• Alexander Müller

3 Pitfalls When Translating Your Website and Ads to German

"Life is too short to learn German."

- Richard Porson

Localized German is a must for your website and ads in Germany

German is a complicated language. Unnecessarily difficult some would argue. But mastering the German language and Germany’s cultural quirks is a necessity in today's competitive and costly digital marketing environment in Germany.

To help you with making sure your German stays without stupid imperfections on your website and ads. As flaws or carless 1:1 translations rather than localization can turn out to be devastating and expensive. Next to flawlessness in spelling and grammar, your German must also be understandable and appealing to your German target group. Otherwise, your website would be perceived as weird and your business in the worst case even unreliable.

To make your entrance to the German market that offers so much potential easier, we will show you the 3 main pitfalls when translating your website and ads to German.

1. The wrong choice at "du" or "Sie"

"Sie" is formal and "du" is informal

Probably one of the most famous quirks of the German language. In case you haven't heard about the formal and informal personal pronouns in German: “Sie” is the formal way to address someone and “du” is the informal and more friendly translation of “you”. If you address authority figures (civil servants, police officers, seniors, etc.) you want to use “Sie”. If you speak to your friends you will use “du”.

There are no concrete rules on when to use one or the other. Some decades ago, nearly every interaction outside of family and close friends was done with the formal “Sie”. But now using “du” is more commonly used, especially in the younger generation. But “Sie” is still not dead, just the bar to say "Sie" got higher over time. For most cases in direct communication with clients, "Sie" is still the more appropriate option.

Choose wisely, as it is not so easy to change later on

However, once you chose your style, it is not so easy to change. Be aware that it is not only switching “du” to "Sie”. Then it comes with more changes in the sentence. For example, translated into the “du” or the “Sie”:

When to use "Sie" or "du" in marketing

If you are a cool brand you go with "du", whereas if you are a reputable company, you go with "Sie"

So, what should you use, you may ask? Well, again, there are no clear rules and it depends on your specific case. As a "rule of thumb" as we say in Germany, If your business sells streetwear “du” is probably the best way (also for customer service) and if it sells antique clocks “Sie" is the best approach.

Decisive is the alignment with your corporate identity and your target group in Germany

Decisive is the alignment with your corporate identity and your target group in Germany. If you want to be seen as a very reputable company and your target group are wealthy older Germans whether as consumers or managers, you want to use “Sie”. If you are rather a cool company with products for young and international folks, use “du”. If you are somewhere in between you either have to choose or test it. To read more about when exactly to go with "du" or "Sie", click here.

2. Don’t trust the dictionary

... especially not to fit your target group's way of expression

As in all languages, not all translations are good translations. There is the correct translation and there are the ones that natives use. The classic example, which even most dictionaries know today, is the translation of "mobile phone"(mobile = mobile / phone = Telefon), which in German is commonly translated to “Handy”. This once got introduced because … well to be honest … no one knows. But likely coming from a misinterpretation of some English text describing mobile phones as a “ handy devise to use” – and from there making its way into the common German tongue. But not necessarily in the dictionary, official publication, or first - mover companies from abroad. So, better hire a reliable native translator or, if you must do it yourself, check more than one dictionary and go through the websites of German competitors.

To get extra points you can also use words fitting to your products, like English or “cool” words in your streetwear shop (but be careful every urban dictionary is written by adults… so the street credibility is questionable at best). To attract attention and address your target group in their language, you could adapt the appropriate slang or add some fitting words into your advertisement. For example you could use medieval German, if you are selling longswords, for whatever reason you would sell longswords. Or northern German slang words if you sell maritime products.

3. Use German common expressions for marketing

One way to appeal to Germans is to use locally used common expressions. It shows your customers in a subtle kind of way, that you are familiar with our country and after all professional. Also this way you can appear as German. Germans trust their fellow Germans for the most part or differently put Germans are skeptical towards foreign shops. The cliché that Germans are delivering very good quality and are honest also affects Germans themselves.

To list all relevant sayings would be way too many for one article. Search will find your German expressions with English descriptions. But be careful that they are up to date and from a trustworthy source.

Here are some classic examples of actually used German expressions:

  • “08/15”

"08/15" is a good way to describe boring, old, and dull products. Best used to describe your competition if you have an innovative or fun version to distinguish that you are not "08/15".

  • “Aller guten Dinge sind drei”

“Aller guten Dinge sind drei” means the third attempt will be successful. This expression can be used to describe that the third version of a product is the best.

  • “Das Auge isst mit”

The eye is also eating, meaning the presentation or look of a product is important and not only its usefulness.

Does that sound like way too many things to handle? Do you need a translation or optimization of your website and ads by native German marketers? Then you are lucky because you came to the right place!