How to Translate your Website

How to Translate your Website
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So you want to translate your website?

With the widespread introduction of easy to use CMS’s like WordPress using the power of thousands of WordPress Plugins, it’s never been simpler to create a website. As a by-product of this, it’s never been more competitive. That’s competition for visitors, not just sales.

Are you a business, blogger or creative? Then you probably created your website with the intention of getting it seen by as many people as possible. After all, it’s popularity that brings in the sales, ad revenue and puts you in front of customers/readers.

One way a lot of people are attempting to increase site traffic is by implementing website translation to broaden their business’s appeal to visitors from other countries…

So should you follow the trend and get your site translated? That depends entirely on what you want to achieve…

Why are you getting your site translated?

This question sounds pretty straight forward. However, it’s a lot more involved than many people think. Now, this may sound obvious, but if your site holds no interest for overseas visitors then there’s little point pursuing translation. Do your research or analytics demonstrate that a sizeable portion of your site’s traffic is from other countries? Then it might well be worth adding translated content to support these visitors. (But take note of the issues outlined in the next section). You should remember that translation is a tool for addressing a problem, a component of an overall strategy. It most definitely should not be employed simply for the sake of trying to increase traffic …

Have you fully considered the implications of website translation?

Depending on the type of site you have and the service you offer, translation can require a lot more involvement than just simply serving your content up in different languages. This is especially if you hope to keep the extra traffic it might generate. Have a blog and just want to make it more accessible to readers overseas? That’s fair enough and may not require much extra work.

However, if you operate any kind of business via your site you must ensure that you have the infrastructure in place to adequately meet the needs of customers abroad. This could involve things like being able to respond to any customer queries both via phone or email. You may even need a local address in the country where you hope to operate. As with any business, good customer services needs to be of paramount concern. If you are unable to provide a decent standard of service to overseas visitors, you will likely put off any consumers that were initially attracted by the translated site. In short, if you take shortcuts with your international strategy it could seriously harm your site’s potential abroad.

This strategy should encompass any cultural concerns of your target region. While your content may be perfectly acceptable in your home region, that may not be the case elsewhere.  You should investigate fully whether any of your overseas target viewers will find sections of your site offensive or unpalatable and filter them out for the translated version.

Do you need translation or transcreation?

Beyond simply filtering out objectionable content, you may need to completely reimagine some aspects of your site to ensure that your message is conveyed properly to the foreign-language audience. The language industry refers to this in-depth process of translation as transcreation.

Don’t forget about things like SEO either. If you want your translated content to feature well in search engines you will need to make sure you work with best practices in mind across the board, as you would for your native content.

Have you thought through potential compliance issues?

If your site serves an overseas audience, you must ensure it complies with all applicable laws. This is especially true if you’re selling products, of course. However, even if your site is merely a creative endeavour, you may need to comply with international regulations involving tracking and data protection.

How will you translate your website?

There are numerous approaches to this that vary in cost and usefulness, again this is very much dependant on your site and what you want to achieve.

1. Free Translation

At the cheapest end, there are free automatic machine translation plugins from big players like Google and Bing. Some translation companies offer rebranded plugins that leverage these same services. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that because a language supplier makes your plugin that it is doing anything different to what Google’s app does, apart from providing traffic to the plugin creators site.

If the translation of your site isn’t a huge priority but you would like to make it a little easier for your readers then these tools will be fine. You do need to be aware that this kind of machine translation is inherently inaccurate, we wrote a specific article about the dangers of relying on machine translation. It will do a reasonable job of getting your message across. However, there is a high likelihood that the language will be literal if not awkward. Also, there will be numerous grammatical problems and instances of incorrect word usage.

Another caution: Since free machine translation offers such a poor user experience, it can impact your SEO rankings in the target language. Google’s most recent algorithm changes have all had one goal in mind: Rewarding sites that prioritize the user experience, and penalizing sites with thin or poorly-written content. That means awkward, grammatically-incorrect translations won’t cut it if you want users in your target language to be able to find you! Use at your own risk.

Google Translate
Translation from Bing
Translation from Babelfish

2.  User and crowdsourced translation

There are specialised plugins that can be employed to provide a much more accurate solution compared to that of free tools. While this can depend on a number of factors and how your particular system is implemented, typically the translation will rely on input from unqualified bilingual individuals. The more users that provide translation with the more accurate it will become. However, it can take time and will require a significant number of bilingual visitors to volunteer to work on your site.

The costs & quality involved for this method can vary. Some plugins support this system with an upfront outlay and then allow you to manage users who you want to be able to carry out translations, either for free or at a cost you agree on. The other option is to pay a language service provider to handle the crowdsourced translation which will tend to offer a more holistic solution. As with any purchase you need to research who will be able to provide the most reliable quality service for a price you can afford. This can be a minefield in itself and will most likely involve a significant outlay over opting to manage it yourself with a plugin.
WPML for WordPress

3. Hire your own translator

There are a number of benefits to hiring your own translator directly. The primary advantage is it will give you direct contact with a professional who you can discuss your ideas with and help ensure the language used reflects your style. Again you need to make sure you deal with a professional. So, pay attention to reviews and look for previous experience. The last deal-breaker should come from actually talking to them. Your translator in effect represents you in another language, so building a relationship and feeling confident that you can work with them and that they understand what you require can be much more important than a 20 page CV.

4. Hire a translation agency

Unless you are a large organisation or require a significant amount of content or languages then hiring an agency will probably be unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. However, if you are going to require a large site translation into more than 3-4 languages then an agency who can manage the project for you may be the best option and offset the higher costs involved with additional services. Translation agencies typically have thousands of experienced translators to call on for a particular project. They work with translation day in and day out. So, they are in the best position to source the right people for the job. The best agencies will provide a dedicated project manager who will get to know you and your project. The project manager ensures that information is communicated fully to the translation team working on your content, just as you would when hiring a translator directly.

Depending on how much importance you place on offering a multilingual service with your site an agency is probably the best positioned to help you with ongoing language support, consultancy and ancillary services such as customer service solutions, design and even handling any future maintenance of the translated portions of your site.

Translation from UK specialist agency K International
More information about finding the right translation agency for you

The bottom line?

Whichever option you choose to pursue, be sure that you keep your focus on providing a positive experience for your visitors as that is the key attribute that will make or break a website.

Think about the long term

As mentioned earlier one of the key attributes of a successful website is that it retains visitors. For a single language site, that’s usually achieved by consistently generating engaging content and offering a good user experience. If you start employing translation you need to be committed to adopting the same approach for each of the foreign language versions to ensure they keep the visitors coming back. If you simply provide content & forget about it, letting the pages stagnate, traffic will dry up and you will have lost all the benefits & any investment you put into providing the extra languages in the first place.

Again it very much depends on the type of site you operate whether or not an ongoing translation requirement will benefit you. You should think about this prior to progressing too far into a translation project. If you decide later in a project that you will need more work done,  you may find people are unavailable or unable to take it on. This will lead to using other translators. That, in turn, can affect the consistency of the language used on your site. In much the same way as writers have a different style, so do translators. The better the translator, the better they will be at mimicking style and very likely, the more they will charge.

 In Summary

  1. Consider whether or not your motives for getting your site translated are valid.
  2. Make sure you have fully assessed the extra requirements placed on your site once you have implemented translated content.
  3. Make sure your site will not fall victim to culture shock once translated
  4. Research which form of translation supply will best suit your needs
  5. Make sure you understand where the translation will sit in the long term strategy for your site.
  6. Always focus on delivering the best possible user experience

Need help translating your site? We’ve got you covered. Contact us today!