Google Chrome and the Importance of Good Copywriting

If you’re using Google’s Chrome browser and access a page that isn’t in English (or whatever your default language is) you see a message saying something along the lines of “This page is in German. Would you like to translate it?” and two buttons, “Translate” and “Nope”.

Do Google Chrome want me to translate this page? Or is it offering to translate the page for me?

Wait, do you want me to translate this page? I don’t have time for that silly stuff, and why do you presume I know German? Well, it turns out that Google is offering to translate the page for me, not asking if I would like to translate the page for them.

This is a classic copywriting mistake. Whoever wrote this obviously knows how this feature works and what it does and didn’t put himself into the mind of a user who has never seen this feature before. As a user of Google Chrome, you’re suddenly offered a feature you’ve never heard of and this one line of text is all you have to make sense of things.

The question, “This page is in German. Would you like to translate it?”, can really be interpreted in two different ways:

  1. We - Google - don’t have a translation for this page, would you - the user - like to translate this page for us?
  2. We - Google - have a translation for this page, would you - the user - like us to translate this page for you?

As a first-time user, you just have to guess. Most users of course won’t give this any thought. Depending on the user’s current state of mind, she will just subconsciously jump to one of these meanings and then (possibly) be disappointed when the feature does the exact opposite thing.

The fix is easy. A mere three extra words could easily get rid of any ambiguity: “This page is in German. Would you like us to translate it for you?”

Can you think of other ways Google could have worded this message? Or other examples of bad copywriting?

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Authored by Jamie Appleseed

Published on April 16, 2010

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My classic example is a strange translation from English to German. Facebook’s “Share” button is translated to “Teilen”. Though “teilen” can also mean “to share”, it’s main meaning is “to divide” which seems strange for novice Facebook users. Why will my message be divided? What they actually meant was “mitteilen” or “to inform”. Strange choice of translation.

The point here is well taken. There’s no question the text needs to be fixed. But purely for the sake of discussion, I wonder if anyone has been the least bit confused by the Google text. I recognize that the wording permits both meanings, but considering the context and what I assume most users know, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking Google may be requesting a translation. Even if I were confused by the question, the button labeled Translate tells me it’s going to happen for me as soon as I click it. But maybe I’m assuming too much about the mind of the user. Wouldn’t be the first time.