When translating ad copy for international clients, it’s easy to get ‘lost in translation’. This results in your copy not using the words you meant to, saying things in the wrong way, or worse, insulting your target audience. At the very least, any of these will result in a lower click through rate (CTR) and almost certainly worse outcomes.

Here at Genie we have 11 different native in-house languages and even more nationalities. We have found this to be the only way to really ensure we can consistently get the correct phrasing in each language for our target group and the market: it’s the only way we can ever guarantee that translation is done properly.

As a native-speaking German PPC strategist, I see mistakes every day that can be solved by being aware of common mistakes when it comes to translating ad copy. So what are the things you should look out for - and the best practices for solving them? 

Translating adwords badly

Formal and informal language

When translating ad copy for a new language, the first thing to consider is whether you should be writing in the formal or informal forms of the language. This means you need to define your target market to know who you are addressing, and/or take into consideration any brand guidelines which your client might be able to provide.

But watch out… even if you know what your client would prefer in France, it doesn’t mean it will be the same in Germany. Both countries use formal and informal language, but in different contexts. Make sure to look into the market and your target group before using formal or informal language. 

On this point, you don’t want to address somebody with formal and informal language in the same ad copy (as in my example) or use one in your ad copy and the other in your ad extensions. When you finally find out which one to use there is one golden rule - stick to it! Consistency is key.

Consistency in translation

Don’t translate literally

The next mistake I often come across are words translated literally from English to German. In my example we translated ‘holiday season’ literally to ‘Urlaubssaison’. This word does exist in German, but isn’t associated with Christmas and instead only with summer holidays. I saw this explicit mistake quite often throughout the internet during the holiday season 2016.

You need to make sure to always translate within the context and not just translate everything without thinking about the change in meaning it might have for native speakers. If you are unsure about the message, check your client's website or get directly in touch with them and ask for more context about the promotion you are creating the ad for.

translating literally

False friends

There are many words that are very similar in spelling or pronunciation in English and German (or other languages). The first thing I learned when moving to the UK was when you hear a word that sounds similar to the one in your language, you assume that it has the same meaning. However, you should always google the word before assuming. ALWAYS.

The same applies for your ads. It doesn’t matter if you translate an ad to your native language or from your native language to another one. Make sure you don’t fall for a false friend like we did twice in my example. There might even be a word that has several meanings in English but only has one correct translation within the context.

Bringing this all together - what does this mean?

  1. Get your context right

  2. Don’t translate literally

  3. Watch out for homonyms

  4. Interpret - don’t translate!

If you would like any help getting your ad copy to work smartly and efficiently in different countries, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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And if you do everything right, you should end up with an ad like this :)

And if you do everything right, you should end up with an ad like this :)

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