Russian Website Translation: How to Avoid Costly Mistakes and Ensure Customers Buy, Rather Than Laugh

Here is how to ensure that your customers love your translated site.

Adding a Russian language version to your website might be a great way to increase sales, because Russian-speaking visitors to your pages are more likely to buy from a site that speaks their language. This is true even for those who know English well—many still prefer the localized version (the comfort zone). The good news is that the cost of translating your website into Russian is typically just a fraction of your overall marketing budget. If you expect your products or services to be popular with the Russian-speaking visitors to your website, missing this affordable opportunity to engage them on a new level is unwise. This post offers tips to guide you through the process of translating your website into Russian.

Let’s start with more general tips.

Creating a site from scratch

Ideally, you should build a Russian language version into your website from day one. Adding it later might require costly rework. I realize this is a remote possibility, but if you are just planning your entire site, go for it by all means—it will help provide a seamlessly integrated Russian version.

Making sure you have the right Russian translation team

Translating marketing content is a challenge for most translators, which makes it difficult for you to get a fine translation. Failure to take vendor selection seriously might result in literal translations that are not much better than machine translations. This is especially true for websites that combine marketing copy with specialized content. For example, we recently translated a website for a telecommunications company, with a plethora of product descriptions. Knowledge of the subject area was just as important as excellent Russian style. So take your time to find the right team and do not trade quality for lower costs or convenience, because the quality of translation makes a big difference when it comes to websites.

Giving your vendor ample time

You spent weeks—if not months—polishing the copy of the English version, so do not expect the translation team to produce the same quality of copy in a span of a few days. If you want high quality, be ready to wait patiently.

Automating the process of inserting the translation to reduce errors

Clients often have their sites translated by copying all content into a Microsoft Word file and then having the vendor translate that file. After delivery, the client inserts the translations by hand into the newly created website pages. Not only is this process as costly as any other manual process, but it is also prone to error. What you should do instead is explore the ability to export the original text from your CMS and then import the translations back automatically.

Translating only what you need

Save your time and money by limiting translation to only what is important to your potential Russian-speaking clients. For example, it does not make sense to translate a section about careers.

Agreeing on a list of keywords

Keywords are as important to the translated version as they are to the original one. Even if you are not excited about SEO, getting the keywords right is still important, because services such as AdWords rely on them, too. A basic process looks like this:

  • Provide a list of keywords to the translation team.
  • Ask them to research those keywords in the Russian language to come up with the most popular equivalents.
  • Ask them to use the keywords in the translation strategically.

Letting your vendor test the Russian website thoroughly

I cannot stress this strongly enough, especially because I have seen clients ignore this important step over and over again, resulting in spectacular errors up to completely unusable sites. Having the team check the translations in context and test the usability contributes to a flawless site, sending a clear message to your clients that you take translation (and likely other business matters, too) seriously.

Bringing the new language version online

Make the additional language version available at the same domain as the main version. If you have a “company.com” domain, you add the Russian language version at “company.com/ru.” Do not set up a separate domain in the corresponding language zone, such as “company.ru.” Keeping the two language versions together as one website makes site maintenance easier and has a positive impact in terms of SEO, because you are not splitting the SEO “juice” between two sites.

Making up your mind about future content

Once your Russian website goes live, adding new content is more difficult than with the original version, where you can simply log into the CMS and have a new page ready in a matter of minutes. If you choose to add new content to the Russian version, you need to establish a process for having it translated regularly, ideally in batches. But if you do not want to translate content, then to do not publish it at all, because untranslated content decreases usability.

Now to more specific tips.

More reserved tone of voice

The style used on Russian websites and more broadly in Russian marketing is different from that generally found in English marketing copy. Whereas English lends itself to a more colloquial and metaphorical style, Russian appears more reserved. Although this neutral tone might strike the English native speaker as boring, it is completely normal. For example, most metaphors that look natural in English need to be put in quotation marks or translated descriptively, because they sound out-of-place in more formal Russian copy. In fact, when a Russian text includes raw metaphors, you can be sure this is a translation—and a literal one.

Text expansion

Be prepared for the Russian text to expand. One reason is described above: where English uses short and sweet metaphors, Russian translators often have to come up with longer descriptive equivalents. Expansion is usually not a problem with the bulk of the text, because it flows from page to page naturally. Things like buttons, menus, and images are more of a problem, though. You can prepare for text expansion by leaving ample space for all texts to expand. For example, do not build a tight menu where the longer Russian words will never squeeze in. And remember that although abbreviating words is an option with some kinds of texts, it is impractical on websites, because users do not always understand them.

Make sure to localize images as well.

Do not forget to translate images also. I often stumble upon Russian sites with untranslated images, and these always strike me as out-of-place. In languages that have a lot of direct English borrowings, such as German, keeping images untranslated might be more or less acceptable, because they do not stand out. However, untranslated words look alien in Russian, mainly because Russian uses the Cyrillic script, with letters completely different from that of English.

Machine translation for the Russian mirror of your site?

Although the low price tag can be tempting, using machine translation services to localize a business website is not an option. Because Russian and English are very different in many respects, these translations are unlikely to be any good, even if you put them through post-editing. Clumsy Russian texts will project an unprofessional image and turn away clients.

In conclusion

Here are the main takeaways from this article:

  • Save on anything but translation.
  • Work with experts who will save you from costly mistakes, both in terms of translation and web design.
  • Keep SEO in mind—e.g., create a list of Russian keywords and put the new language version on your main domain.
  • Do not let the expanded text break your design: be prepared and test thoroughly.
  • Make sure that everything in the Russian is translated: do not publish any untranslated additions.

From pre-translation consulting to bringing the new language version online, our company can guide you through the process of translating a website into Russian smoothly. Rely on our 10 years of experience to get your website translation right. Request a free quote for English to Russian translation today.