Analysts’ answers, part 2: Grammar and usage questions for Spanish-language websites

The most useful phrase I ever learned in Spanish class was “Como se dice?” (Translation: “How do you say that?”). That question opens the door to expressing any idea, including the ideas marketers connecting with Spanish-language audiences need to express, like “Pruebalo gratis!” or “Free Trial.”

This is the second in a three-part series of posts with answers to some of the questions from our March 25th clinic on optimizing Spanish-language landing pages. (Part one is here.) The answers were provided by our team of analysts, including Ana Diaz, Arturo Silva, and Boris Grinkot, along with research where cited.

Q: When do I use Contactenos and when do I use Contactanos? I have seen both spellings on websites.

A: This is a great question and tricky one. The answer is not simple as they can be interpreted differently by every Spanish-speaking country. Both versions are grammatically correct. However, I interpret “Contáctenos” as the formal version of “Contáctanos”. The first one is addressing the visitor in a formal, professional way as if you were addressing the visitor as “Usted” (formal “You”) and the second one is an informal way as if you were addressing the visitor as “” (informal “You”).

Q: How can we accommodate all the different varieties of Spanish around the world? This has been our challenge.

A: As with any other segmentation decision, you will need to do the math to decide whether it’s worth the investment.

While there are indeed cultural and language differences among different Spanish-speaking countries, the decision about the language should be no different than other content segmentation decisions. If your value proposition needs to be expressed differently in each country, it would make sense to create a country-specific version of your page. I would recommend testing your value proposition in your PPC ad copy, especially since the top search engines let you target your ads geographically. This, of course, requires that you possess copywriting talent with linguistic, cultural, and marketing expertise specific to the target geography.

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The mechanics of switching among different geographies or dialect preferences can be straightforward. Typically, websites have been successful in using flags to allow the user to indicate country/language preference. Adding geotargeting will allow you to pre-select the locale based on the user’s IP address, although the geotargeting data is still not 100% reliable and you have to be careful to make it easy for the visitor that was mis-targeted to change the preference. All this necessarily increases the friction on your site, ultimately leading to increased confusion and lower conversion rates.

As with the investment into targeted translations, you will need to weigh the pros of this site modification (giving visitors access to preferred language format) against the cons (mis-guessing their preference based on IP data and asking them to make a selection—an additional friction element—where otherwise they would’ve been content with a “default” Spanish version or with the English-language original).

The most economical and simplest solution is to have a single Spanish-language version of your site, written and/or proofed by copywriting professionals that understand the differences among Spanish dialects and cultures. Their expertise will help you avoid the often popularized faux pas of using words that are benign in one dialect and obscene in another. If your company is targeting a global audience, having a “Spain” Spanish version (and indicating so) may suffice. If you are targeting U.S. Hispanics, you likely don’t need to have a version for every country of origin. Yet again, you should consider your ROI. While there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries, only three account for over 75% of U.S. Hispanic population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (64% Mexico, 9% Puerto Rico, and 3.4% Cuba).

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Q: Do I have to use Correro Electronico or can I use email in my forms?

A: Email has become a common word used in Spanish and many other languages. I think you can use email, it’s shorter and simpler, and most will know it. However, for the rest of the fields in your form make sure to use “Nombre” instead of “Name” and “Teléfono” instead of “Phone”. Also, for your sub-headline “Liberte Tarjeta de Llamamiento” I would suggest using something like “Recibe tu tarjeta de llamadas gratis”.

To emphasize the variety of expression possible in any language, when I asked our bilingual team how to say “7-day free trial,” they gave me three different answers: “Pruebalo gratis,” “Pruebalo gratis por 7 dias,” or “Membresia gratuita por 7 dias”. Each way of phrasing the offer has a particular connotation; marketers who want to present their offers most effectively will consider the nuances of language as they’re developing copy for their pages and sites.

Many thanks to the marketers who asked these questions — they heighten everyone’s awareness that translating ideas from English to Spanish is a complex process.

Check back for the third post in our series, addressing the clinic audience’s questions about technical issues such as meta keywords and mirroring sites.

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