Should You Use a Translation Proxy for Your Website?
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have a viable brand, a website you’re excited about, and the willingness to promote it internationally. But how do you go about making your site accessible to a wider audience? Do you build country-specific versions from scratch? Should you run everything through Google Translate? Or, as is becoming increasingly popular, do you use a translation proxy?
In the past, we’ve delved into the ins and outs of professional localisation services and discussed how localisation can benefit your brand. Today, the spotlight is on the pros and cons of a translation proxy; a commonly used programme designed to make the translation process easy and automatic. Let’s take a look at how it operates and, most importantly, how it compares to human input.
What is a translation proxy?
A translation proxy is an automated system that layers itself over a website, intercepting visitors from anywhere in the world and placing a translated version of the site in front of them, in real time. You may see people use the phrase “linguistic mirror” to describe a translation proxy because of its ability to effortlessly reflect website content in a multitude of languages.
While human localisation entails working with translation professionals to produce high-quality, culturally relevant content that accurately reflects your brand – typically aided by a Translation Management System (TMS) – a translation proxy is designed to work independently without human involvement.
To get a little more technical though, proxy translation is achieved when several technologies work together. Common components include:
- A web crawler, constantly monitoring a website for content changes so that it can prepare new translations.
- A web server – or the layer referred to above – that functions as a separate and temporary, translated version of the original (or “source”) website.
- Translation memories (TM) that store previously translated and approved content – produced or edited by humans – which the translation proxy can use to generate new translations.
- And machine translation (MT), which is used for the impromptu translation of words and phrases that haven’t already been localised or approved by humans.
Benefits of using a translation proxy
Depending on the size of your business, available resources, and company goals, some features of a translation proxy will be more appealing than others. However, whether your top priority is cost savings or ease of use, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that you can use free versions (for example, Google Translate Proxy) or subscription-based systems (such as Easyling or MotionPoint).
Some of the main benefits of using a proxy translator for your content are:
Ease of use
Not only are translation proxies quick and painless to set up, but the maintenance thereafter is minimal as they work independently from the source site. Many proxies nowadays also use AI to convert webpages on the spot, negating the need to store multiple translated copies of your site.
Reduced initial costs
Since a proxy system uses code from the primary-market website as the reference for all of its translations, you only ever need to create and invest in one.
Quicker time to market
Because you only need to produce content in a single language – your primary market’s – translation proxies can quickly and easily make your site accessible in a number of other languages with the click of a button.
Automatic processing of new content
As we mentioned before, translation proxies are equipped with web crawlers that automatically detect when new content is published on your site. They then prepare the new translation and make it available to international visitors in real-time – so you can rest assured that your translated site will always be up-to-date.
As your business grows, it’s likely that you’ll want to make your site available in more languages. With a translation proxy, adding new languages is quick and easy – usually as simple as flicking a switch.
Independent functionality (CMS-agnostic)
One of the great things about translation proxies is that they work with most Content Management Systems (CMSs). So, whether you’re using WordPress, Drupal, Shopify, or something a little more bespoke – chances are your proxy will be able to integrate seamlessly.
A translation proxy can also be a valuable tool for conducting market research. For example, you can use it to test how popular your site would be in a new territory by making it temporarily available in that language and analysing the resulting traffic data.
Dangers of using a translation proxy
Above, we mentioned that the phrase “linguistic mirror” is a common way to describe how a translation proxy works because of its ability to effortlessly reflect content from the source website, in an array of languages. For many proxy users, however, the mirror is actually more like aluminium foil. Reflective, but only to an extent. And definitely lacking robustness.
Here are some of the main drawbacks when using a translation proxy:
Negative impact on SEO
Google’s own quality guidelines penalise sites that use automated content, i.e., content that’s been translated by a machine rather than a human. Because proxy-based website translation relies heavily on MT, there’s a high likelihood that your translated site will be less visible in search engine result pages.
Potential brand damage due to poor quality
While translation proxies have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, the translations they produce are still far from perfect. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to completely change the meaning of what’s being said. Website navigation elements are highly context-sensitive – which can be difficult for machines to grasp – and the effectiveness of marketing copy often relies on its ability to evoke emotion through the use of idiomatic expressions, metaphors, alliterations, uns and the like – all of which are lost in translation when using a proxy.
Lack of control
Another downside of translation proxies is that they’re often black boxes. In other words, you have very little visibility or control over how the translation process works, or what the end result will look like.
Slow load time and poor UX
Firstly, placing a proxy between the source site and user interface will result in slower loading times. Additionally, the web crawler can often fail to locate translatable content and excludes it from the translation process, leaving a concoction of languages behind for the user to decipher. These situations can greatly frustrate customers, negatively impacting brand perception.
Without customising your proxy, it will perform very basically and, over time, it’s likely that you’ll need a lot of add-on services which can amount to a hefty price.
Conclusion: Localise, localise, localise!
If your website and content are supposed to target audiences on a personal level, alongside customised designs or adverts, then the debate of machine vs. human has a clear winner. From poor SEO results and slow loading times to potential brand damage, there are many reasons why companies considering a translation proxy should be wary.
The bottom line is that working with professional localisation services ensures that a high standard of quality and care is woven into the whole project, due to their hands-on engagement and native-level knowledge. At the end of the day, your content is trying to capture the interest of people. And who knows people better than themselves?