Why Using Free Online Translation for Marketing Does NOT Work?



This is a guest post from Olga Kellen, an excellent Russian translator who we’ve recently started a collaboration with, about the dangers and annoyances of free automated translation. Hope you enjoy the read!

“I guess any translator has had this experience when a potential client turns to free online translation on their website instead of using a professional to translate the website into a foreign language(s) to get foreign buyers for the site’s product.

Here’s an example of such so called marketing to foreigners through free online translation:

At a beautiful luxury real estate website offering exclusive homes all priced over $1,000,000 in the USA, there is a button “Languages” – for free online translation into a number of languages. I used it for Russian and then translated the so called “Russian” content back to English.

Here’s how these American realtors appear to market their luxury to Russian-speaking website visitors:

“Protected, calm, and extremely particular communities dotted line with the large of the property of apartment buildings in the wide sections with that impressing opinions. With the photo the postcard is the park of tuning elevated the country- style of the stylishness, for pastoral horse passing elegance, [Kombi] enclaves to ensure peaceful solitude and with the bewitching view. These land spreading is shop window the irreproachable selection of many architectural styles, from the Mediterranean to Mizner the [Palm]- whip of Georgian French Regency of British West India, also, beyond its limits. For those, which the prize of rarified of beauty and the infinite views, which it enveloped in the peaceful solitude.”

I won’t go on, it’s the same pity all over the site, and you have the idea.

Their page name “Private Estate Enclave” turned simply into “restroom is the urbanization” – sorry, but that’s what the machine translation does sometimes…

Another convincing argument for NOT using free online translation where it does not belong:

We all know that Canada is a bilingual country. It means government agencies of all levels have to provide people with information and services in both English and French. Private companies do the same as they want to get business from both English- and French-speaking people.

Canadian websites are mostly bilingual – some by law and some by will.

Do they ever use a free translation?I’ll be very much astonished to find at least one company that does that in Canada…

Why not?

They have to serve customers FOR REAL!

Not only don’t they use free translations, they don’t even use their own bilingual staff for translating between the languages, but they hire professional translatorsto do the job properly.

Real Estate Institute of Canada (REIC) has Languages Policy published on their website that says among other things:

Translation: REIC does retain the services of a translator for the translation of the written word. Staff who are bilingual will not be expected to take on a project that requires the use of this specific skill.”

More and more American retailers open a Spanish version of their e-commerce sites. Look at BestBuy, some Amazon sites. They do this not for foreigners, but for Spanish-speaking Americans, who are actually bilingual and could very well use the English sites (!)

Why do retailers do this? Well, they are big companies with big marketing departments; they know what to do to get more sales. They decide to spend money on Spanish websites as their marketing research showed the possibility to earn more if they provide bilingual American population with the chance to read the merchandise descriptions and place orders in their mother’s language.

They don’t disclose the budget for translating and maintaining the new sites of course. They only say that their Spanish websites are not exactly the same as the original English sites, as they take into consideration some differences that targeting the Spanish-speaking population requires. (I don’t know Spanish, but if you do, you can check it for yourself)

Do the retailers use a free online translation for that?



Because they are serious about SELLING to the prospects they target!

So, if somebody wants to market their products or services to people who speak other languages than their own and they really want those foreigners’ business, these are examples to follow for them to look professional in marketing efforts and eventually get sales.

Feel free to use the above arguments to convince your clients not to look foolish in foreign languages instead of getting foreign sales. There are more examples of how companies can really compromise their business with free online translation(they are in English and Russian which are my languages).”

Olga Kellen,

English – Russian translator and Russian internet marketer


  1. Dean Berg said:

    These are great examples, Olga! Although I’m biased (I work for a professional language service provider), we tell clients that they should never use free online translation for any customer-facing material. Whether it be marketing, legal, technical, learning or other. The only situation in which a free online translation tool should be used would be specific cases of internal communication – internal emails, internal knowledge bases, etc.

    I doubt that a free online translation tool will ever replace a professional translator for customer-facing materials – unless, as you state, sales are not the objective!

    • I agree with what everyone’s saying, and that’s why we let Olga post here. However, the devil’s in the details: I quote: “I doubt that a free online translation tool will ever replace a professional translator for customer-facing materials”. That’s right, but you said, free. Paid tools are another story. Many major translation agencies use professional tools for automated translation in their everyday business, together with professional revisers. Not that anyone would notice.

  2. Sarai said:

    Great post – using free online translation is dicey at best for companies who can’t check the output themselves!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: