As I already wrote in several posts on my silly blog, most new business comes to this mad patent translator from customers who found my website when they were searching for exactly the type of service that I am offering, namely translation of patents from Japanese, German and French into English, and now also from a few other languages, usually on Google.
Some of these customers then become regulars who keep me busy throughout the year, the way thirsty residents keep busy the proprietor of a local pub, provided that the beer is good and the atmosphere in the pub is enjoyable and friendly (I am thinking of a typical pub in Mitteleuropa of yesteryear, or the fictional neighborhood pub in Boston called “Cheers”, where everybody knows your name).
Some of my customers, even those who have been keeping my little translation pub busy for a number of years, eventually go someplace else, for a variety of reasons. It looks like I might have lost one such customer this years because I have not heard from them since …. January, I think. Last year and the year before that, this customer, a subsidiary of a major corporation devouring translations of foreign patents on a regular basis, represented about 15 to 20 percent of my income, and they have been sending me work for about seven years. At first they made retire the secretary that I was dealing with for about seven years. It is usually a bad sign when you lose your contact person because it often portends major changes in the company.
But rather than mulling over and sadly contemplating the loss of such a good customer (and I am not yet sure that they are gone, they could still come back), I try to see the fact that they kept me busy for seven years at good rates as a sign of successful strategy. Customer attrition is inevitable, no matter what you do.
Which is why it is important to have a mechanism for replacing customers who have left after a number of years to find greener pastures, from their perspective.
Different translators have different mechanisms. The mingling kind of translator, for example, is armed with what is called an elevator speech. I don’t mingle with prospective clients because there simply are none when it comes to translation of patents where I live. So I don’t have an elevator speech.
But I don’t need one. Thankfully, I can rely on search engines instead.
I am not sure how exactly the mystery of the rankings on search engines works, but I know that new clients do find me every now and then through search engines, mostly Google.
As I already wrote in another post, last month I translated seven Japanese patents from a new client who found my website online. While in May it was only one Japanese patent, this month I already have five German patents for translation from another new client that I am currently working on, and we are still in the first third of the month.
I noticed that the harvest from Google searches fluctuated quite a bit depending on the year, although I am somewhat clueless as to why exactly that happens.
During my best years, new business generated by new customers who found me mostly in organic listings on Google accounted for 30 to 40% of my income. But I noticed that while there was a lot of activity in this area between the years 2003 ~ 2009, the amount of inquiries coming to me mostly through my quick quote page dropped off significantly after 2010, and the last two years it accounted only for about 10 ~ 20% of my income.
I can only guess as to why this might have happened, but I do have several theories.
Some of the decrease, not so much in the amount of inquiries, as in the positive response rate (when my bid is accepted), may be due to the fact that machine translation is in some cases good enough to use it for prior art research purposes, as opposed to for filing purposes.
Especially with translations from German and French, and especially in fields such as chemistry and electronics, in which the text of the patents is based mostly on descriptions of raw materials, reactions, calculations and chemical formulas in the case of chemistry, and descriptions of one block diagram after another with different arrangements of electrical circuits in patents in the field of electronics, some potential customers might do with machine translations that are available free of charge on the EPO (European Patent Office) and the JPO (Japan Patent Office) website and on other sites.
In any case, some of these patent applications are so long (a hundred thousand words in some cases) that a full translation of all relevant prior art may not be economically feasible.
Some of the decrease in positive responses to my bids over the last few years may be due to the fact that many very cheap translation agencies, (excuse me, I am supposed to say “LSPs” now, as in “Language Services Providers”, or is it “LPs” already, as in Language Providers”?), have sprung up in third world countries, especially in China, India (Chindia) and Eastern Europe.
Many of these companies that recently took shape in places where labor is dirt cheap act as a middleman for large translation agencies that are based on Western Europe and North America. I happen to know that because many of the offers that these new outfits have been sending to me to work in the same capacity for my modest operation include a list of major “LSPs” in Europe and North America, in addition to rates that are so low that most translators living in countries where the cost of living is quite high and non-payment of taxes is not an option would not be able to accept.
Perhaps some of the readers of my blog will have other ideas. If so, I would be delighted to hear them.
The improvement in the positive response to request for bids obtained through my website during the first six months of this year may be an indication that tide is turning again. It could be that some customers who have tried out machine translation did not like it and could not really use them as intended, while others may have been also less than happy with what they got in return for much, much cheaper rates than what I can afford to offer (most likely courtesy of rock-bottom rates offered by a translator working in a third world country, who is generally working through two or more middlemen far away).
I hope that this is the case, but of course, I don’t really know what is happening, and only time will tell.
So far I have been depending only on organic listings, I have not advertised on Google or anything else, and I tested the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) marketing method, when you try to feed as much data to search engines as possible, only once, although occasionally I get offers to use this kind of advertising.
Google sent me several times a piece of paper that looks like a check for 100 dollars that, Google says, I can use to advertise key words of my choice on Google for a month. Some salesman from Network Solutions, the company that registered several of my URLs, called me yesterday to offer SEO advertising services for my business. The cost was 99.95 dollars per month, he said.
But my web expert who is in charge of updating my website a couple of times a year told me that SEO optimizing works best only if you have a new website, or at least new material (such as this post).
I don’t know about you, but when I am looking for anything on the Web, I almost never click on “sponsored links” displayed prominently on top and on the left of organic listings. I generally only click on organic listings because I assume that this is where the real answer to my problem is most likely to be located.
Google and other search engines must be bombarded with so many clever missives from SEO advertising experts that they probably mostly ignore them.
Most if not all “LSPs” have almost identical content on their website. They all say that they are highly specialized, and then they have a number of links, generally about a dozen of links that you can click on to see more details about their specialization. But since these generic translation agencies specialize in every language and every field (as in “If we don’t specialize in it, it does not exist), it is clear to most people smart enough to tie their own shoelaces that they don’t really specialize in anything.
That is why I think that a fairly simple website of a translation service provider, by which I mean a translator or a small translation agency that in fact does specialize in something, has a much better chance of being displayed on the first page in organic listings on Google.
After all, if Google stops prominently displaying the most relevant information first and instead starts feeding us mostly just paid advertising, how long will it be before its business model is viciously and successfully attacked by a competitor able to provide a better service?
Translation agencies, (oh, excuse me, LSPs), are now earnestly urging translators to add editing of machine translations (or more correctly machine pseudo-translations) as a new skill set to their arsenal of tools.
That is what they say. I think that this kind of skill is comparable to the skill level of a busboy in a busy restaurant, such as the one mentioned above.
I say that translators who want to be owners of their own restaurant, instead of just working in it for minimum wage while being engaged in a truly horrible task, should try to figure out the mysteries of organic raking on search engines and once they figure out a thing or two, apply the knowledge to their own website.