How do you build the right website for a videogame translator?

An ongoing collection of thoughts about how to reshape my online presence. Might include useful ideas for others

"In Italy there’s always an accursed moment where reactions turn from ‘here’s a promising fella’ to ‘not this shmuck again’. Only a lucky few then age into a more dignified ‘always a pleasure, dear master’" - Alberto Arbasino

This year will mark three important dates for me: four years as IGDA Localization SIG chair/co-chair, ten years as team GLOC, and forty years on this planet.

And while it’s true that "An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half" (Karl Kraus) I do feel it’s time to adjust my online presence and wear some age-appropriate "shmuck" clothes. (And that’s it, I do hope civilization will never reach the point where "master" is ever applied to videogame translators).

Being a freelance translator

Needless to say, I don’t have the budget for a corporate-sized rebranding. On one hand, this means way more work for me. On the other, the slow process of trying, failing and iterating things myself should lead to truly personal results. And that’s vital.

I feel Laura Gutierrez summed up brilliantly why this is important, but since an image is worth a thousand words, let’s go with it. This is what a recent poll described as "localization professions"

Interestingly for a website called "L10N people" those… aren’t my people.
Out of 11 professions listed, only three are likely to ever touch the text: "Linguistic Staff", "Technical Staff" and "Project Managers". Everything else is sales and management.

It’s a sales operation, to the point that if you replace those three professions it could be any other field, from oil extraction to life insurance. Nothing wrong with that, sales are essential for any large-scale operation, but it’s not my job.

And most importantly, it’s not what I’m good at. I simply cannot compete with people that deploy 7 different specialists just to cover the bit where I say "That’s my card and, uh, give me a shout if you need translations".

No matter how polished and studied and convincing the presentation will be, I must be myself, a freelance translator - just shaved and hair-combed.

Getting there: the website

So, let’s start small and iterate

How small? A two-page site with my business pitch, an online resume answering the core questions: who I am, what I sell and how much does it cost

With time, we will will gradually review my whole presentation, both online and offline, but let’s start with this first, minimal element

And let’s be clear: it will not be design, at least for now. As eloquently summarized here, here and here, it should be design to serve the message, not the other way around. It took me 10 years to understand it, but that’s the core reason why 10 USD template-built "professional" themes always stink: you need to start with the message (well, you need that and the time for it and a budget over 10 USD)

Where do we start? From the most basic but also the most understandable guideline I could find about building good sites: the Digital Services Playbook from the US Digital Service. Really, it might sound like a joke (how many times do I say that in a week?) but it’s brilliant

"Understand what people need"

Okay, we might not be able to cover all the points in this checklist, but a few are very useful and viable. For example spending time with current and prospective users of the service. So I reached out a few industry contacts I know in order to get their views on how translators get chosen. Long story short, here are the conclusions

  • Unless an agency is very small, it’s not the project manager that picks a translator, but a recruiting specialist
  • This also means that it’s a proactive work: they search vendors and store them in the database in advance, they don’t chase them up when a request arrives
  • In return, this means that searching on Google, LinkedIN or isn’t that common: most translators get chosen because 1) they are a known commodity, mostly because they come recommended by someone and 2) because they are cheaper than others
  • Therefore 1 - It’s important to state clearly the specifications of your service (for example the CAT tool/Translation-Editing-Proof/Xbench QA workflow and experience) but don’t try to dazzle: at the end of the day they only want to understand the service they can expect from you - quality is something they will measure themselves
  • Therefore 2 - The keyword when judging a new translator is "guarantees": years of experience and a strong portfolio show that you are reliable, while few papers, case studies and activities show that you care enough to stay updated and specialize
  • In this perspective, the important thing is that all these elements exist. People are busy and sometimes they will stop at reading titles, but just that is enough for them to notice and appreciate
  • If you clarify that you are always reachable 24/7 through the Italian partners, living in Japan is not an issue. People in this field know that translators are often globetrotters and don’t look down at them for it. Quality speaks for itself
  • Similarly, clients will not see "extra-curricular" activities as distractions. They will simply assume that 100% of your attention will be focused on them when required
  • Suggested formats: A clean, vertical site, with good text and a few recognizable logos / SNS posts that link to your content while being easily digestible on their own / A rare, non-spammy newsletter with carefully curated content

What’s next?

A lot! First of all, I’ll be hearing from the Marketing Guy, which is the one who… well, knows something about marketing, and study a general plan with him.

Then we might prepare a prototype site and collect more feedback about it (probably through a form to save time) in order to follow the path of the mighty Digital Service Playbook -I wonder if anyone else might be interested… Maybe a raffle?-

All the while, I’ll look into how to tweak PicoCMS. First of all, I would like all links to external sites to open as new tabs ("target _blank"): it’s hard to follow a post AND its links if they all open in the same tab

I also want to see if I can implement some A/B testing, which is a crafty way to improve websites: prepare two slightly different versions of the same site (for example one that ends with a button and one the ends with a link) and have a system swap them randomly and record which one was more popular over time. The great thing of using a minimalist platform like PicoCMS is that I can probably build a plugin for phpA/B test myself

Will I keep writing about it all? Maybe. I’ll not deny that this mostly helps me think about goals and plans, but a surprising amount of people seem to have actually gone and read this post. Also, it falls in line with what I’ve been doing for years: blatantly stealing ideas from Patrick McKenzie after briefly meeting him at Gengo (I guess I should blog about it one day)

Alain Dellepiane

Alain Dellepiane @gloc247 17 May 2017
Alain is the founder of team GLOC. Want to read more about localization? You should probably try this blog's Best of, which has a dozen of the best articles ready to read. (View all posts by Alain ➜)

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