Posted by: patenttranslator | May 26, 2013

How Visible Are Freelance Translators To Their Customers?

As I was listening to some Renaissance music on my FM radio this morning, which is a perfect musical accompaniment for translating long Japanese patents about semiconductor devices (New Age music is better suited for chemical patents), after a while I got tired of the poor audio on the FM channel. So I Googled the FM frequency with the name of my town and sure enough, within a couple of seconds I was listening to the same music on my computer with crystal clear digital audio reception.

This is how most people do everything these days, with the possible exception of stubborn senior citizens who refuse to use a computer because they are afraid that the mouse could bite them. Whatever it is that we are looking for, we can usually find it these days on our computer or cell phone, which is in fact now a small but quite powerful computer.


But if a potential customer finally gets tired of the consistently poor quality of translations from a translation agency (called these days “LSP”, as in Language Services Provider) which quite inexpertly translates every subject from any language into any other language through Project Managers (called PMs these days, although I refer to them as CCs, as in Clueless Coordinators), will this customer be able to find our specialized translation service on the Internet?

If I Google a translator’s name, I can often find his or her “personal profile” on Proz or Translators Cafe or something like that. But when I searched for example for “Japanese to English technical translation”, only one website of an individual translator was displayed on the first page, right under Google Translate, namely mine. One more individual translator’s website was shown on top of page 2, and two more translators were found on page 3, one of whom I met him many years ago in San Francisco. Most of the entries on the first 3 pages were for machine translation services and translation agencies, some of which specialize in Japanese.

The truth is, relatively few individual translators have a well designed website for their specialized translation service that is likely to be picked up by a search engine.

It costs about 150 dollars to have one’s particulars listed in the ATA (American Translators Association) database of translators. I have been an ATA member since 1987 and every year I get quite a bit of new business from my listing in this database, but only from translation agencies. This is not a resource that direct customers would be able to find and use – at least I don’t recall a single case of being found by a direct customer in this manner in the last 26 years.

A simple way to increase a translator’s visibility to direct customers is obviously a well designed website. Just about every café, store, restaurant, has one. A well designed, professionally looking website is particularly useful for a home-based business providing a specialized service that can be delivered through Internet, which is pretty much a definition of a home-based freelance translator’s business.

But as my simple search engine test seems to indicate, relatively few translators have such a website. You can design your own query with a few words that describe precisely your type of translation business and test it on Google and other search engines.

What words is a potential client likely to use while looking for your type of translation service? That should not be too hard to figure out. These are the words that should figure prominently in the information describing your services on your website, and if possible, also in the domain name hosting your website.


A few months ago, a translator was complaining on a translation blog that although he was “doing everything right”, he was only getting work at very low rates. He found it not believable that other people are paid much higher rates for the same type of work, and asked for advice on how to finally make more money.

By “doing everything right” he meant having a personal profile on discount auction sites such as Proz and Translation Café. When quite a few people were trying to give him good advice and point him in the right direction, and several of them were very experienced, well known translators who were trying sincerely to point out to him that he was not really doing at all what he should have been doing, he became indignant and started calling these translators liars. In the end the bloguese in question had to pull the plug on the comments to put an end to his threatening outbursts.

At this point, Internet still provides a more or less level playing field for businesses big and small hoping to attract new customers. God knows how long will this situation last, maybe not that long.

Larger businesses in the translation industry do have several advantages over individual translators. For example, they can spend more money on the design of their website and on regular search engine optimization updates than you and I can.

But if these larger corporate businesses specialize in everything, and most of them do, this is also their Achilles’ heel, because after paid advertisements which most people are likely to ignore, a good search engine such as Google is more likely to display among the first few entries the website of a small business with a content that is highly relevant to the search words used in a query rather than websites of translation agencies who “specialize” in translating every subject from and into every language.

Shouldn’t it be your website?



  1. Yes, well, being a successful professional translator takes just a little more than just ‘wanting to be one’ 🙂

    Your story reminded me of an experience that father related some 50 years ago. He was approached by the mayor and a couple of local business owners of a small town in the southern Netherlands who had been eyeing the success of an annual carnival celebration in my home town.

    He was the chair of the carnival committee at the time, and they asked him what it would take to celebrate carnival in their town.

    He looked them in the eye and said: “Well, there is one major problem: you do not have a sense of humour”. At this, the major became quite angry and defensive, until moments later he saw my father grinning at him.


    • Well, I hope the Dutch people in the story got the gig.

      If you want something, it is important to give it a try.

      As Woody Allen put it, showing up is 80 percent of life.


  2. […] Quanto è importante ai fini della visibilità di un traduttore avere un buon sito Internet?  […]


  3. […] As I was listening to some Renaissance music on my FM radio this morning, which is a perfect musical accompaniment for translating long Japanese patents about semiconductor devices (New Age music i…  […]


  4. Hezke rano ze slunecne Anglie 🙂 Nice useful article. I’d just add that when you look yourself or your keywords up in Google to see where you rank, it’s best not to do it from your own computer. Our computers remember the websites we visit and will put them at the top of search results. So if I search for Czech English birth certificate translation UK, or some such thing, I’m no.1 on my computer but in reality I’m probably a few places lower, as my Webmaster tools informs me. Work to be done yet to overtake those clever agencies and MTs 😀


  5. Thank you for your comment.

    I know that Google does that. When I test my ranking I use also other search engines (AOL, Alta Vista, etc.) and my webmaster sends me her report on my and my competitors’ ranking in Google a few times a year.

    I also ask people who call asking for a cost estimate how they found me and what key words they used and look once a month or so on Google Analytics for key words of people who ended up on my website.


    • Only trouble is Google Analytics can get a bit addictive if you’re that way inclined, which, unfortunately, I am 🙂


      • I have other, less benign addictions. I check GA less than once a month.

        The comment on your website about the dour, rude attitude of Czechs as opposed to the fake, optimistic attitude of Brits (and I would say Americans too: “Have a Nice Day!”) is interesting though somewhat simplistic.

        Based on my experience, German, French or even Japanese people can be just as rude as the Czechs, although they usually express it less directly.

        What might be called in Czech “česká sprostota” (Czech meanness or abusiveness) is a very unpleasant national characteristic. I remember how I was taken aback by a sudden, unprovoked outburst of this meanness when I visited Prague after having lived in Germany, US and Japan for 9 years for the first time in 1990 …. and then I remembered, oh, yeah, this is how things have always been here …


  6. I am taking your article as a wake-up call Steve! Its a subject that we talk about all the time but never find the time to do anything about it because we’re so busy dealing with all the job offers that we receive. I know we have it backwards :(!


  7. Hi Michal:

    Some translators do take the time, and when they do that, it often pays off big time.

    It is true that it can take a few years before you see results …. but if you are planning on sticking with the job you have now a few years from now, it makes a lot of sense to start doing something about your visibility where it counts right now.


  8. Just a last note. If you have time have a little read (link below). Interesting interviews with foreigners living in the Czech Republic and what they think about us. I only have time for simplistic blog posts 🙂 Have a nice day 😀 :D:D


  9. […] ich nach einer Weile genug von der schlechten Audioqualität des UKW-Senders.“ Ganzer Artikel hier.] Ich mag die Vorstellung, wie mein unbekannter Kollege dasitzt und die Musik, die er hören […]


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