These days, online customers in multilingual and international markets expect to be served in their preferred languages. When organizations neglect to offer them culturally relevant website experiences, these customers are likely to jump ship … often into the competition's waiting arms.
The solution to this challenge is website translation. Localizing the powerful, persuasive customer experience of your origin website signals to multilingual customers that you’re committed to their market, and their needs.
But website translation is much harder than it might appear. These projects typically generate large and ongoing demands for internal time and resources. They also require significant linguistic skill, technical expertise and heavy operational management.
Most businesses don’t have that kind of extensive expertise in-house. So they investigate outsourced solutions such as website translation service.
These businesses specialize in solving the linguistic and technical challenges of website translation, often leveraging streamlined processes, automation and software to craft and manage localized content. The best vendors also provide UX optimizations and other capacities to attract customers to their translated sites and keep them coming back.
This comprehensive guide provides a deep dive into these important topics and many more. Our goal is to provide you the only resource you’ll ever need to understand the nuances of website translation, so you can knowledgeably select a world-class vendor to help serve your multilingual constituents.
Let’s take a closer look at what this guide covers.
Website Translation Technologies
More significantly, they often don't know about the countless technical challenges that must be overcome to identify and collect translatable content. It's really tough to publish translated text online on an ongoing basis, too.
Website translation has unique challenges that even most translation vendors can’t solve for. They often fall short when trying to:
- Extract translatable content from a client’s origin site (often publish in English) and separate it from its code
- Translate the content accurately, matching the context, technical verbiage and brand voice of the source material
- Integrate those translations into a localized instance of the website in ways that ensure the site properly works
To generate brand credibility and conversions in multilingual markets, those components—and many others—must always operate in perfect sync, and deliver a world-class translated user experience every time.
If there's a shortcoming at any point in these technologies or processes, the translated site may fail to operate, or could display a "mixed language" experience (in which untranslated content is visible along translated content, which is often a sign of bad content-detection technologies or unacceptably slow translation SLAs). Both of these scenarios irritate multilingual customers-and can send brand credibility and website conversions into a tailspin.
Thankfully, there are ways to find the right website translation solution for your business. You’ll want to define the technical needs for your website translation project, asking questions such as:
- Will the solution’s technology play nicely with my website’s technology stack?
- How will it perform when I inevitably want to redesign my website, or migrate to another CMS?
- Can it handle my translation needs beyond my website, such as localizing social media posts and smartphone apps, or support off-site revenue streams such as virtual marketplaces?
- How streamlined and timely is the content translation and publication process?
You’ll also want to define the project’s scope, which informs decisions about your translation needs. Consider questions like: Should you translate your company’s website only, or will you need other content translated such as documents and omnichannel assets? Or will you need a combination of both?
Once you’ve locked in a strategy for those important topics, it’s a good policy to gain a working vocabulary regarding the kinds of technologies that make website translation possible. Firstly, there are technologies that manage the translation process itself.
These platforms, often called Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) software, combine multilingual text editing with other features. They optimize the productivity and collaboration of linguists, and have editorial review tools to help ensure consistent translation quality. CAT software leverage special capabilities such as segment parsing and translation memory and to minimize effort and translation costs.
CAT tools also integrate with localized style guides and glossaries. These resources provide translators with guidelines for the best-possible word choices and phrases to represent a company’s brand, industry and more.
. This enables you to provide feedback on translations, change them if needed, or even customize them to reflect unique slang or phrases in specific multilingual markets.
A common capability of CAT software is translation memory, a database which stores all translations associated with a website translation project. With this technology, linguists need translate a specific phrase (aka segment) only once. After that initial translation, the phrase is stored into this database and can be accessed and reused at any time for future translations. Translation memory helps improve the efficiency and consistency of the translation process and helps reduces costs.
The capabilities of website crawlers—sometimes called spiders or change-detection technologies—can be a significant differentiator among website translation services. This technology continually analyzes a website, looking for additions or updates to its content. When it spots untranslated content, it flags it for translation.
You'll also want to familiarize yourself with the technologies that help manage the intake and output of translated content, which is then presented to multilingual end-users. They include:
APIs: These customizable technologies create pipelines between a company’s content database and a translation vendor.
CMS Connectors: These technologies integrate with a content management system, enabling vendors to transmit translated content to a multilingual instance of a company’s website.
Proxy Technologies: These solutions can parse the content from a website’s code, streamlining the translation process and accelerating speed to market. They also often have capabilities that address the technical shortcomings of language translation APIs and translation connectors.
Effortless Proxy Solutions: This variation on the proxy translation approach shifts practically all technical and translation effort to the vendor, freeing the customer to focus on other critical aspect of the business. Initial setup and ongoing operations are fully managed; the vendor also covers all technology and personnel requirements.
Proxy + API/Connector Hybrid Solutions: This provides a “best of both worlds” approach to digital translation projects. Companies can use the proxy-based translation technologies to efficiently translate their websites and leverage an language translation API or translation connector to easily translate content for other channels such as social, email campaigns and more.
Beyond the need for efficient, cost-savings technologies that manage the workflows and the technical aspects of website translation, great vendors also offer additional technology-powered capabilities that improve on-site UX, engagement and conversions.
For instance, some vendors offer instant language detection capabilities that intelligently determine a site visitor’s language preference and automatically direct them to the appropriate localized version of the site. Localized on-site search helps ensure site stickiness and drives conversions. Translated URLs also improve the user experience while also generating incremental organic traffic.
Speaking of organic traffic, great vendors also provide international SEO keyword research and implement those traffic-driving phrases into the localized website’s copy and multimedia assets. They also translate the website’s sitemap, which sends critical signals to search engines regarding the site’s availability and appropriate audience.
Learn more about website translation technologies
Machine Translation for Websites
Companies seeking an economical and high-speed method for translating their websites often consider machine translation as an option.
Ultimately, the blessing and curse of machine translation software is that it doesn’t understand languages the way people do. Rather than innately knowing a language and choosing words based on that knowledge or experience, machine solutions base their translations on probabilities—in other words, they make informed guesses. And very often, those guesses are spot-on, resulting in good translations.
Circumventing the human creative process often dramatically reduces translation costs. It also wildly accelerates the translation process.
This lack of human oversight has its own costs, however.
There are three common types of machine translation. An older type of machine translation, Rule-Based Machine Translation, provided rudimentary translations and required a high level of technical development to work properly. Statistical Machine Translation was an improvement, analyzing source material in a more fluid, less programmatically heavy way. But it struggled to understand longer sentences and didn’t know what to do with slang.
The third type is Neural Machine Translation (NMT), and it’s the best of the bunch. Unlike its predecessors, NMT uses self-learning artificial intelligence, powered by a computer-based neural network, to process information more like the human brain does. Armed with deep learning and big data, NMT takes a more holistic approach to examining source material—and it often delivers highly accurate translations.
NMT can translate vast amounts of content almost instantly, and at a radically lower price than human translation. This makes it cost-effective to test your brand expansion into a new market; translating a website with NMT is very affordable and can be enhanced with human translation at a later date.
Perhaps the greatest upside to NMT is that you can use machine learning to “train” your instance of NMT with additional content to improve its translation quality. This process usually requires a human linguist editing the translation output of the NMT solution and then re-importing it into the system to “teach” it the preferred terms and phrases.
For all its benefits, NMT does have some drawbacks. It takes lots of time and human effort to “teach” an NMT and improve its translation quality. Its word choices can be inconsistent, which can be troublesome for brands that need pitch-perfect (and unchanging) messaging throughout a website. And like all other types of machine translation, NMT can’t translate words outside of its dictionary and fumbles when trying to translate artfully written copy.
A smart way to sidestep those shortcomings is to apply a combination of NMT and human translation to a website. This hybrid approach uses human translation for highly visible, well-trafficked website pages (where translation quality is most important) and NMT for less brand-sensitive content.
Learn more about machine translation for websites
Human Translation for Websites
While NMT produces good translations for most use cases, it cannot rival the quality and nuance of human-crafted translations. Research consistently indicates that multilingual customers make more purchases on websites translated by humans than by machine-translation platforms.
Translation is a complicated creative act that's part art, part science. Most folks underappreciate the complex, imaginative thinking that translation requires. Linguists must continually juggle fluency, accuracy, context and the business goals of the source material to choose the best-possible phrases in the target (aka translated) language.
Human translations cost more than machine translations, but many companies believe in the extra investment. After all, humans can smartly select words and phrases that resonate within specific geographic regions in ways MT platforms cannot. They can also craft translations that better capture the verve of a brand’s voice. Humans are better at elegantly incorporating international SEO keywords into their translations, too.
As we previously mentioned, human translators can’t translate content as quickly as NMT solutions. (Veteran linguists can often translate a 250 words per hour, but that impressive pace can’t match the lightning speed of NMT.) And in an apples-to-apples comparison based on cost, NMT will always come out as the more affordable option.
But simple solutions can dramatically accelerate translation SLAs and reduce costs. Savvy vendors use technologies such as translation memory and airtight workflows to translate new website content in about one business day. Technically mature vendors also leverage groundbreaking segment optimization capabilities to recognize oft-overlooked translatable content within databases and applications. This is content NMT solutions can’t detect, much less translate.
The concept of cultural fluency is a meaningful differentiator for human translation. Machine translation platforms currently cannot—and may never—replicate the ability to translate content like a native speaker would. Countries and regions have unique cultural identities, which impact the way people speak and the words they use. The human mind can store and access this nuanced information to craft regionally resonant translations. This increases on-site engagement in ways that NMT can’t.
As companies move forward with their market expansion plans, they’ll eventually have to determine which type of human translation they’ll use for their multilingual website. Generally speaking, there are four translation types that vendors offer: conventional translation (sometimes called universal translation), localization, transliteration and transcreation.
Conventional translation caters to as many speakers of a language as possible. Rather than craft translations that cater to the unique linguistic needs of specific markets, conventional translation often reflects a universally understood version of the target language.
In contrast, localization uses words and phrases that resonate within specific markets. It leans into the unique linguistic character of the local culture. Authentic localizations usually generate more on-site engagement among customers.
Rather than translate the meaning of a word, transliteration relies on phonetic elements from the original word to recreate the same sound in another language without rendering meaning. Transliteration is usually required in markets where the preferred language uses non-Latin alphabets.
Finally, transcreation is used to translate brand slogans, advertising copy and other “wordsmithed” content. This is translation at its most artful. Transcreation often requires experienced linguists to successfully replicate the source material’s creative intent.
Learn more about human translation for websites
Hybrid Translation for Websites
As we mentioned previously, many companies use a combination of human and machine translation to translate their websites efficiently and affordably, while also presenting the best-possible translations to users visiting the most-visible website pages and sections.
If you’re not sure which pages or sections of your site might benefit from human vs. machine translation, enlist the help of a reputable vendor. They can help identify those areas. Alternately, you can review your website’s analytics to determine which pages or products multilingual customers are most interested in, and how deeply they dive into specific product categories. Those high-interest sections deserve human translation.
Be mindful, however, that NMT platforms translate some languages with better accuracy than others. They’re often quite good at translating English content into other Western languages like Spanish or French. But non-Western languages like Arabic and Chinese usually confuse NMT platforms, leading to subpar translations.
Learn more about hybrid translation for websites
Website Translation Best Practices
Based on what you’ve read so far, you know that website translation is technically complex, and that it’s critical to find a vendor that can provide technically mature solutions that accurately collect content for translation.
But it’s also important to ensure that the vendor also uses best practices and workflows to continually deliver world-class translations. Finding this perfect chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination is often challenging. Thankfully, there are key qualifications and best practices a vendor’s translation team should possess—which makes it easier for you to find the one right for your business.
For instance, it’s vital to find a vendor that has demonstrable fluency in both the source language (often English) and target language (the language the content is being translated into). Its vendors should also have several years of experience translating content for your industry. It should also have a documented process that helps its linguists quickly get up-to-speed on the history and verbiage of your brand.
Different media require different approaches to translation. For instance, the flowing copy found in a marketing brochure is quite different from the punchy, tightly written copy found in social media posts. A website translation services linguists should be able to easily adapt their translation voice and style to match the spirit of your source material.
They should be fluent in international SEO best practices, too.
Recall that a linguist’s encyclopedic knowledge of a market’s culture often results in high-quality, authentic localizations that accurately reflect how locals speak—which generates positive business results on-site and beyond. Your vendor should be able to illustrate this kind of authoritative linguistic knowledge among its translation teams.
Ideally, those team members should be dedicated to your account—meaning they’re assigned to translate your digital content on an ongoing basis. As a result, these linguists become fluent in your brand’s voice. They can easily adapt to changes your company might make in its messaging, too. It should be uncommon for linguists outside of this dedicated team to contribute to your website’s ongoing translation.
Make sure to investigate the vendor’s process for creating a localized glossary and style guide for your translation project. These resources provide linguists with guidance regarding translated industry terms, preferred word choices and more. Ideally, these phrases should be optimized for regional SEO. You should be involved in the creation of this important reference material.
Linguists should also have access to in-context translation tools. This capability, which is often built into Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) software, gives linguists a real-time preview of how their translations might appear on the webpage they’re translating. This technology enables linguists to tweak translations on the fly, perhaps to accommodate space constraints or eliminate design-related misalignments.
These on-page issues are usually caused by word growth, a phenomenon associated with translation. Many languages require more words or characters to convey the same information than others. This natural “growth” of words can wreck carefully crafted page designs that were originally meant to accommodate a different language altogether (often English). For instance, Spanish translations are often 20% to 30% longer than their English counterparts. In-context translation tools can proactively eliminate these issues.
Great website translation services actively seek their customers’ involvement and input during a project, especially in reviewing the translations the vendor provides. Their intuitive customer-facing CAT-like tools should be available to you, and enable you to navigate your translated site, read translated pages, provide editorial feedback to the vendor, and even revise those translations yourself.
There are other ways to identify reputable vendors, such as providing clear channels of communication that you can use to reach them, day or night. Look for noteworthy certifications such as ISO 17100 (which specify process and resource requirements for translation services) and ISO 9001:2015 (which provide demonstrable requirements for a quality management system). Depending on your industry, you’ll also want to see PCI DSS Level 1 and HIPAA/HITECH Business Associate certifications to securely ensure the privacy of customers, patients and other constituents.
And speaking of security, your vendor’s linguists should practice rigorous on-site security best practices such as personnel screening and ongoing education on related topics such as physical security, data privacy, workstation security and more. Ask about these vital practices and require proof that the vendor’s staff are meeting your necessary security requirements.
Great vendors provide world-class automated technologies that effortlessly identify, collect and prioritize new content for translation. Look for capabilities like:
Continuous Content Detection: This technology continuously analyzes a website’s content. When it detects new or updated content, the content is parsed into easy-to-translate segments. (Segments are usually about the length of a sentence.) Those segments are then funneled into an automated workflow to determine if they require translation.
Instant Application of Translation Memory: After content is parsed into segments, it’s automatically processed through translation memory, which compares the incoming content segments against segments that have already been translated for the website. Any segments that register as untranslated are flagged for translation. All other translated content is instantly published on the multilingual website.
Immediate Assignment to Linguists: Automated workflows also accelerate the publication of translated content on-site. Look for vendors whose processes include near-instant assignment of translatable content to linguists.
Beyond these automated processes, you’ll also want to take note of a vendor’s translation review process. The best vendors stick to a streamlined, yet thorough, multi-step process that should involve at least three stages of editorial review. You as a customer should also have editorial review privileges, as well as the ability to revise translations—or localize specific translations for particular markets or regions.
Finally, make sure to investigate a vendor’s QA processes. Ideally, the vendor will have technical experts on staff who oversee the creation and execution of QA tests, as well as reporting of results, to ensure the localized site operates correctly and smoothly on an ongoing basis.
Learn more about website translation best practices
Technical Best Practices for Translation
Now moving from the linguistic processes of website translation, let’s examine in greater depth the importance of finding a vendor that continually leverages technical best practices to ensure your translated website operates properly, and is optimized for multilingual visitors.
An often-underappreciated aspect of the multilingual online experience is the wildly different internet speeds that exist in different international markets. While most regions in North America have high transfer speeds for broadband and mobile users, that’s not the case elsewhere in the world. Adapt your website’s content for PC and mobile users to accommodate slower speeds, especially in emerging markets.
It’s time to circle back to the topic of translating single-page applications and dynamic content, which we briefly mentioned earlier in this introduction. It’s often hard for folks who aren’t developers to understand just how challenging it is to identify translatable content within single-page applications. (It’s usually too much for most translation vendors to handle, too.)
The resulting translated application is a malfunctioning, mistranslated mess … if it works at all. That's why it's critical to make sure your translation vendor has the technical ability to properly parse this complex application code and accurately identify its translatable text. It should be able to correctly integrate that translated content into the localized instance of the app, too.
Similarly, dynamic content is often “hidden” in databases or exists in systems beyond a company’s control. This stuff is impossible for most vendors’ technologies to detect. When it does detect the content, it’s when the unique text is being dynamically loaded on a webpage in real-time … which is too late to properly translate. (The untranslated text displays in English instead, wrecking the site’s immersive localized UX.)
Worse still, this useless dynamic text is often then transmitted to linguists where it’s needlessly translated, driving up translation costs.
However, great website translation services have technologies that understand these complex technical processes and frameworks and can proactively translate all of those unique dynamic text strings once, and then store them in translation memory for infinite re-use.
Website redesigns are another common reality for organizations to contend with, which means at some point their translated websites must be redesigned, too. For most translation vendors, accommodating a redesign is fraught with risk and technical missteps.
By contrast, some website translation solutions can operate independently of your website’s design or CMS—which empowers you to update your site, its structure, or backend technology stack at any time, and the multilingual site will seamlessly operate throughout the process. Better still, these solutions support redesign projects with little (or no) customer-effort required … even before, during or after the redesign project has concluded.
No matter what website translation solution you use, there are ways to help control translation costs during a website redesign. Be proactive and determine which sections of your redesigned website should be translated before the redesign process begins. A tight project scope naturally results in reduced translation costs, should any new content be crafted for the post-redesign site requires translation.
Some "must have" sections to keep in project scope include the website's homepage and strategically important landing pages, promotional sections and conversion paths. Sections that can probably be removed from scope include text-heavy content like blog posts or archived news articles. Products, services and job postings that are unavailable to your multilingual markets can be cut, too.
Website redesigns are technically challenging, but platform migrations are far more complex. Switching from one content management system to another requires especially careful planning when website translation is involved. Here are some important best practices to use when prepping for a re-platform; they’ll help streamline the process for your translation vendor:
- Maintain your site’s URL structure to preserve SEO, bookmarks and inbound links
- Keep your markup structure as-is, to help with translation content detection and localized SEO
- Preserve your user data, customized data structures and custom field types
Also, refrain from using new pre-built website templates during a platform migration. This creates numerous problems for website translation technologies; the changes in the website’s structure, formatting and data management often disrupt the mapping of translated content to its source material. This results in the disappearance of on-page translations or creates “false positives” that content requires re-translation when it actually doesn’t.
Instead, manually convert your website template rather than using a pre-made template. Keep HTML code modification to a minimum.
Another consideration to keep in mind as you plan your platform migration is the hosting and platform infrastructure of your new CMS. Look for scalable hosting that can easily be expanded as your website grows. Some website translation services offer robust hosting options as part of their solutions.
If you’re operating several websites, use your replatforming project as a reason to combine them into a multi-site install. This enables resource sharing such as users, plugins and hosting—while also granting the flexibility to accommodate different on-site design styles, unique sites and subdomains. This can also streamline translation processes for your vendor.
When it comes to migrate your data from one platform to another, you’ll have a few options:
Outsource it. The good news: Someone else does the heavy lifting. The bad news: You don’t have much control into how the data is being structured and organized. That might create disruptions, post migration.
Use a plugin. The good news: CMS plugins often support many data formats (such as XML or CSV) and automatically migrate your data. The bad news: If your site has custom content or fields, you’ll pay a premium to use plugins that support the export and integration of those customizations. And even then, you might experience some user data loss.
Do it yourself. The good news: Personally overseeing a migration project gives you ultimate control over the process, and all but guarantees that all of your existing data is properly imported and integrated into the new CMS. The bad news: Doing it right can be an iterative, effort-intensive process.
Back to localization-related concerns to address during platform migrations: Be sure to investigate your new CMS’ capabilities with an eye for serving international constituents. Can it display localized time and date formats? What about units of measure? Local currencies and payment options? When appropriate, contact and conversion forms should support dual-byte character languages like Chinese.
We mentioned word growth earlier in this introduction, but it bears repeating here. Content in languages such as Spanish can take up 20% or more on-page space than their source-language (English) equivalent. And content translated into Chinese or Japanese, for instance, can take up much less space.
We’ve mentioned the importance of a fully localized UX, and how even the slightest appearance of untranslated on-page text can wreck the linguistic immersion many multilingual customers expect. This also applies to multimedia assets such as images with embedded translatable text, videos with voiceovers or subtitles, PDF documents and more.
Unfortunately, most vendors don’t translate these critical UX elements—or if they do, they don’t do it very well. To combat this shortcoming, look for vendors that use superior content-detection technologies to identify, compile and distribute these files to linguists and multimedia experts for translation. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to provide image source files (often created in programs like Photoshop) to the vendor for translation. The best vendors can localize “flattened” .jpgs and .pngs without asking for source files.
Alternately, you can externalize the text from your images using an “overlay” capability that most CMSs natively support. This enables content-detection technologies to identify and translate the text more quickly.
When interviewing website translation services, investigate their processes for localizing videos and omnichannel content such as emails, PDFs and other digital assets. These disparate media often present unique creative and technical challenges during the translation process, so it’s wise to drill down and see how vendors handle them.
Here's a general checklist to reference as you discuss multimedia translation with vendors. If they mention any of these shortcomings, they probably can't handle your multimedia needs:
- They only translate on-site text, no images or other assets
- Their content-detection technologies can’t identify images with embedded translatable text
- They can identify translatable images but shift the responsibility of translating them to you (or another vendor)
- They can’t translate interactive applications
You should also ask if the vendor can translate an image’s alt-text, especially using localized SEO keywords. This capability helps improve organic traffic and keeps your images compliant with web accessibility standards.
Learn more about the technical best practices for translation
Enhancing the Translated Website Customer Experience
Most folks believe that once their company’s website is translated, the process of online market expansion is over. Not so. You’ll also want to localize and optimize the off-site customer experience with unique content and experiences that will attract customers to the localized site, keep them there and increase engagement and conversions. These channels include:
Mobile: Customers in most markets (including the U.S.) have become mobile-first, or mobile-dominant. You’ll need a multilingual mobile app or mobile-friendly website to serve these customers. Consider localizing promotional SMS messages, too.
Great vendors can easily translate mobile apps using API and proxy translation technologies.
- APIs are best for translating Native apps (which are built specifically for smartphones and contain content that isn’t accessible through the public web).
- Using a combination of language translation API and proxy translation technologies can efficiently translate Hybrid apps, which are built with the capabilities of both Native and HTML5 apps.
Social Media: If you’re serving customers beyond U.S. borders, know that that some international markets have favorite social networks that aren’t Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You’ll want to be present on those networks, serving locals your translated messaging.
Search Engines: Google obviously dominates Western markets for search, but not so in other places around the world. China favors Baidu. Russia prefers Yandex. Remember to optimize your translated content with preferred keywords and metadata elements for each market.
Multimedia: Multilingual customers now expect the same digital experiences that Western companies provide their primary markets. To reach these people the right way, make sure to localize your videos, images and other high-engagement assets.
Non-Website Text Assets: Multilingual customers readily consume emails, product documentation and other text-based omnichannel content. Be sure to provide these materials in their preferred languages, too.
Companies can also benefit greatly from translating their product content for publication on global virtual marketplace websites, or virtual malls. Unlike in most Western markets where customers often enjoy shopping on a brand’s corporate website, customers in many international markets prefer transacting on branded storefronts in these virtual mall-like experiences. (China’s Tmall and India’s Flipkart are good examples of these marketplaces.)
Since these customers place higher trust in virtual malls than branded corporate sites—even those that are translated—it’s a smart play to localize your product information and open a digital storefront in an online marketplace. Your products will be readily available where shoppers congregate. Another upside: these marketplaces can often handle inventory management and fulfillment.
With the right vendor, localizing your product data for these virtual malls is a streamlined process. Your vendor can easily translate your data if it's exported into an .xml file. You'll then integrate that localized data into the virtual marketplace's database.
A few other noteworthy engagement- and conversion-boosting capabilities that great translation vendors provide include:
Automatic Language Preference Detection: This special technology automatically analyzes inbound traffic to your localized site and asks visitors if they’d like to view the website in their preferred languages. This UX optimization often reduces bounce rates and increases engagement and conversions.
Translated On-Site Search: This capability directs customers to what they’re looking for more quickly, reducing bounce rates and increasing time on-site.
URL Translation: While URL translation doesn’t typically affect SEO rankings, it does improve the localized user experience since users can read the URL in their preferred languages.
Customer-Facing Localization Tools: Great vendors empower their customers to review and revise their translations using intuitive software. They also provide tools that enable customers to replace standardized translated content with customized content (aka localizations). This linguistic authenticity often increases user engagement.
Secure Login Experiences for Customers, Patients, etc.: Translating your secure portal is an easy and powerful way to increase multilingual customer satisfaction and engagement, reduce customer service costs and increase the probability of successful upsell and cross-sell conversions.
Speed to Market: World-class translation vendors identify new content, translate it, edit it and publish it in about one business day. That timeline can keep pace with your online business.
Learn more about enhancing the translated website customer experience
International SEO and Website Translation
Not too long ago, the only considerations companies had to make regarding international SEO was making sure they operated translated websites with country-level domains (such as .mx or .ru), subdomains and subdirectories. The internet, and SEO, have become more complex since then.
While the general principles of great SEO are the same no matter what language your website is in—aka well-crafted content, cross-site linking, an excellent UX, etc.—there are several multilingual SEO nuances companies should know about:
Domain Authority: Your brand may be barely known in the new multilingual markets you want to serve. That means the branded keywords that drive so much traffic in your origin market won’t do much good here. Instead of using creative/esoteric product names for items, try more generic phrases instead. (For instance: “one-piece bathing suit” instead of “tugless tank.”) Multilingual customers searching for those phrases will find your website more easily.
Guidance for Search Engines: To avoid obscurity in regional search engines, leverage your website’s hreflang attribute. This informs search engines of the languages your website is available in, and the markets it serves. Search engines, in turn, use this data to direct users to your translated website (and not your origin site).
Effective Use of Keywords: Achieving the goal of domain and page authority in multilingual markets requires the continual, consistent use of translated keywords and terminology for specific subjects. Translating keyword-rich, authoritative content such as FAQs and blog posts can help your website rise in the ranks.
Inbound Links: Inbound link strategies are a common best practice in domestic markets, but they’re often overlooked for multilingual markets. Make sure to employ this strategy as you expand into new regions.
Connect Your Translated Websites: Make sure to cross-link your multilingual websites. Search engines value these links because they are relevant and related to each other. Customers like them too because they can easily visit your other translated experiences if they wish.
Submit Your Site and Make it Crawlable: If you don’t leverage this SEO best practice, it’ll take a while for your multilingual sites to show up in regional search results. Use your webmaster tools to get ahead of the game. And make sure your site is accessible to regional search engines and maximize its crawlability.
Translate Metadata and Structured Data: Don’t neglect this “invisible” under-the-hood content. Translated page titles, descriptions and local schema data can generate meaningful lifts in local search rankings.
Learn more about international SEO
Website Translation Security
As you consider qualified vendors to translate your website, take great care to vet their security capabilities. As we’ve mentioned earlier in this introduction, many vendors struggle to effectively translate websites. They’re often outclassed by their technical complexity. This can indicate that they’re equally incapable of ensuring your website’s security and the customers’ privacy.
There are several security best practices to look for as you interview prospective vendors. Firstly, find out how they mitigate security risks and how their technologies avoid the visibility and storage of website users’ personal information. Names, addresses and numbers should be automatically ignored by the technology. They should also use secure encryption protocols like SSL for transmitting your data.
Their solution should also meet stringent industry security requirements like PCI DSS Level 1 and HIPAA/HITECH, and international standards such as fluency in GDPR legislation and Privacy Shield certification. Other distinctions, such as membership in the Visa Global Registry of Service Providers, are also positive indicators.
Also note the website hosting provider(s) that the vendor uses to store and serve the content of your translated site. The provider's hosting environments should have best-of-breed software security and on-site security. Facilities should be rated at N+ redundancy, and located in physically secure, geographically diverse data centers.
Server environments should be ISO 27001, SSAE 16 and PCI DSS compliant, too.
Finally, see if the vendor integrates security into its training and HR practices. This includes personnel screening and ongoing education on how to safeguard information assets, including physical security, data privacy, workstation security. The vendor should also routinely train employees about attack methods, and how to avoid them.
Learn more about website translation security
How to Serve Multilingual Markets with Website Translation
Many businesses mistakenly think that the strategies and tactics they've used in their origin market will work in the new multilingual markets they're keen to serve. But that's rarely the case. From local regulations to cultural expectations, the differences often abound.
Savvy brands base their marketing strategies in verifiable data, which requires market research. To better understand where to direct your research, consider these questions:
Where do you already have an existing customer base? Your origin website’s analytics metrics contain useful information that can determine if you’re already serving multilingual customers. Which markets are generating the most conversions? Consider localizing the site for them.
Which languages do your visitors prefer? Where do they live? A shrewd examination of your analytics can also reveal your visitors’ language-preference settings and their geographic locations. These provide additional data points to direct your translation efforts toward specific markets.
Are there potential markets with a shared language? You can smartly serve several international markets at once if they all speak the same language. Spanish is a great example. A Spanish-language site can serve customers in the U.S., Latin America and Europe.
You’ll also want to tightly align your expansion and translation efforts between your Marketing, Product Marketing and Sales teams. Collectively conduct the due diligence to determine your target market’s Ideal Customer Profile (is it different than your origin market’s?), the necessary translated collateral to support local sales teams, the local activity of your competitors, the buying expectations of your multilingual customers, the anticipated demand for your offerings, relevant local customs, laws and regulations, and more.
Interestingly, the buyer and customer sales journeys can be different in multilingual markets. This should influence what website content to translate for multilingual constituents, as well as which marketing channels to use. Conduct research to determine:
- Any unique concerns local customers might have
- What technologies they use as they search online
- The social media channels they use most frequently
Methods like focus groups, customer audits, and concept testing can be useful to acquire this data. However, you'll probably get equally good information more quickly by using tools such as Google Analytics, Buzzsumo, and others.
Establishing a sales team in a new market also requires thoughtful research. Again, the key is to acquire as much intelligence and fluency on the culture and typical buyers' decision-making processes as you can. Pragmatic issues such as logistics, the quality of local sales talent and team structures must also be addressed.
Building a "crawl, walk, run" strategy for serving this new market is also a prudent move. Your organization doesn't have to master the market before entering it. It takes time and patience to establish a brand in a new market. An incremental, profits-driven approach is the smart play when expanding online.
Make appropriate investments in local sales talent or customer-support resources when needed, but this stuff can usually wait until:
- Your brand has established an in-market presence
- Your organization is leveraging authentic in-market messaging opportunities
- You’ve adapted to the market’s unique conditions
- And you’ve iteratively recalibrated your in-market business practices to generate the best results
This methodical approach often starts with ensuring that your company can fulfill orders to the new market and support local currencies and payment types. If appropriate, consider investigating local warehouse and brick-and-mortar store options. When you've effectively determined that the market is a viable one-and that you can effectively support it-it's time to double-down on website translation and optimize its UX for local customers (which maximizes engagement and conversions).
A part of this optimization process is determining if you should embrace a standardized approach to your marketing content and offerings, or a customized approach.
A standardized approach preserves an identical customer experience no matter which market is being served. (This enables efficient market expansion at scale, but doesn’t address local needs.) By contrast, a customized approach provides bespoke messaging and offerings to specific markets. (This decentralized approach is more resonant with locals, but doesn’t scale well.) Oftentimes, a hybrid approach works best.
Experienced translation vendors can help with this process. Look for vendors that have helped many companies like yours strike the right balance for their online and offline marketing content in different markets.
Learn how to serve multilingual markets
The Cost of Website Translation
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this introduction, especially taking great care to examine the upsides of translating your website. What we haven’t yet discussed, however, are the potential downsides of not translating your website. Put another way: What are the opportunity costs that a company faces when it neglects the needs of its multilingual constituents? Here are a few:
Stalled Business Growth: Once your organization has exhausted the growth with its origin market, expansion into multilingual markets makes sense. What won’t make sense to multilingual customers, however, is if your website isn’t available to them in their preferred languages. Brass tacks: If they can’t read your website, they won’t visit or transact on it.
Breaking Local Laws: In order to conduct business in some markets (such as the Canadian province of Quebec), your company’s website must be available in the local language. Failure to follow regulations often results in hefty fines or other penalties. Data privacy and compliance legislation in the U.S. and abroad may also impose local language requirements for web user accessibility.
Tarnished Brand Image: In a multilingual market, an untranslated or poorly translated website can do more harm to a brand’s reputation than good. Local customers often interpret this neglect to mean that your organization doesn’t value their needs … or their business.
Lost SEO Benefits: If multilingual customers are looking for your products or services and there’s no content available in their preferred languages, they won’t find it via search. Without those translations, you’ll miss out on the same invaluable SEO benefits that drive traffic and engagement in your origin market.
The Competition Wins: If your brand doesn’t deliver a world-class translated experience, multilingual customers will seek out a competing brand in your industry that does. That competitor will have the online brand awareness, SEO ranking and in-language CX that your company lacks.
Another typically complex topic to consider is the actual cost of website translation: how it's priced, what that pays for, and if it's a good value. Unfortunately, the topic is more complicated than it should be due to the way most vendors present their prices and cost estimates to customers.
Simply put, website translation service often deliberately complicate their pricing to create the appearance of low translation costs while simultaneously hiding additional fees in their invoices to offset those low costs. The end result? Customers often spend more than they ever anticipated, or absorb unexpected costs in other ways—such as diverting IT resources to complete technical tasks that the vendor can’t do itself.
Take a common pricing tactic within the industry: low price-per-word translation costs. Vendors calculate translation costs based on how many words they translate. Generally, the cost per translated word is defined by the commonality of the target language. For instance, less commonly spoken languages have fewer professional linguists on-hand to translate content. This increases the language’s price-per-word cost. More common languages, such as Spanish, have lower price-per-word costs.
Per-word pricing is a translation-industry standard, and it appears fair at first glance. But most translation vendors leverage it in ways that benefit their businesses, not their customers’. In exchange for low price-per-word rates, vendors may employ inexperienced translators, or neglect critical editorial review or QA steps. In fact, the extensive revisions required to meet a customer’s quality standards can wind up costing the company more than if it had selected a reputable vendor from the get-go.
Cheap per-word pricing comes with other risks. Vendors offset any losses created by low translation rates by inflating costs elsewhere, such as for proofreading and editing. They might charge the customer to translate identical content more than once, which isn’t necessary (thanks to translation memory technology) and drives up costs. And pokey translation SLAs create their own problems, since on-site untranslated content alienates multilingual customers and depresses conversions.
Another typical “gotcha” of undercooked website translation solutions is to heap technical tasks back onto the customer to complete. This generates additional costs for companies, since they must reassign IT resources to handle the vendor’s shortcomings, or hire another vendor to fix the translation vendor’s problems.
By contrast, great vendors provide transparent what-you-see-is-what-you-get pricing. No hidden fees, no fine print. These vendors offer differentiated pricing approaches such as:
Superior Content-Detection Technology: Find vendors with technologies that can sniff translatable content in every possible digital location: on-site text, images, videos, under-the-hood metadata, text within complex single-page applications, dynamically loaded content, content loaded from third-party sources, and more.
Transparent Pricing: Scrupulous website translation services don’t hide additional fees for editorial review and revisions deep within their invoices. Instead, they offer transparent pricing that clearly defines what’s included in the cost and what isn’t.
Simple Pricing for Other Capabilities: Ideal vendors offer flat subscription fees that cover the technology and support to ensure the ongoing operation of your site. This usually includes the hosting of the translated site, 24/7 customer support, customer-accessible translation tools and access to translation memory, continuous detection of new on-site content, and more.
Learn more about cost of website translation services
We hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive guide to website translation.
The findings throughout this guide are based on authoritative research and MotionPoint’s 20+ years translating and operating over 1,500 websites for hundreds of customers in dozens of industries in over 40 languages, every day.
We pioneered the proxy-based translation approach to website translation and offer the only practically effortless proxy translation solution on the market. No extra personnel, technology or specialized expertise is required from our customers’ marketing or IT teams.
Our industry-leading managed technology platform offers unparalleled flexibility, breadth and depth to accommodate a wide spectrum of enterprise translation needs. We continuously eliminate customer-side effort, accelerate business growth in multilingual markets, and deliver dramatic cost savings compared to other approaches.
Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our solution, and how it offers the speed, flexibility and scale your organization needs to maximize its value and business performance in multilingual markets.