So there, what I would focus on, the kind of questions that I would ask, would be around process rather than focusing as much on costs. We found really like affordable options for certain languages that were just really good because of how they went about their work. And so like I mentioned the style guides at the beginning. And like if you have these guiding documents, it really helps the translations period. Like even if you’re going with the translation agency. But the premium is you’re basically looking at about double, right? It’s going to be somewhere in the range of nine to 15 or 20 cents per word. Because really what you’re looking for is copywriting in another language rather than a specific translation.

Zeph:                And just to go back to something you mentioned, which I think is totally a fair use, is there are situations where it’s appropriate to do a cheaper translation or something that’s more one-to-one. So some of the situations where that’s the case is specifically around product pages. So there’s ways to automate For example, if you run a car dealership and you want all your inventory to show up in English and in Spanish, you can do what is the machine translation for most of the content, basically everything except for the description of the car itself, and it’s going to be fine. The same is not true of a blog post or a landing page or a sales slot.

Ben:                 Yeah, I guess the big question I have is there a happy medium between the two? Can you do a cheap transcription and then have an editor go through and apply polish, and does that actually, you know, save you time and cost? Can you use a machine translation and then have an editor rework that content to be appropriate?

Zeph:                Well, the answer is it depends on the … In the previous example that I use for, say, like a car dealership, absolutely. Right? You use a machine translation, automatic translation, and then you go back through and you edit and improve the text. The same is not true for landing pages and for marketing materials. In those cases, sometimes it actually ends up actually taking longer to adjust the cheap translation than it would have been to just do it from scratch in the first place.

Ben:                 Talk to me about thinking about the amount of time it takes to translate, not necessarily just a piece of content, but when you’re localizing an entire site, you have a pretty significant amount of content, product pages, home pages, sales pages, marketing pages, you know, a blog, the whole kitten caboodle, you know, generally how long does it take or how much time should a company earmark on a per market basis to be able to get their site ready for publication?

Zeph:                So, you’re generally looking, depending on the size of the site, between a month and a quarter to really get started. Now, the nice thing about this is that these things can happen concurrently, right? There is an increased level of complexity when you go after multiple markets at the same time, but it also means that if you’re applying the same standards to multiple languages and multiple sites, then everyone’s more on the same page. I’ve actually found that it’s harder to do first one language and then do a second language and then do a third language. Sometimes it’s just easier to, you know, rip it off like a Band-Aid and do four at the same time. And if they’re happening concurrently because it’s different teams, you know, the deliverables are more consistent and it gives you, especially if you’re like, you know, an agile organization, it gives you a kind of a chance to just focus on this for a quarter, get it done, and then move onto the next part of the project.

Ben:                 So, I think there’s obviously a lot of context, and depends on the size of your site, it depends on the regions that you’re going to, the languages that you’re translating, content volume and the level of sophistication, the type of content you have. Really the question is what’s the right way to find the right resources to do translations or transcreation if you don’t have the ability to do this in house? What are the places where brands should look to find either an agency, a consultant, a service that’s in market to be able to translate their content?

Zeph:                So, the first thing is … Finding us is really easy. My email is Altura Interactive And I have relationships with tons of providers all over the world and I’m always glad to make referrals. I think actually referrals is one of the most important ways that people find help now, whether it be an agency or consultant. And I think it’s actually the best way. When you know that somebody else has had a positive experience with the provider, it’s going to be the best recommendation you can get.

Zeph:                The other things … There are agencies that are specifically focused on different regions, you know, like we’re focused on Latin America, but we also have partners that are focused on specific markets in Germany or in Asia or Russia, et cetera, et cetera. And so really the best place is to reach out to your network. And the next best places, well, the service. If you go out and start looking for this kind of help, you’re going to find the people who are ranking for these terms are generally going to be doing a better job than the people who aren’t.

Ben:                 Yeah. So as it turns out, the places to look for are your personal network, LinkedIn, and Google. Not really a huge shocker there, but also very good advice. And I appreciate you offering to, to help make connections for the people who are doing localization even if they’re not in Latin America.

Ben:                 Any last words of advice for brands that are going through a translation or a transcreation process for the first time?

Zeph:                Well, plan. Plan as much as you can. A good partner is going to be asking you a lot of questions about your business and about your goals and about where you’re trying to go and how you’re trying to get there. So be prepared. Write briefs. Give them as much information as you can so that they can have the context they need in order to do a good job.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think the big takeaway here is that when you’re going through a translation process, this is not just getting a transcription of a podcast, right? You’re actually localizing your content and making sure that it’s, you know, relevant to a new audience, to a new group. And so the agencies that you’re going to be working with or the contractors or the in house resources, the people that you’re going to be working with, not just for an hour and not just for a day, it’s months to quarters, and then there’s ongoing maintenance, so build good relationships and try to document everything you can as much as you have the ability to.

Zeph:                The only other thing that I would add is we didn’t talk about this as it relates to search very much, and I just want to talk about that for just a second.

Zeph:                So, there are a couple of different things they need to keep in mind from an SEO perspective. One is setting up correctly. And there’s a ton of resources about this online such as Aleyda Solis’ work.

Zeph:                And then the second one is how you’re going to set up your site technically, whether you use subdomains, subfolders. And there’s a great deal of information around this, as well, but it’s important that you make an informed decision for business reasons and SEO reasons rather than just going, “Well, whatever you say.”

Ben:                 Yeah, absolutely. Great advice. We’ve already recorded an interview with Aleyda Solis which we’re going to publish at the end of this month, and we have a couple other guests that are coming on in Global SEO Stardom Week, which are going to talk about their decisions to go with different top level domains or sub-directories, so all relevant parts to internationalizing your website.

Ben:                 And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Zeph Snapp, the Co-Founder and CEO of Altura Interactive. If you’d like to hear the second part of our conversation with Zeph when we talk about localizing specifically for Latin America, we’re going to come back and continue the conversation again tomorrow.

Ben:                 For now, we’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Zeph, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is zephsnapp or you can visit his company’s website, which is Altura

Ben:                 If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at benjshap. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                 Also, if you’re interested in attending our SEO and SEM Joining Forces webinar, go to

Ben:                 And if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to continue our conversation with Zeph Snapp, the Co-founder and CEO of Altura Interactive.

Ben:                 Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ben:                 Okay. That’s it for this time, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.