Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Translating Water Marquee

Translating Water Marquee

In the 2 months since Water Marquee opened its doors, over one third of visitors have been coming from non-English speaking countries. The bounce rate of these visitors was much higher than people from English speaking countries, but I'm hoping that's because of the language barrier.

Breakdown of visitor languages to Water Marquee

I decided to find out how hard it would be to translate the site into other languages in order to improve those bounce rates (and hopefully increase the conversion rate, of course).

Enter oDesk

oDesk is a website where you can hire remote workers, both short and long-term.  You can hire workers for pretty much any kind of job that can be done remotely, from website development to bookkeeping, and obviously for translation as well.

oDesk has some nifty software that lets employers see the work their contractors are doing via their Work Diaries, which essentially takes screenshots of their contractor's desktops while they're logged in.

Screenshot from the Italian translator via oDesk's Work Diary

Since the contractors are only paid when their logged in, it's easy to verify that they're working and not surfing Youtube.  It is, I admit, very Big Brother-ish, but as I had no experience hiring remote workers it did decrease my feeling of risk.

En EspaƱol, Por Favor

I decided to stick the top 5 non-English visitor's languages, since that would account for 30% of my overall visitors.  Also, I can speak some Spanish (which is helpful with the other Romance languages) and spent a few years in Germany, so I felt I would have an easier time with those than Turkish or Chinese.

I started by creating a spreadsheet with all of the phrases I needed translated, broken down into each of the three main pages of Water Marquee (Home, Basic, Pro).  I uploaded the file to Water Marquee, and referenced it in each job posting, so the applicants would have a clear picture of the work to be done.

The Process

I started with Spanish, since that's the language I'm most familiar with, and only waited about an hour after the job was posted to make a selection, which is why there were only 3 applicants.  Posting on oDesk is very straightforward and doesn't cost anything.  Instead, oDesk takes a cut of the applicants rate.  I decided to pay for hourly work to avoid ending up with rushed jobs or wasted money.

I got way more applicants than I was expected, even though the longest I went from job posting to candidate selection was overnight. Most candidates rated themselves as 4 or 5-stars with their English skills, but too often their applications read like this one:
I am XXXXXX I saw you offer and let me tell you with humbly I can  do the work faster than now why?
First Because of my roots English Arabic and French are my basic languages
Second I study the art of translation and writing in the high school
And I have a diplomat in the art of translation"
Thankfully, oDesk has various tests that candidates can take to prove their skills, so usually the first thing I looked at was each applicant's results in the "Translate English into (Candidate Language)" test.  If the applicant hadn't taken the test, I disqualified them.

I ended up selecting candidates whose rates were around the average for all applicants for their particular language.  Usually the candidate I selected had scored highly in the translations tests, and in their application had written something to indicate why they'd be good at my particular job posting - they were into photography, they had translated similar websites before, they were a software developer themselves, etc.

Mistakes I Made

I missed some phrases I needed translated - the navigation links, some javascript generated text, and the footer. I used Google Translate when necessary.  I also didn't implement the translations until after they were all complete. I should have implemented one first before doing the other jobs. That would have caught the first problem.


I spent $100.75 for five languages, which I am very happy with.  Some of the more interesting things I found:
  • French had the most applicants, but only one person was actually from France. Most were located in North Africa.
  • German was, by far, the most expensive hourly rate on average.
  • All but one of the Italian applicants was from Italy.  The other jobs were much more diverse in the applicant's locations.
  • "Watermark" has no direct translation in some languages, but the translators indicated that the English word would be understood.

The results are now live on Water Marquee.  If you spot any problems, please let me know.