10 Ways to Optimize Content for Easy Translation

How to draft your source content with translation in mind.


As a writer and media nerd, language has fascinated me forever. Word origin, dual meanings, context- the history of it all 🤓! My love of language has grown alongside the bloom of the digital revolution: communicating, sharing ideas and weaving together words is a vital way to sync up as humans.

And as creators and consumers of content, be it articles, DMs or business initiatives, our words need to be clear in order to have the strength to resound in the minds of the receivers and readers.

For those who write copy, we are taught to use clear, digestible language that will resonate with readers. If done correctly, we are able to facilitate and nourish meaningful connections that can develop into long-lasting relationships. We want to make our writing relatable and clear enough to bond with our audience.

Sounds easy enough. And as it turns out, much is the same for optimizing content for effective translation.

Whether the content is meant for brands to reach new customers and secure business, or kicking off a campaign, all professionals know there is no room for error when communicating.

Here are ten quick and easy ways to ensure your content can be translated efficiently and clearly.

1. Write With An Active, Not Passive Voice

Concise and direct copy will allow your messages to resonate with your audience. Using an active voice, a way of writing where the subject of your sentence is doing the work, will help minimize mistakes during translation.

Which sentence do you think is stronger:

  • Fully optimized content reaches an audience in a meaningful way.
  • A meaningful way to reach readers is to give them optimized content.

The active voice is the preferred method of content creation because it takes the guesswork out of who is doing what and why. In keeping with the active voice, messages are easier to understand and can then easily incorporate a call to action- a takeaway brands always want to include in their conversations with audiences.

2. Stick to Standard Sentence Structure

Keep your sentences simple to give translators the best chance of correctly manipulating your words and ideas into another language.

The subject/verb/object sentence structure is widely recognized by many languages (not all though!).

By adhering to simple language structures, it will be easier for translators to understand the true intent, and discover the best way to express the same meaning in a new language.

3. Use One Term to ID a Single Concept

Each business is different and has verbiage unique to its industry or specific offering. Some brands may use one phrase to refer to a product, while other brands use a completely different tone for the exact same concept. Keep your identifying terms to one agreed-upon term so translations complete smoothly and seamlessly.

Understanding certain industry concepts and terms depends on the reader and how widely known the idea is. Use a singular term throughout your translation project for each concept.

Brands can ensure consistency throughout their content by keeping an up-to-date glossary and style guide on all appropriate terms for translators to pull from.

4. Avoid Acronyms

TBH (To Be Honest), acronyms are a fun and simple way to conserve a few strokes on your keyboard or phone. However, they’re not always translation-friendly because they are rarely universal and can quickly lead to confusion.

Drop acronyms altogether if you want your content to optimize fully, IMO (In My Opinion).

5. Local Keyword Research

What are the top cities, destinations and locations for the audience who will ultimately see your content? How are people in that area searching for your product or solution on Google? What are the major concerns or problems that demographic is aiming to solve? These are all questions that your content needs to answer.

Research the keyword searches most popular to the demographic of your readers and sprinkle those words into your content. From there, the translator can populate those terms throughout the copy to increase SEO while re-establishing localization.

6. Utilize Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns often introduce a dependent (or relative) clauses in sentences. They also can stand alone as the subject or object of a sentence.

As you are writing copy and linking clauses, the use of relative pronouns will help to cinch thoughts and ideas together. The use of relative pronouns in terms of benefits for content creation include keeping the reader zeroed in on who is doing what. Readers will not be lost, even if a sentence is translated, or fall off the path of your messaging.

Keep these in your back pocket to help you set up your translation for success:

  • Who
  • Whom
  • Whose
  • That
  • Which

7. Keep Sentences Brief

Not much to say here. Be a straight-shooter and there will be less room for error.

Longer sentences allow for unnecessary complexity. The more complexities a translator has to tackle, the harder it becomes to interpret and translate the true meaning.

8. Avoid Slang and Humor

Nothing can convey depth and range quite like humor, but it doesn’t always have a place in translation.

Instead, nix the humor and replace it with straightforward copy. Anyone that’s tried to learn another language will tell you that humor is perhaps the most difficult to translate. If you are looking to weave in humor, work with your translator to introduce their creativity and humor into the completed translation -- let them handle the localization!

Slang is another route that can derail a translation, so keep that in your toolbelt for another project. A majority of the time, slang quickly comes in and out of the vernacular on a nationwide scale, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in your international translation piece.

9. Avoid Cultural-Specific References

Remember that you’re speaking to an entirely new audience. If someone referenced an obscure and specific Italian horror movie from the early 1970s at a dinner party, you would probably be confused.

When you include culturally-specific references in your writing, it has the potential to alienate the reader. It’s best to keep these examples and references at bay.

10. Be Mindful of Multiple Meanings

Are you “right” or are you “correct” when you answer a question properly? Linguists know and love that language is so multi-faceted. However, some of the words you put into your work could have multiple meanings, and that could complicate the translation process.

Be mindful of multiple meanings and use caution when using words like:

  • Current
  • Right
  • Rose
  • Address

The Bottom Line

Writing content so it can easily be optimized for translation takes work, but the results are worth it. Paying attention to the details up front can save a lot of back-and-forth down the road with your projects.

Addressing your readers with clear information and a simple call to action will put you ahead of the competition.

About Laura

Laura Wyant is a freelance digital strategist and writer/editor. She is currently working with start-ups, tech companies, and health and healing spaces. Laura has been contributing to the Smartling blog on topics around cloud translation, digital strategy, and overall creative translation process. When she isn’t working in media, she is working to educate herself on matters such as intersectional women’s health and advancements in technology.