Online Expectations Lost In Translation

  • by , Columnist, March 11, 2010
The newest AOL Hispanic CyberStudy includes some great data that has inspired me to share a theory I have about online Hispanics: Most Hispanics expect Hispanic websites to be poor quality and, as result, use the general market version of a site even if Spanish is their preferred language.

Do you agree?

Hispanics will scour your website to find mistakes and experience gaps

It's a fact: most Hispanic websites are inferior to their general market counterparts. Hispanic budgets are smaller and resources more scarce. Most online Hispanics are comfortable enough in both English and Spanish to compare sites, and they do. Online Hispanics will evaluate Hispanic sites to try to find the mistakes that will invariably be there.

The most common mistakes found on Hispanic websites are language related. Spanish websites are riddled with translation errors, grammatical mistakes, missing accents, tense inconsistencies and incorrect punctuation. Most disturbing to me is the emergence of machine translation on several high-profile websites such as (Perhaps the government should have hired professional translators to localize, which would have resulted in a better experience for non-English speakers and even created a few more jobs.)



Machine translation is simply not an option for converting websites or any other communication. Even though machine translation services such as Google Translate are free, the negative impact on user perceptions is simply too high. What's more, if users want to translate a site with a machine, they can do it themselves.

Even high-quality, translated websites can fail to make an emotional connection

Don't get me wrong, there are many Spanish websites that are impeccable translations of English versions. That said, they are just that -- translations. Online Hispanics might not find any language mistakes on such a site, but the content may miss the mark because it was intended for the general market and doesn't make a connection with the Hispanic user.

After reading a few sentences, Hispanic users may sniff out the translation and lose interest. It is far better to develop original content for Hispanics or adapt English content so that it resonates and connects with them.

Online Hispanics know they're missing out

In addition to language issues, Hispanic websites are often not as deep and don't have the same features and functionality available on the corresponding general market site. This essentially tells Hispanic visitors, "You are not as important to me as the general market." Sadly, Hispanics have come to expect poor online experiences in Spanish. According to the AOL Study, less than 3% of online Hispanics think that Spanish sites have more useful information than English sites, so they may just bypass Spanish sites altogether and go straight to the English site.

Develop a great Hispanic website and you will be rewarded

Online marketers are faced with an interesting challenge and opportunity due to the fact that Hispanics have low expectations when it comes to Hispanic sites. On the one hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get Hispanics to even a visit a Hispanic site due to their prior negative experiences. On the other hand, there's an unmet demand for high-quality, culturally relevant Hispanic websites that provide comparable value to the corresponding general market site.

Such sites will delight online Hispanics and have a high likelihood of driving marketing objectives. In addition, as I have discussed previously, Hispanics are extremely engaged with social media and are likely to share a good site with family and friends.

For the last 10 years, my goal has been to create compelling Hispanic online experiences that change the expectations of online Hispanics.

I invite you to join me in this pursuit.

6 comments about "Online Expectations Lost In Translation ".
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  1. Victor Abalos from JVA Group, March 11, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.

    great post! It echoes what my serious colleagues and I have been trying to convince our clients of, but it's fallen on deaf or, worse, disinterested ears. I would have liked to read your examples of Spanish-language sites that work.
    I suggest KCET's "Los Niños en Su Casa" site which accompanies their TV show. They have unique English and Spanish TV shows and websites with distinct staff working on both. It's a commitment to language that exemplifies your point and most importantly, is satisfying to their viewers/users.
    There are too many examples of how not to do this.

  2. Carmen Gonzalez from Healthcare Communications Group, March 11, 2010 at 12:22 p.m.

    You have succinctly stated the flaws that mechanical translations generate. Thanks for this posting. Given the buying power of the Latino market, it is beyond me as to why companies would squander golden opportunities to engage the Spanish-speaking audience. With a bit of tailored dedication, the prospective dividends are limitless.


  3. Emilio Mahomar from Soundwriters, March 11, 2010 at 12:27 p.m.

    BRAVO Lee!!!

    I've been preaching about this since forming my company 12 years ago! I've always asked my English speaking clients: "How would you feel if while you were reading a website, article, newspaper or watching television you noticed the English language was being butchered, by companies who are claiming to care about you and are interested in gaining your business?"Their response of course was obvious: "we'd lose interest and would feel disrespected!"

    Now that the US Hispanic Market is hovering the trillion mark, I recommend smart businesses invest in their Spanish outreach/marketing initiatives with the same integrity, passion, respect and commitment utilized with their native English initiatives...

  4. Armando Carrillo Jr, March 11, 2010 at 2:50 p.m.

    Solid article. You bring to light the precise areas where many brands fail when attempting to appeal to a Latino following, especially within 1st and 2nd generation households, who may still prefer consuming information and media en español. The technologies and visionaries do exist to allow for the development of culturally relevant, informative, and memorable experiences online happen, para nuestra gente. Sad that this high demand for quality Spanish content is too often taken for granted.

    Great KCET mention, Victor. I love PBS!

  5. Lee Vann from Captura Group, March 11, 2010 at 8:30 p.m.

    Victor, Carmen, Emilio and Armando-

    Thanks for the comments and the support, this issue is close to my heart and it is good to know that you guys see it the same way.

    For Emilio, here is what I would do. Go to a great Spanish language site and translate it to English using Google Translate. Show this to your English speaking clients and see what they think!

  6. Sebastian Aroca from Hispanic Market Advisors, March 20, 2010 at 7 p.m.

    Free automated machine translators can only provide partial accuracy because they perform simple substitution of words in one natural language for words in another without taking the context or intended meaning into account. If you decide to translate a website, choose a "human" translation company that drives for excellence, attention to detail and superb customer service ensuring that the translated content reinforces your brand attributes while reaching your Spanish-reliant or Spanish-preferred audiences.

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