Want to join Russia´s (virtual) space project? – Now could be the right time

Last year was quite an eventful time for our happy little office. Amongst many light-hearted events and team-building exercises involving fancy-dressed bowling, trivia quizzes and soccer competitions, every now and then, we sat down and did some serious work (I hope my boss is not reading this :)). A major project in particular, one that involved the revision, translation and localisation of 38 different countries, kept us focused for great part of the year.

Many lessons were learnt – and documented –  on a variety of topics relating to languages and website readability and localisation. But if I was asked to highlight something from that year-long project it would be the amount of research, detail and ¨digital empathy¨required to achieve a website that accommodates to the expectations of audiences in countries like China, Japan. Korea and Russia.

I have previously written about some of the areas that need particular attention when creating a website for JapaneseChinese and Korean audiences. Russia, though, stood out for me because my lack of previous contact with the country and its language. So,here are some of our findings:

To start with, a caveat. Although Russia tends to conjure thoughts of vast territories and a large population in most people´s minds, this does not immediately translate into widespread Internet usage. Out of nearly 140 million people, approximately 60 million were  using the Internet in 2010, a percentage unlike Korea´s, for instance, where the number of web users is more than 81%.

What´s most remarkable about Russia though, is that in 2007 the number of persons using the Internet was less than 30 million. In a very short span, and  even though most Internet users still concentrate in major cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, this growth rate could well place this nation within the next three to five years in the top five worldwide Internet markets  side by side Germany, Brazil, India, Japan, the US and China.

Even in the area of e-commerce and despite having quite a lot of catching up to do in terms of consumer credit – an expected consequence of decades of government-controlled availability of goods and disposable income – development has been fast and steady. According to com-Score Russia showed the highest growth in online retail penetration in Europe in 2011, a rate nearly twice as fast as that of Europe as a whole.

Search engines  

Yet ANother inDEX, or Yandex, is the dominant search media in Russia, with 61% market share traffic in 2011 shared with Google 25%, Mail.ru 7.1%, Rambler and Bing both with 1%. A full-service portal providing a variety of additional services to users (real-time search, email, mapping, comparison shopping, etc), Yandex generated nearly 11 billion page views per month already in 2010 for Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus.

But Yandex is crossing borders fast and it opened a US office in Boston, creating Yandex.com to allow searchers to query for sites in other Latin characters, mainly English.

And yet, when you approach Yandex for the first time, as is the case with many other local search engines, you need to take your Google hat off and begin taking into account the local specifics and the structural elements of the Russian language. So, I´m going to reiterate what I´ve already insisted on before:

Do NOT merely translate from English using an automatic translator. It does not work. Whether you simply want to put an ad in Yandex or whether your intentions are to establish a more in-depth presence, you need to get a native Russian speaker, preferably one with copywriting and SEO local knowledge.

And another thing. As silly as this reminder may sound to you: do NOT attempt to make your way into Russia by writing  your copy in English. As you can imagine, that does not work either as only about 5% of Russians speak English.

A good place to start is by recognising Moscow and St Petersburg as major civic, cultural and financial centres and realise the preferential treatment they receive from Russian search engines because of their prominence. So, you are more likely to get it right by geotargetting those two cities because the Internet service providers have more accurate data for them than for other parts of Russia.

Remember that Yandex rates sites using a system similar to Google´s page rank called a ¨citation index¨, which ranges information found from 0 to 150,000. The higher a website´s citation index, the more authority it has. Organic ranking in Yandex favours good-quality, rich content. So, if your aim is to reach Russian audiences, you need to remember that despite its expansion into other languages, Yandex needs to satisfy its native speaker searchers first and foremost. Have your content written in Russian and use a Russian country code top-level domain (.ru) in cyrillic characters and Yandex will recognise your site as relevant to its customers.

Unlike China, getting a Russian domain is simple. If you produce some form of  ID, almost any registrar will allow you to register .ru domains (both in latin and/or cyrillic characters). Getting your site indexed is not complex either. The Yandex webmaster tools can help you with that process as well as connect you to Yandex´s API and assist you with keyword search to gain more visibility in their index.

Russian language and cyrillic script

Regional linguistic and cultural differences compound to the already inherent difficulty of the Russian language for outsiders (for instance, the perplexing use of six grammatical cases). This means that search queries will likely be phrased differently in different regions. So, in order to get your keywords right, you need to have someone who understands regional vernacular, idiom and even spelling variations in different parts of Russia.

Because of the language barrier, getting visibility online is not easy. A good way is to associate yourself with online press release  services that include translations and distribution to major consumer, business and trade presses: Sovanet and Ivan-pr.com specialise in online copywriting, translating and public relations for the Russian market and they are worth your initial investment.

For those interested in crossing virtual borders, the Russian online market presents loads of opportunities. As crucial as it is to have a firm understanding of the role that cultural, linguistic and regional differences will play when establishing an online presence in Russia, don´t let the grammatical impossibility of the language and its alphabet discourage you. It might be a race well worth joining.

Translation industry forecast for 2013 – The AAA (Africa, Arab, Asia) and AT (Automated translation) moment

The translation and localisation industry has been defying economic trends for quite some time now. While the world´s economy insists on slowing down, the language industry continues its steep ascent with a 12% growth expected in 2013.

If you are a freelance translator, though, trying to make a decent living, these figures might contradict the struggle you face to get a job booked, late payments from demanding clients or the ever decreasing rates you get awarded for a job well done.

So, what are the trends we need to watch out for to ensure we get a fair share of the approximately US$35 billion the language industry turns around per year?

A triple A moment

Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), indicates that the rapid spread of the Internet in what he calls the Triple A markets ( African, Asian and Arabic) compounded to the economic growth expected in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is accelerating the demand for more translation and localisation services for languages in these regions.


While markets everywhere are suffering the effects of a severe economic crisis, Africa is  experiencing its longest income boom for over 30 years, with gross domestic product growth rates averaging about 5 per cent annually over the past decade. The IMF forecasts the continent’s income to increase by around 4.5 per cent and seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies to be African. Nations like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are expected to expand by more than 6 per cent a year until 2015.

The mobile phone industry is reaping the rewards of the economic progress now felt in these countries. Africa is the fastest growing region for mobiles in the world, and the biggest after Asia, according to the GSM Association. There are now an estimated 700m sim cards in Africa.”What happened in the UK and US at the turn of the century is now happening in Africa on the mobile platform¨, explains Gareth Knight, a 35-year-old South African based in London, founder of the series of Tech4africa conferences. ¨The market is much bigger than the original one in the UK and US. More and more people are going to get online in the next couple of years and they’ll want all the same things.”

This unparalleled economic growth has created an enormous demand for translation into African languages. Companies wanting to establish their presence in some of the wealthier nations like Angola and Mozambique are in need of Portuguese translations, for instance. In Nigeria, whilst the official language is English, telecommunication or pharmaceutical companies will consider having their marketing material translated into at least one additional local language or possibly even two or three of the most widely spoken tongues dependin on the nature of the product and the demographics of the target market and the speakers´disposable income.

Finance and insurance, mining, tourism, legal, government departments and life sciences are also fields that will require translations into African languages and vice versa.

The Arab world

Arab is widely used in countries that present sound business opportunities for foreign investors like the UAE, Dubai and Qatar. Trade and import/export liberalisation have made some of the countries in the Middle East very attractive investment havens and this has resulted in an ever increasing demand of Arabic translators capable of translating mainly into English but also into other languages like French and German.

Interestingly, a report compiled by translation supplier The Word Point also noted a dramatic increase in English to Arabic and Arabic to English translations during and after the outbreak of popular uprisings in Egypt and Libya. Demand for Arabic – English translations (in both directions) increased in 2011 by 31%. , with media and communications and financial and business related translations seeing the areas where the increase was most felt. Demand for French-Arabic services increased 20%.


Members of the Translation Association of China participating in its annual conference in May 2011 agreed that the current Chinese translation industry is short of professional training and emphasised that only a small portion of the one million people who are providing translation service in China hold professional qualifications.

Before the extensive demand for qualified Chinese translators and localisation experts the government of China approved in 2009 forty training programs for professional translators and interpreters in leading universities throughout the country. However, no matter how many native Chinese translators are produced in China, the fact is that globally speaking, there are fewer than 10 qualified interpreters whose mother tongue is English (or any other language for that matter) and who can translate between English (or any other language) and Chinese.

William White, an experienced freelance interpreter who used to work for the Delegation of the European Union to China, attests to this. White is now based in Beijing, and his daily fee has been increasing at an annual rate of about 10 percent in recent years thanks to the tight market. “In peak seasons like April and September, it’s really hard to find professional interpreters, as there are many international conferences and qualified interpreters are all occupied.”

So, if you have the time and patience to get involved in the apprenticeship of the Chinese language, the demand for professionals capable of translating into English and other European languages is definitely out there. The same can be said for other Asian languages, Japanese to some extent, but also languages from countries that are slowly taking the manufacturing relay from China, like Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Automated translation

To quote the words from GALA CEO Hans Fenstermacher, “despite the advent of the most advanced automated translations in a generation, businesses increasingly need professional translation services to maintain their brands. To sell worldwide, businesses must look and sound as if they’re right next door”. The economic downturn experienced by the developed economies means that it is that much more important to communicate to customers regardless of their geographical location. Transcreation and localisation become crucial, as I have already discussed elsewhere.

Automated translation might have replaced some of the very basic communication needs that result from a number of intercultural and interlinguistic exchanges (the likes of the very handy Google translate or Bing translations). And yet, it is the same automation, technology itself and the ever increasing content that keeps on being uploaded onto the net that create new opportunities for translators and for the language translation industry.

The rapid increase of language combinations and the faster delivery deadlines, professional project and quality management have already become and will continue to be more significant in future. Technology will allow translations to be performed directly in the client’s CMS system. Translation agencies will adopt further project management tasks, which currently are performed by the companies themselves. I have also discussed in earlier articles how this change is affecting the nature of the tasks performed by translators.

Effective Data Management System (DMS) and Content Management System (CMS) will be basic prerequisites to enable cost-saving and terminologically consistent translations in a translation industry where the quantity of documents to be translated becomes a concern. The application of CAT tools is imperative to create terminology databases, glossaries, etc.

To ensure terminological consistency and to simplify terminology work companies are now making their translation databases accessible to other companies. Skrivanek, together with 42 other leading companies, recently founded the
so-called TAUS Data Association (TDA), which enables its members to share translation files. All members load their language combinations onto a server in the form of Translation Memories or multilingual glossaries and can in return download the language pairs of other members. This creates an immense volume of linguistic data. (Source: http://www.tekom.de/upload/alg/tcworld_608.pdf)

Educational institutions churning the translators of the future have to make a concerted effort in order to adequately prepare them for this continuously changing industry. Poetry translation classes are indeed vary valuable but technology and localisation needs to become core subjects in the curriculi of tertiary institutions. So are business and project management subjects that prepare the younger generations for a profession that every time more will require them to deal with clients and agencies all over the world.

As Einstein once said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  Technology is making the translation industry change at a very fast pace. So, we either change the way we understand the profession or we´d better look for a new one!

El mercado en línea japonés (2) – evita el harakiri digital

En “No te olvides del sol naciente – el mercado en línea japonés” quise recordar que aunque de la impresión que Japón se esconda bajo la sombra del resto de los ascendientes gigantes Asiáticos, las estadísticas nos demuestran que es un mercado digital que no podemos dejar de lado.

Lo importante ahora es aprender cómo adentrarse a este único mercado en línea sin cometer harakiri digital y comercial. No caigas en el mismo error en el que otras empresas han caído durante tanto tiempo, al asumir que las estrategias de marketing digital y optimización de motores de búsqueda que utilizan en su país de origen podrían ser traducidas literalmente al japonés. Grave error. Aunque las variaciones dialécticas no son un problema serio en Japón, la complejidad escrita del idioma y las posibles representaciones de cada palabra en cada región, hacen que sea imprescindible acompañarse de un profesional nativo del idioma.


Pero no hay que desalentarse. Como comentábamos en la primera entrega de esta serie dedicada al mercado digital japonés, el cambio de Yahoo!Japan a Google hace que simplemente tengas que encontrar la manera de destacarte en una única herramienta de búsqueda, y que además solo tengas que gestionar tus campañas de pago por clic en Google. Eso te ahora complejidad, tiempo y dinero.

Pago por clic

En diciembre del 2010, Google anunció una serie de cambios en el formato de la publicidad por medio de AdWords, permitiendo a partir de entonces, el uso de un mayor número de caractereres japoneses en los títulos y en las descripciones de los anuncios. Esta decisión ayuda a los publicitantes en Google AdWords Japan porque las palabras clave utilizadas en japonés suelen ser mucho más largas que en otros idiomas, y porque este lenguaje ocupa dos espacios de código en linea por cada caracter. Un mayor número de caracteres significa mayor eficacia publicitaria. Así que, gracias, Google, por facilitar las cosas.

Posicionamiento orgánico

Google abarca la mayor parte del mercado y alimenta los resultados de las búsquedas efectuadas a través de Yahoo!Japan y Rakuten; por lo tanto, centra tus esfuerzos en aparecer en buena posición en Google. Es decir, asegúrate de que Google sepa que quieres que tu página aparezca en Japón. ¿Cómo? ¿Cómo le indicas al gigante de la búsqueda que te interesa el país del sol naciente? Teniendo en cuenta los siguientes factores:

En el ámbito del marketing en motores de búsqueda, tu URL (localizador uniforme de recursos) o la dirección de tu página web, es la primera pieza de código de tu página que el algoritmo de Google escanéa. Si Google se encuentra con los dominios .es o .cn, asume que te interesa que la página se despliegue en los resultados de España o de China. Así que cuando establezcas tu página web, es importante que registres dominios en los países a los que esperas llevar tu negocio, en este caso, Japón, es decir, con las siglas .jp.

Si esta opción no te resulta práctica en el momento de iniciar tu empresa, crea extensiones basadas en tu versión original .com, es decir, http://www.buenosdiasjapon.com/jp. En tal caso, asegúrate que le indicas cláramente a Google en las herramientas para webmasters de Google, cuál es el mercado que quieres priorizar.

  • El lenguaje de tu página web

El lenguage en el que está redactada tu página web es también un indicador del país o paises al que quieres dirigirte. El idioma japonés es especialmente fácil de detectar para Google que no tiene que diferenciar de qué país se trata, como le ocurre en el caso de idiomas hablados en varios países (español, el árabe o el inglés).

  • Datos de la empresa en la página web

Si tu página web incluye una dirección física en el país en el que quieres aparecer en los listados de Google, en este caso Japón, a este motor de búsqueda le resulta más sencillo identificar tu país objetivo.

  • Enlaces entrantes

Sabemos que Google depende en gran parte de los enlaces entrantes para calificar el nivel de popularidad de una página y para determinar dónde colocarla en los ránkings. Así que cuando crees una version de tu página en otro país, asegúrate de utilizar enlaces a esta página local de páginas provenientes únicamentes de este país (Japón).

Es importante también incluir en Google Places  cualquier información sobre la ubicación de tu empresa ya que ésto informa a Google sobre dónde quieres aparecer en las búsquedas.

  • Palabras clave

Normalmente una de las partes más problematicas al crear y posicionar una página web en  Japón, ya que el idioma japonés presenta cuatro grupos de caracteres diferentes que los internautas utilizan indiscriminadamente al efectuar sus búsquedas en Internet. Por ellos te conviene contratar los servicios  de un profesional local del sector que te ayude a encontrar el grupo de caracteres con mayores probabilidades de ser utilizados por los internautas del país al buscar productos y servicios como los tuyos.

Aquí tienes algunas agencias que podrán ayudarte en tu posicionamiento en la red japonesa:

Gaijin Web

Pek Japan

Nakamura Communications

Portal Japan

Info Cubic Japan

  • Videos e imágenes

Los internautas japoneses miran más videos en línea que ninguna otra población en línea. La probabilidad de que seleccionen un video en los resultados de búsqueda que un artículo escrito es también mucho mayor. Por lo tanto, es importante no olvidarnos de optimizar  las imágenes y los videos que utilizamos para que puedan ser encontrados con facilidad.

Relaciones públicas

Una profesión altamente desarrollada en Japón, las relaciones públicas se ejecutan de manera muy diferente que en la mayoría de los países occidentales. Aunque los japoneses conocen las costumbres foráneas, y de hecho, en tu presencia, seguro que incluso te saludan con una apretón de mano en lugar de su tradicional reberencia, siempre debes recordar que Japón pertenece al grupo de los países que el antropólogo Edward T Hall bautizó como “high context cultures“(culturas de alto contexto): incluso el menor gesto puede conllevar un significado único y seguramente desconocido. La redacción escrita también contiene muchos matices culturales a los que debes prestar atención al preparar comunicados de prensa y contenido de promoción en este país.

De nuevo, te recomiendo que contrates los servicios de un profesional japonés que pueda escribir o traducir tus comunicados de prensa y el contenido dedicado a este país, alguien que conozca el tono de voz que se debe utilizar en tal ocasión y que conozca los matices culturales y lingüísticos apropiados.

La distribución de un comunicado de prensa en Japón es sencilla, y puedes utilizar cualquiera de los proveedores en el país, como Marketwire (que incluye traducciones gratis) o Japan Corporate NewsENewsPr NewsCertain.

Si te animas y quieres conocer más información para ayudarte a crear una página web que atraiga al mercado japonés, visita La estética de una página web japonesa. 

La estética de una página web japonesa

Si efectuasemos una rápida (e hipotética) encuesta de internautas internacionales acerca de sus impresiones al ver una página web japonesa por primera vez, probablemente la mayoría de ellos utilizarían palabras como ‘caos’ y ‘confusión’, para describir la pantalla ante la que se encuentran. Si, por el contrario, custionásemos a un grupo de internaturas japoneses sobre su reacción ante páginas web no escritas en lengua japonesa, seguramente la mayoría de ellos las calificarían de insípidas y sin ningún interés visual.

Páginas web japonesas – ¿tienes una sensación de mareo?

Personalmente, creo que hay ejemplos de diseño de páginas web excepcional con atractivo internacional en todas partes. Pero también soy firme creyente en la necesidad de localizar la interfaz de usuario y redactar el texto de manera que refleje la cultura e idiosincracia específica del país o region. En el caso de la mayoría de las páginas webs japonesas la tendencia parece ser un tipo específico de formato que incluye:

• Lo que a los no-japoneses nos podría parecer una cantidad excesiva de texto extremadamente condensado.
• Al menos dos, pero por lo general, tres columnas de texto.
• Imágenes de tamaño más bien pequeño.
• Un uso poco acertado del espacio.
• El uso de iconos y personajes animados.
• Colocación de texto en cajas para ser realzado.
• Una dinámica y sensación de lo que para los desconocedores de la lengua y la cultura japonesa podría definirse como anarquía. Es decir, algo como la siguiente página:

A primera vista, lo que vemos nos parece una composición sin sentido, que guarda semejanza a los torpes diseños occidentals de finales de los noventa. Pero lo cierto es que nos sentimos abrumados debido a nuestra falta de familiaridad con la estructura común de las páginas japonesas y nuestro desconocimiento de las características de la lengua.

Por un lado, incluso intentar describir la escritura japonesa puede llegar a ser problematico ya que si dijese que se compone de tres alfabetos distintos, estaría mintiendo. Un alfabeto, tal y como nosotros lo entendemos, está compuesto por letras que representan un sonido. El idioma japonés se compone de dos silabarios (cada uno con 46 “letras” o sílabas) que se combinan con logogramas importados de China. Cuando se nos presentan en un página web tales sistemas de escritura, tan diferentes a lo que nuestra vision está acostumbrada, parecen no tener ningún tipo de coherencia ni lógica, ni la homogeneidad de, digamos por ejemplo, el alfabeto latino que nosotros utilizamos. Los silabarios hiragana y katakana son caracteres de menor tamaño que los caracteres chinos. Se suma también el problema que, en muchos sitios web, los caracteres chinos aparecen en fuentes demasiado pequeñas y esto hace que sean casi imposible leerlos.

Por otro lado, la lengua japonesa escrita puede ser leída en un número distinto de direcciones: de derecha a izquierda, de izquierda a derecha y de arriba a abajo. Al combinarse todas estas posibilidades en una interfaz web, no es de extrañar que los lectores no japoneses lleguen a experimentar una sensación parecida al mareo frente una página japonesa (exagero, claro :))

Páginas web japonesas – la otra cara de la moneda
El diseño de páginas web japonesas se encuentra en la actualidad en un interesante proceso de evolución. Los diseñadores profesionales deben enfrentarse todavía a una serie de cuestiones importantes, como por ejemplo, el uso por parte de la mayoría de internautas japoneses del muy anticuado navegador Internet Explorer 6 y una cantidad excesiva de memoria flash en gran número de páginas. Sin embargo, si te interesa crear una página web japonesa, es esencial entender las limitaciones y dificultades con las que debes enfrentarte. Ante todo, consulta con los profesionales del sector en Japón, y sigue las pautas culturales, lingüísticas y de formato que te recomienden y conseguirás una página que cumpla con las expectativas japonesas.

El amor japonés por la belleza y la estética se refleja en dos palabras, (la calidad del concepto de belleza en Japón es simple, sutil y discreta) y Kawaii (“ternura”). Ser Kawaii es una cualidad estética muy valorada en la sociedad japonesa y se dice que hoy en día ha pasado a sobrepasar el valor que se le deba al antiguo concepto más refinado de la belleza.

Además, aunque que los consumidores japoneses saben apreciar los productos occidentales y se interesan por los temas y personalidades más allá de sus fronteras, también se sienten muy orgullosos de su propia cultura (Shi). La combinación de factores perfecta es la que les ofrece marcas, ideas y productos occidentales en bandeja japonesa.

Los siguientes son algunos de los ejemplos de las cualidades de la estética japonesa a las que me refiero:







Todas estas páginas se merecen una visita. Y si eras de los que se sentían algo confusos ante el diseño japonés, espero que estos sitios te muestren la otra cara de la moneda.

Aesthetics of a Japanese website

If you were to do a quick survey of non-native Japanese speakers into what their first impressions when looking at a Japanese website are, the majority of them will probably use words like ‘chaotic’, ‘confusing’, ‘shocking’, etc. If, on the other hand, you were to question Japanese Internet users about their reaction towards non-Japanese sites, most of them will consider these to be too barren and uninteresting.

Japanese websites – feeling dizzy?

I personally feel there are examples of outstanding design with international appeal everywhere. But I’m also a staunch believer in localising User Interface and copy appropriately. There is no denying that Japanese websites seem to prefer a specific type of format that includes:

• What may seem like excessive amounts of jammed up text
• At least two but usually three columns
• Smallish sized images
• Poor use of white real estate in the site
• URL colouring
• Use of icons and animated characters
• Use of boxes to contain text
• A general feel of what may seem like chaos to the untrained eye

The result, then, is something like this:

At first glance, it may look like a nonsensical composition that takes you back to the clumsy design of western websites in the late nineties. But if you think about it, the lack of familiarity with the structure and format of the language probably does contribute to feeling overwhelmed.

On the one hand, even describing the Japanese script is problematic for us because if I were to say that it’s composed of three different alphabets, I would be lying. An alphabet is composed of letters that represent a sound. The Japanese language is composed of two syllabaries (each with 46 “letters” or syllables) that combine with Chinese imported logographs. When these extremely different writing systems are presented in a website they appear to be lacking in the consistency and homogeneity of, say, for instance, the Latin alphabet we are used to. The Hiragana and Katakana syllabaries are generally smaller sized than the Chinese characters which, in many websites, appear in fonts that are too small and cause them to look  like a scramble of strokes with no rhyme or reason.

On the other hand, the Japanese written language can be read in a number of directions; from right to left, from left to right and from top to bottom. Combine all these possibilities in a website interface and there is no wonder non-Japanese readers feel dizzy!

Japanese websites – now, let’s flip the coin

Japanese site design currently finds itself in an exciting process of evolution. There are still, a number of issues to confront, mainly the use by the majority of Japanese people of a very outdated Internet Explorer 6. And yet, if you make the best of what you are given (and that’s usually an excessive amount of flash throughout the page), follow the advice of a professional native Japanese person and take a number of cultural and formatting guidelines into consideration, you might come achieve a successful site that conforms to Japanese expectations.

The Japanese love for beauty and aesthetics is captured in two words, Shibui (the quality of the concept of beauty in Japan which is simple, subtle and unobtrusive) and Kawaii (cuteness). Cuteness is a highly valued aesthetic quality in Japanese society which is said to have taken over the former more refined concept of beauty.

Further, while Japanese consumers are very appreciative of western products, western lifestyle and western celebrities, they are also very sensitive to their own culture (Shih) and want western brands, ideas, and products, but presented on a Japanese platter.

The following are some examples of these two qualities of the Japanese aesthetic:







They are all well worth a visit. And if you were previously confused by the somewhat intimidating design of many Japanese sites, these art pieces will surely show you the other side of the coin.

Creating a website for Chinese audiences – Cultural and copy aspects

China is a major economic power with a highly untapped business potential.

A tagline that gets repeated regularly by government departments, businesses and other interested parties. Companies look towards the Far East and see over 1.3 billion Chinese potential customers/users/readers/buyers actively using the Internet as a source of information, to purchase a large range of goods and services and to share that information on those goods and services with their extensive lists of contacts.

But why is it that a potential online market of such magnitude is still being approached with great caution and vigilance by foreign companies? Why are foreign investors slow to take an early advantage on a country with the world’s largest number of Internet users? Is it fear of the unknown? Inability to break the language and culture barriers? Too many restrictions?

In this post, I’d like to raise a few issues for you to consider if you are thinking about approaching this giant that is the Chinese online community.

1. Be aware of online registration procedures and filtering restrictions.
Start by registering a Chinese (.cn) domain name and find data hosting that is physically located in China. This is a good idea from an SEO point of view, to make sure that Chinese search engines looking for geographical location are able to find you easily, but also to stress your commitment to conduct legitimate business in China with Chinese nationals and. Registering a .cn name might not be an easy task, and in fact, you need to be very careful of possible scamers. Try finding an accredited company with a reputable history. They might also be able to get you an ICP licence, which is needed for your site to go live. And remember that once your site is up, you will be faced by the GFW (Great Firewall of China), established to filter information that the Chinese Government considers to be unsuitable for the public ( not exclusively pornographic material but any news item, services and products that could be sensitive or contradictory to the Chinese Governments view). So, take advice from your provider from the start.

Another good option is to hire a webmaster that is native to China, usually marketing themselves in freelancing websites. Offer a weekly or monthly rate to register and maintain your site and look after any other aspects of the registration process like calling customer and technical support, and taking care of whatever other localised business you need done.

2. Cultural aspects to consider in your UI design.
Whenever you create a new version of your site in a foreign market, it’s always important to take cultural aspects into consideration to make sure your intended message gets interpreted and displayed appropriately and successfully. This is particularly true in the case of a market like China. It’s easy to become complacent and simply opt for translating your original design (and copy) to Chinese. That will not work. You should not assume that a UI design which has shown to be effective in your country will also work in China (or in any country for that matter). It is very important that you do your research (or use someone with more knowledge in this field to do it for you) and rebuild the different features of your site accordingly to adapt to Chinese cultural practices and standards.

• Chinese typography: the Chinese script is composed of over 40,000 ideographs (although the average person will considered to have an acceptable degree of literacy when capable of reading around 2,000 characters), each of them made up of at least one stroke and a maximum of 60 strokes. Such complexity makes Chinese a much more difficult language to read than most Latin-based scripts.

Chinese characters are blockish and dense and they need to be presented in a font at least 12 px to ensure ease of read. To improve readability, Chinese sites tend to divide the space available into multiple smaller cells or content blocks, so that the length of each line of writing is shorter and easier for the mind to process. Also, in order to improve user experience, Chinese sites tend to increase spacing between lines or use font colours with lower saturation and contrast. It is also important to maintain distributed alignment (text aligned to left and right margins).

• Chinese site layout:
It’s a good idea to visit some of the more popular Chinese websites such as Rayli and Chinaren to get an idea of the preferred layout and distribution. But my advise is to take into consideration that the state of the Chinese internet connection will be improving in the very near future and this will most certainly mean that Chinese users’ browsing behaviour will change. Lots of sites are currently using flash adverts for various reasons, mainly to cash out as much profit as they can, but also because they want to give the impression to be enjoying a booming trade and don’t want to loose face (Mian Zi), a key factor is Chinese collective behaviour.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Chinese users don’t enjoy simplicity and prefer a site overflowing with links and ads. Many are often seen complaining in Baidu and Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Google and Twitter, about the complexity of Chinese sites and the poor user experience they are forced to endure (in fact, many Chinese users apply a nifty little tool called 360 safeguard which allows them to filter and skip adverts).

It’s also very important to think about the range of colours used in your design. Colours do have different significance to visitors from different cultural backgrounds. It’s very easy to convey the wrong meaning by getting the colour choice wrong. Even the tone of the colours is important, as some Asian countries seem to prefer to use pastel cool tones like greens and blues as opposed to the brighter shades commonly used in Western sites.

I personally like to use Lush as a point of reference for successful localised layout and typography and colour localisation.

3. Cultural aspects to consider when copywriting and localising

  • Tone of voice:  Stop and think about your audience from a cultural and generational point of view before you embark on the task of translating (or writing) copy and localising. You need to discuss with your translator what’s the most appropriate tone of voice: If your main customer base is composed of generation X and Y, you need to find a way to get your message across to Chinese younger audiences avoiding certain formalisms that could simply contribute to making the sight sound outdated and unapproachable.Get a native speaker to review the final copy to pick on human errors or more subtle cultural blunders that may not have been picked up by the translator. But if you really want to cause the same emotive reaction you get from other markets from your Chinese audience, you might need to spend some more time and money employing someone who is able to transcreate, not merely translate. For more details on how transcreation works, visit my post:
  • Political and historical subtleties: Apart from the various and obvious restrictions imposed on the type of content broadcast in websites in China, you need to ensure your translator or writer are using the correct type of characters. Taiwan and Hong Kong prefer to use traditional Chinese, a much more complex version of the written language, while China introduced simplified characters in the 50s and 60 in an attempt to increase literacy. Make sure you are addressing Chinese people with simplified characters as using the traditional version could make it not only a lot harder to read for most people, but also completely inappropriate and ultimately a waste of your time and money.
  • Localisation of numerical data (weights and measures, dates, currency, fractions and time are often represented differently), pricing (make sure your prices reflect the local Chinese currency and taxes) and preferred payment methods. The most preferred online payment instrument in China currently is remittance (debit transfer), collection (credit transfer) and collection with acceptance (debit transfer) market. Also, its third party platform is highly competitive with 40 companies offering fairly similar services.
  • Specific legal regulations: You need to be aware of and compliant with the different privacy and antispam laws established by the Chinese government.
  •  Customer support: If you are an Ecommerce site you need to provide localised customer support for each country. Your online and offline support personnel must speak Mandarin, be available at the right hours, and be reached by local or low-cost phone numbers and email communications.