Translating a Website: The Ultimate Guide for Business Owners
When you’re running a business, there’s always the potential to expand your customer base by catering to new markets. However, breaking into a new market is no easy task – it requires work in a wide range of areas, including market research, design, branding, and of course, translation.
Translating your website is one of the most important steps you’ll take when taking your business global, so it has to fit somewhere in your budget and overall game plan.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about translating a website, including:
- Why website translation is important for business growth
- The different types of website translation
- How to budget for website translation
- The website translation workflow (including content preparation and quality assurance)
And much more. By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to take your website global and expand your business into new markets. So let’s get started!
Why should you translate your website?
There are many reasons why translating your website can be beneficial for your business. Here are just a few:
- Reaching a broader audience: A website that’s available in multiple languages is more likely to attract visitors from around the world, not just from your home country.
- Building trust and credibility: When potential customers see that your website is available in their language, they’re more likely to trust your brand and consider doing business with you. In fact, research shows that 52% of consumers buys only at websites where information is presented in their own language, and 72.1% spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
- Improving search engine optimization (SEO): If you want your website to rank well in search engines in foreign markets, it’s important to have targeted content for each market. This is because search engines like Google use algorithms that favor websites with relevant, local content.
- Creating a better user experience (UX): A website that’s been translated into a user’s native language will be much easier for them to understand and navigate, resulting in a better overall experience. With UX being so important in today’s online world – 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience –, this is definitely something you don’t want to overlook.
What are the different types of website translation?
Translating a website isn’t a one-size-fits-all process – the approach you take will depend on the type of website you have and your specific goals for going global. Sometimes, you might even take different approaches for different pages on the same website.
Here’s a quick overview of the different types of website translation.
Raw machine translation
This is the quickest and most affordable option, but it’s also the least accurate. Raw machine translation involves using automated software (e.g., Google Translate) to translate your website content into another language.
While this can be a helpful starting point, it’s important to note that machine translation – even the most advanced forms of it, which nowadays work with neural networks – is still not as accurate as human translation.
Raw machine translation can be helpful for low-visibility or non-user-facing pages that don’t need to be perfect as long as they convey the general meaning. It’s the case of user-generated content (e.g., comments, forum posts, etc.), for example.
There are a few, but very important, reasons to keep machine translation out of your process. To mention a few, it can’t read into culture cues and often implements a myriad of erroneous translations. You might expect the same results from free website translation services.
There’s no denying that machine translation can reduce effort and time investment for rapid output. The catch, however, can come in the form of loss of meaning, grammatical errors, poor localisation, and confusing statements. This leads to negative impacts on advertising, brand identity, and text meant for engagement.
Once a consumer encounters these mistakes, their opinion of the company drops significantly. Not only does this reduce conversion rates and traffic, but it also benefits your competitors. There’s nothing that convinces a buyer to choose another company than a bad first impression.
The end result is a lost investment in marketing, website translation and an awareness campaign that’s counterproductive in and of itself. So, what now? Invest properly in transcreation and professionals in the field.
Machine translation post-editing (MTPE)
This is a more accurate form of machine translation that’s become increasingly popular in recent years. With MTPE, your website content is first translated by machine, and then edited and polished by a human translator.
MTPE can be a good option for websites with medium visibility – that is, pages that will be seen by potential customers but don’t necessarily need to be perfect, such as product descriptions.
In 2017, ISO 18587:2017 was published. This standard provides guidelines on how to select, train, and assess post-editors working with machine translation output.
This is the most accurate form of translation, but it’s also the most expensive and time-consuming. With human translation, your website content is translated by a professional translator who is a native speaker of the target language and, ideally, also a subject-matter expert.
When translating a website, human translation is the best option for high-visibility pages, such as your home page, key landing pages, and any other page where a potential customer might form their first impression of your brand.
What are the different strategies for human translation?
Not all human translation is created equal – just like a carpenter might use different tools and techniques to build a table than to build a wardrobe, the approach a translator takes to translate your website will depend on the specific context and goals.
Here are some of the most common strategies for human translation.
This is the less complex and most affordable form of human translation. With regular translation, your website content is translated by a professional translator who is a native speaker of the target language.
While they might aid their work with tools such as Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, translation memories (TMs), glossaries, and any reference material you might provide, the translator will stay close to the original content. They will convey the same ideas, in a similar order, without adding or omitting information, and without finding equivalent cultural references or making major changes to the text.
This approach is best for content that’s straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of context, such as product descriptions.
Localisation goes beyond translation to adapt your website content for a specific market or region. This can involve things like:
- Using the local currency, units of measurement, and date format
- Replacing idiomatic expressions and culturally specific references with local equivalents
- Replacing links in the source copy with local-language equivalents
What’s curious about localisation is that it involves adaptations that fall beyond the realm of language. This is why translators working on a localisation project often work with their client’s team of graphic designers, web developers, and legal and marketing consultants, who will be in charge of adapting:
- The website’s colour palette, to reflect local preferences
- The layout of the website, to take into account user habits and tastes in the target market
- UI elements, such as fields that need to be expanded to accommodate longer languages
- Images, videos, and other multimedia content
- Payment methods, because what’s common in one country might not be available in another
- Delivery methods, for the same reason
- The website’s legal notices to reflect local regulations, such as those governing data privacy
This approach is best for webpages where the user experience has the power to make or break a conversion.
Localisation can also be used for multilingual mobile apps. Mobile app localisation is a bit different from website localisation, and it deserves a separate guide.
Websites, by default, include a lot of content designed to convince readers to take a certain action. Transcreation is the process of recreating persuasive text from one language to another, in a way that will best satisfy the reader.
Transcreation could be understood as a mix between translation and copywriting. With a greater focus on creativity, the translator adapts the original content to make it sound natural in the target language while also staying true to the original intent, tone, and style.
This approach is best for advertising copy such as taglines, slogans, and marketing collateral, where the translator needs to be able to capture the feeling of the original without being constrained by a literal translation.
Transcreation can also be used for website content that’s heavy on branding, such as the About Us page, or any other page where you want to convey your brand’s personality.
For optimal results, one needs to preserve the original intent, tone and context. It’s tough to carry it over, but it’s also possible. Taking the spirit of an original text and ensuring it carries over involves knowledge of both cultures. Many times, a translator might have to swap out idioms or common sayings for others. The results can differ greatly from a would-be literal translation, but the effect remains the same.
That’s where machine translation can muck things up. In the context of transcreation, the literal transfer of text between two languages proves highly ineffective for maintaining the impact of the original message. Instead, you should contact website translation professionals that know what it means to analyse, properly interpret, and implement the right wording in a translation.
SEO translation (also commonly referred to as multilingual SEO) is a mix between translation and SEO copywriting. The translator not only adapts the content to make it sound natural in the target language, but they also optimise it for search engines in the target market.
This approach is best for webpages where you want to generate traffic from organic search, such as blog posts, service pages, and product pages.
SEO is a term that’s thrown around far too casually. Yes, keyword and link integration can increase traffic. However, if you lack the right content on your site, no amount of organic traffic will provide results on your end. You need to give your users a reason to click through to your site, stay there to find out more about your goods or services, and eventually convert to paying customers.
Many companies mistakenly believe that the only aspect of SEO that is relevant to website translation is keyword research. In truth, there are many more important considerations that affect the performance of translated websites. User experience, for example, is the rock on which successful website translation is built, and Google knows it.
So, it’s all about combining multiple strategies for a common goal and investing time in figuring out how SEO translation works. Your site needs to be user-friendly, easy to navigate, clear in its objectives, informative, and engaging.
The challenge comes when you realise that all those adjectives mean different things in different languages. Website translation, therefore, becomes a balancing act of personalising content to each specific market while staying true to your website’s voice and tone.
Translating a website: How to budget for it
The cost of translating a website will depend on the size of the project, the languages involved, the turnaround time, and the type of translation service you need.
To give you a ballpark idea, a simple website with around 10,000 words would cost between $3,500 and $5,000 to translate into one language. The price would go up if you need the project done in a hurry, if you’re working with multiple languages.
Similarly, if you’d like your provider to perform editing and proofreading instead of simple translation (this is known as TEP), you can expect to pay 40-50% more. Some businesses hire two or three different agencies to handle different services, such as translation, editing, and proofreading. Others prefer to work with a one-stop shop that can provide all of these services under one roof.
The importance of a translation strategy
When you’re running a business, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your goals, target market, and the types of content that will resonate with them. Once you have all of this information, you can create a translation strategy that will help you achieve your desired outcome.
Your translation strategy should answer the following questions:
- How many languages should I choose for translation?
- Why do I want to invest in translation or transcreation?
- Will the chosen target markets and their potential performance justify translation spending?
- Do I have the resources to invest in website translation?
The answers to these questions will help you develop a clear strategy for your website translation project.
Creating a list of language options is usually the first step. Your next endeavour is to heavily investigate each one, compare, and contrast with relevant markets, and determine the likelihood that you’ll see your desired results.
To serve as a sort of crutch during this step, you could look into finding a website translation provider. Look for one that specialises in website translation, website localisation, or transcreation. There are many providers that could service your business well, but be sure to choose one with a strong portfolio and website translation case studies.
You can also look into other sources like Google Analytics and examine website traffic patterns to get a better idea of which languages you should pursue.
Of course, you should adjust your expectations of the outcome for each market accordingly – it’s likely you won’t see results from website translation for some time.
More traffic? More engagement? Both?
When it comes to ranking higher on Google, driving more traffic to your website from untapped markets, convincing pre-existing or new visitors to take action, or maintaining interest in your brand, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Take a closer look below into some variables and how to accomplish these objectives with website translation in mind.
Language and user population
The first recommendation is to analyse the most commonly used languages on the internet. This might seem like an obvious factor, but many businesses fail to keep it in mind.
Approximately 90% of online users make purchases exclusively on websites offered in their language. Keep that in mind while reading ahead.
English, Chinese, and Spanish are the top three languages used on the internet. That’s more than half of all users. English alone pertains to 1.8 billion people that surf the web, out of a total of 4.5 billion. This fact is reflected in the astounding number of companies that make sure to translate a website to English.
Depending on the region and variety of dialects, you might consider opting for a less commonly used language. A niche has its advantages, of course. There’s less competition and you’re more likely to become one of only a few sellers of a given product or service. It’s the best pick for long-term growth.
If you’re aiming for quick results when translating a website, you’ll need a different approach. The safest option for short-term growth involves using any, or all, of the top ten languages.
Languages in order of largest online population:
- Indonesian / Malaysian
Keep in mind, though, that competing in a market with a large user base that shares a language means you’ll have hefty competition. Long-term results may not come as quickly as expected for website translation to Spanish, for example. Additionally, these contexts change constantly and rapidly, so your investment will be far greater and stretched over longer periods of time than with more niche audiences.
However, a smaller consumer base lets you stay laser-focused on satisfying a reduced number of needs and expectations. It requires less versatility and it’s easier to connect each investment to a specific outcome. If niche audiences are a part of your plan, you should include translating into languages with smaller user bases.
You can appeal to all markets, of course. But even the most translated website in the world can’t succeed without proper direction.
Motivate user action and engagement
Maintain meaning. That is, ensure that any expressions or phrases serve the same purpose in any language while adjusting the wording properly. In copywriting, especially, this is essential. For example, landing pages need to push a reader to take action.
There are a plethora of strategies for this, but the concept alone is important in this case. Word count should stay the same, when possible, along with the overall gist. Humour, serious tones, and provocative wording should carry over. These factors keep users across various languages engaged.
Market research and traffic analysis for website translation
Once you’ve chosen a region, decided on your product or service, and identified your target market, you need market research to further determine if your desired target language makes sense.
Determining whether or not you’ll see results involves looking into languages spoken in the region. Consider the percentage of people that speak the language you’re interested in translating. Additionally, find where each section of the population fits socioeconomically and in terms of purchasing power.
Methods for market research
There’s no right answer for proper market research. It’s a combination of tool implementation and a team of experts that know how to use them. However, getting a general feel for the context is relatively simple.
You can check website statistics and look into social media insights. Compiling data for future analysis is the easy part. Determining whether or not, and by what margin, your chosen website translation services will impact your content is where things get tricky.
Your best bet? Request assistance from professional marketing specialists (drop us a message, we work with some amazing ones!). With the right coordination, matching your product or service to a region and its language requires less effort on your end. And it’s not just easier; it also improves the likelihood that you’ll achieve your desired results.
Adjusting your purpose to match a market
So, you’ve determined the purpose of having a multilingual page. Now you have to appeal to your target market in the same way that your products or services do. Remember, sometimes translation and transcreation aren’t enough to guarantee conversion rates and create or maintain purchase habits.
For example, selling cow meat in India isn’t a profitable endeavour. No matter how incredible your Indian website translation is, consumers in the country will avoid your product. Why? Because a majority of the country believes cows are sacred and refuse to eat beef. You need a deeper look into the culture before expecting results – transcreation has you covered, somewhat, in this aspect.
Thus, before trying to break into different markets, consider a few recommendations. You can compare your product or service in the region to competitors. Also, follow the same guidelines that other professionals use to choose profitable markets. You always need a unique feature to stand out, but some already existing website translation strategies will always provide results.
Test the waters
A hands-on approach is sometimes the optimal choice. Keep a list of the potential languages for translation. You can’t try all of them at the same time without lofty and uncertain investments, so you’ll have to adjust your approach.
Gauging website translation performance in a market
Pick one language for translation, integrate it properly and measure your site’s progress over the course of a few months. Then ask yourself:
- Did traffic increase?
- Were there more conversions?
- Did the investment in translating your website produce enough results to consider adding another language?
These are all internal, logistical, and translation efficiency analytics. Still, though, you should dedicate part of your team to investigating statistics around the other potential languages you might choose.
Guidance by your customers
One major key for success in this sector? Efficient feedback loops for visitors, consistent users, and buyers on your site. This allows constructive criticism, suggestions, and, hopefully, positive reinforcement regarding what you’re doing right. It’s essentially a personalised guide on exactly what you need to change or maintain for improvement.
Affordable ways to make informed decisions
Observe your competition. If you lack the resources to jump headfirst into the mix, you can always look at what other companies are doing. Identifying the best translation strategies used by larger international companies appealing to the same or similar target audience can provide a ton of informational guidance. Consider their perspectives in a specific market.
Translating a website should never be a one-time event
Your website is the bread and butter of your digital marketing strategy. A lot of businesses make the mistake of translating their site once and forgetting about it. This is a recipe for disaster since trends, markets, needs, wants, and desires change at the drop of a hat – especially on the internet.
Make sure you have a plan for maintaining and improving the quality of your translations over time. If you don’t, it’s only a matter of time before your conversions start to slip and traffic dwindles. Choosing the right partner for the task can make a world of difference in this aspect, so be sure to do your research before settling on anyone. And for translations into Spanish, we’re here to help!