Si, Se Habla Espanol: Mainstream Websites Go Spanish

According to a recent Forrester report that examined the utility of having a Spanish-language website, 51% of the Hispanics surveyed responded that they prefer Spanish-language websites over their English language counterparts, while 25% responded that it essential that a website be in Spanish in order for them to use it. Even so, though the idea of having a Spanish-language website is appealing to many companies, the prospect of developing a whole other site and maintaining it is a daunting one. For some, it is the cost of building the site that deters them. For others, it is the intensive IT commitment that can be problematic. For still others, it is a question of what to do once the website is up.

Sergio Aprestan, sales manager for website adaptation company Transperfect, says that many of the company’s bigger clients develop Spanish-language websites because they are interested in capturing Latin American business. Aprestan notes that, while not typical, many of his online-based sales clients have reported 30% increases in sales figures after implementing their Spanish-language site.

“I prefer the term ‘website localization’ to describe what we do,” says Aprestan. “Localization goes beyond simple translation by taking into account the target audience and ‘localizing’ the site to suit that audience.”

When talking about the cost of implementing a Spanish-language site with their company, Transperfect CEO Liz Elting offers a coy response: “That number can vary quite widely depending on a client's budget, overall language strategy, and the nature of their source content. Answering this question is comparable to trying to answer the famous ‘how much is a blue car?’ question. To put the expense in perspective, localizing and maintaining a Spanish site is definitely less costly than the development and upkeep of the original site (while allowing you to reach a larger market), but for larger, dynamic sites it isn’t really a small investment.”

What about sites that require frequent updates? Some localization companies have software that automatically determines that updates to the general sites have been made (e.g. Transperfect/ Motionpoint). Other companies require a phone call or email to notify them of content changes (e.g. Magnum Group). In Transperfect’s case, its system tracks changes. As Elting explains: “The system monitors website content repositories and notifies the appropriate individuals whenever a change has been made, triggering a series of localization workflows. Content Director will automatically extract content tagged for translation from the repository and kick off the translation workflow. Translated files can then be delivered back through Content Director and into the correct repository, thereby saving corporate IT teams a lot of time and money monitoring the whole translation cycle,” says Elting.

MotionPoint is another company offering complete website localization, and boasts an average turn-around of 60 days. The model it uses overlays the Spanish copy over the English without changing any of the html, one factor in keeping costs down. CEO Will Fleming says there are three key factors to manage when adding a Spanish-language website.

1) Master the language quality: Typically guaranteed by the adaptation company.
2) Speed of deployment:
60-90 days.
3) Maintaining and updating sites: Handled by adaptation company.

It’s an interesting market, says Motionpoint’s VP of sales Ben Field, “What we see are these LSPs (Language service providers) having done document management for a while and are now trying to switch into the online space. The problem is that, while these companies are perfectly proficient at translating copy, they haven’t really gotten the technological aspects of updating the content nailed down. That is one area where we definitely see ourselves as ahead of the competition,” says Field.

He points to the example of famed rail company Amtrak. In Mid-2005, the company was looking into developing a Spanish language website to increase ridership and revenues coming from U.S. Hispanics. However, when faced with the challenges and costs of translating website copy for such a complex and time-sensitive operation, the company reluctantly abandoned those plans. Factors leading up to that decision were as follows:

• A full site translation, including the database-driven ticket purchase application,
would take at least 9 months to build and deliver and would require 6+ person months of IT and web development to re-architect the English site and integrate the Spanish site.

• Automated software translation, also known as “machine translation,” would not meet Amtrak’s needs for translation accuracy. The company found that only highly skilled human translation could provide the quality required to build its brand and satisfy its customers.

• Considerable internal staff would be required after the site was live to notify any translation provider of ongoing changes and to manage the posting and removal of translated content.

• Turn-around time to get translated content could run 5 – 10 days. Rush jobs were possible, but were expensive and required time to manage.

In late 2006, MotionPoint approached Amtrak about assuming the abandoned task. Amtrak was skeptical that the site could be launched at a cost it was ready to live with. The initial Spanish translated site was officially launched on February 7, 2007, 83 days after the contract was signed, on time and on budget, according to Mr. Field. After realizing that the added revenue of the site would pay for the new site within 6 months, they commissioned Motionpoint to launch a German –language iteration. Motionpoint says that they are on pace to bring another 100+ new clients this year.

Another player in the field is Philadelphia-based Magnum Group, which was founded in 1992 by President Viviana Isaak: “We specialize in translating technical content, both online and offline,” says Isaak. “In particular, we do a lot of work with medical copy. We’ve also worked with financial institutions. It’s interesting, because on that side of things, it all started out with Spanish on ATMs, and it’s really grown out from there into full-blown sites.” Isaak notes that there is a good degree of client education that they must do when implementing a Spanish-language website. “We really stress the importance of having online materials available in Spanish and English. Oftentimes, the older Spanish-dominant Hispanics will have their computer savvy children find the website and print out the information. For the first and second generation adults, Spanish-language copy is often preferable, whereas for the kids that are helping them, English is often the preferred language to read that sort of information. So it’s really about reaching the customers on their terms that is at the heart of it all,” says Isaak.

Crutchfield, a consumer electronics mail-order and online retailer, has had a bilingual sales staff for the past 8 years, but it was only in the last few years that they got their Spanish-language site up and running. Clara Lyons, bilingual sales advisor for Crutchfield, says the website was developed in response to customer demand. “We've had Spanish-speaking customers for a long time. Our bilingual phone staff has grown from 3 to 12 and we keep increasing our hours. We knew our customers wanted a Spanish-language site.”

Garrett Mathews, Internet Marketing Manager at Crutchfield, says they've run ads in magazines and on the Internet in order to drive new Spanish-speaking consumers to their site. Crutchfield has placed ads in Automundo, ESPN Deportes, Motortrend en español, Maxim en español, National Geographic en español magazines, as well as banners on AOL Latino and MSN Latino and ads on search engines with Spanish key words including QuePasa, Google and Yahoo. Currently Hispanic sales levels are less than 9% of Crutchfield's total company sales, but Mathews says he expects stronger percentage growth in this area than in their core business in the near future.”

And while it is difficult to measure exactly how much impact a Spanish-language site has on sales, it is clear that more and more companies are taking the leap. According to Transperfect’s CEO Liz Elting, “We’ve seen estimates that peg the size of the entire translation and localization industry at between $6 billion and $8 billion per year.” The exact figure is harder to come by, however, as Elting points out that, “With the convergence of various media types in recent years, it’s very hard to segment out what translations are performed specifically for the web versus other content.” While it may be difficult to ascertain exactly which avenues translated materials are being directed to amnd how they are being repurposed, there is a clear trend of ever more companies developing Spanish language sites to augment their general online destinations; and with a the recent Forrester data showing that over half of online Hispanics prefer Spanish language websites and about a quarter require them, this trend is set to continue and will likely accelerate in the immediate future.