A good copy, a good story: using machine translation plug-in to sell your product

In the previous article I’ve talked about the fact that pesky mistakes in Russian in 11/22/63 will not deter me from reading Stephen King’s books, because the main purpose of the book is to tell a good story. Moreover, most King’s readers do not even care whether the Russian words and sentences are correct.

Errors and poor style will cause loss of potential customers and affect company's image and reputation. Read a blog post describing the original research to find out more.

Errors and poor style will cause loss of potential customers and affect company's image and reputation. Read a blog post describing the original research to find out more.

But what if your target audience speaks the language and cares whether or not it is spoken correctly?

True, not all native speakers obsess over finer points of grammar, but certainly all (most) of them will notice if the text is badly written, hard to understand, or doesn’t even make sense.

In this post I would like to discuss the latter: attempts to sell products or services using the copy that does not make sense (or is hard to read, or is unintentionally funny) using machine translation plug-ins. The great advantage of such a plug-in is that it is free. The downside is a bad impression the copy will make on prospective buyers.

Using a machine-translation plug-in for marketing copy: possible outcomes

Best-case scenario

Translated copy makes sense, but is clunky and painful to read


Low engagement, low conversion rates

Average scenario

Translated copy sort of makes sense if readers slow down and take some time to figure out what might be meant


Low engagement, bounce rate increase due customers not willing to waste additional effort on making sense of the copy and not trusting the company that does not bother to get the translation straight.

Worst-case scenario

Translated copy does not make sense, or the result is comical/inappropriate


no trust, no conversion, and/or bad PR (the infamous Chinese signs, also featured by The Economist).

Using a machine translation plug-in with no editing whatsoever for marketing texts, while being cost-efficient, will not produce the desired effect of attracting new customers and cause losses in long term.

Poor copy will lead to a decrease in engagement and a negative perception of brand and product quality.

Example: StoryBoardThat

Website description: story board creation tool, available for businesses and educators. Content includes a wide variety of white papers, tutorials, educational and business articles, and testimonials.

Main challenge

translating all of the content into multiple foreign languages.


Aggressive expansion and attraction of multiple clients.


GoogleTranslate plug-in.

Intended copy impact (based on the English original) and the actual result

While using a machine translation does not cost anything; it has a hidden cost: loss of potential clients and company reputation.

Copy (general)

Goal: interest potential customers in the product, get to sign-up

Effect: readers can understand what’s meant; although the text is error-ridden and hard to read. Could be understood by ESL speakers when hovering over an incomprehensible phrase and reading the original.

Resources on using storyboarding in education

Purpose: convince education specialists that storyboarding could be a useful tool, especially for English language arts courses

Effect: same as with copy.

Additional issue >> most of the material is irrelevant for Russian language teachers. Needs localization to be appealing (storyboarding the Scarlet Letter vs storyboarding the War and Peace).

Also: machine-translated quotes from Shakespeare (ouch).

Alternative solution: omission of this section (lack of opportunity due to a low-tech nature of Russian education system).

Business articles

Purpose: convince that storyboarding could be used as a business tool

Effect: same as with copy.

Issue: would a potential business user waste his/her time on trying to make sense of the badly written copy?


Purpose: convert potential customers, social proof.

Effect: incomprehensible to comical (job description: “teapot”).

Alternative approach

Translation of a website: instead of using a machine translation plug-in, check statistics and determine whether or not foreign-language speakers are visiting your website and determine potentially promising regions.

Website analytics review

Look at the most-visited pages, visits count, location of visitors and their engagement with the English website, choice of potentially promising foreign markets, choice of languages to translate website into.

Knowing which languages your website will be translated into, determine which pages will be required and whether or not information will need to be adapted to a local market (localization).

Content inventory

Determine the most popular pages, choose the most popular/important copy to be translated, determine whether or not additional changes in the copy (localization) are required.

But what if most of the website is informational, includes repetitive information and has to be completely translated? Would it make sense to use machine translation plug-in then? We’ll discuss it in the following article.

Other blog topics

Ekaterina Howard, English to Russian and German to Russian translator working with business, marketing and real estate materials

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

English to Russian and German to Russian translator working with business, marketing and real estate materials. ATA and CATI member.