In today’s global marketplace, website translation plays an important role in helping businesses expand their reach. About 72% of online shoppers prefer websites that feature their native languages. The internet wants you to know that limiting your website to English-speaking audiences is a bad move.
The world may be a global village now, but people still prefer to read in their native languages. If you want to expand your business into foreign markets, website translation is the way to go.
But the process of changing website content from one language to another is not as straightforward as it seems.
Website translation involves adapting a website’s content (including web pages, eBooks, blogs, white papers, and videos) to fit the needs of a foreign audience. Usually, content is translated word-for-word, but fully localized websites also take into account the cultural and technical differences between languages.
The problem here is that the very definition of website translation implies word-for-word translation; a simplistic process that fails to capture the voice of the original content.
So before we get into the best practices of website translation, here is a little more context on the meaning of the term:
Website Translation vs Website Localization
These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between translation and localization.
Translation simply changes the content on your website from one language to another (often word-for-word). Localization goes the extra mile and adapts the site’s language, usability, and appearance for a new audience.
Website localization adapts measurement units, language formats, color schemes, and images to suit local audiences. A localized e-commerce platform, for instance, showcases local holidays and accounts for the target audience’s local currency and buying habits. Localization goes as far as multi-site translation (more on this later).
But there’s a catch.
Over-localizing your website content can drive away your customers. It is important to maintain content parity, so inasmuch as you would like your translated content to feature local lingo, ensure it doesn’t deviate too far from the primary site.
Website localization allows new audiences a more immersive experience, but it is not always the best choice. If your budget, target audience, and your business goals do not call for localization, there’s no harm in sticking to website translation.
But if you’re going to translate your website, do it right. Here is how:
Five Best Practices for Website Translation
Great translation goes beyond words. As opposed to replacing one word for another, expert translators work with the concepts and ideas behind the language. They consider the tone and level of formality used in the primary content and make sure to transfer the same ‘voice’ to the translated content.
For the best website translation results, always strive to produce culturally-appropriate content without deviating from your business goals.
Here are five best practices for website translation:
Know your Target Market
Website translation is about more than language, it is about selling to a new audience, and should, therefore, involve deep market research.
Before translating website content, try to understand your target audience’s background, culture and buying habits.
Will this market bring in sustainable revenue for your business? Can local buyers even afford your products? Maybe there’s already too much competition in the market and your brand will not stand a chance. This is also the point where keyword research comes in- what words does your new audience use to search for your products?
If doing a multi-site website translation, find out if your audience prefers a text-based layout or an interactive site with a lot of graphics.
You need to know who you are selling to before translating your website content.
Multi-Site vs Multi-Language Website Translation
You have two options when it comes to website translation;
Either create another site that is fully dedicated to your target audience (multi-site translation)
Using this approach will require that you purchase, optimize and establish the domain authority of all your local sites. You can automatically redirect users to a local site based on their geographical location.
Sony has a dedicated site for American audiences (https://www.sony.com/) as well as German-speaking audiences (https://www.sony.de/). Although the message is the same on both sites, the language, images, and general feel of the website differ.
If your company has adapted its products for new audiences, then it is best to use multi-site translation as it best captures the differences between your primary and foreign markets.
The other option is multi-language translation that translates website content and URLs within the same site
If your company markets to two different countries that speak the same language, this is the best website translation approach for you since it focuses on your SEO efforts on one site.
When using multi-language translation, make sure users can set their language preferences. The best way to do this is through a drop-down menu that allows users to select their preferred language from a pre-specified list.
SEO and Keyword Strategy
Can your target audience easily find your translated content?
Most brands go wrong when they decide to forego keyword and SEO localization until after their website translation is done.
Keyword strategy is essential in website translation.
This means that rather than literally translating your source keywords from one language to another and using them as they are, you should implement a strategy to find new SEO keywords in the target language.
In fact, this is one of the very first steps you should take when translating a site.
The US and the UK are both English speaking countries, but what Americans call ‘trunk,’ the British call ‘boot.’ America says ‘lift’ and the UK says ‘elevator’.
This shows just how important keyword research is when translating a website (and its metadata). Meanings change, so never assume that your keywords will work just because your target country speaks the same language as your primary audience.
Optimize your content for search engines.
International SEO goes beyond translating keywords. Your URLs, image file names, meta descriptions, and web addresses also need to be accessible in the target language.
Its all about determining which search engine your target audience uses.
Optimizing your content for one particular search engine (say Google) might mean you lose out on audiences who prefer to use other search engines (like Yahoo, Bing, Yandex).
Yahoo, as opposed to Google, is widely used in Japan, so if translating your website for this market, take this into account.
Human Translation vs Machine Translation
Machine translation tools range from browser add-ons to localization software, and they all have varying levels of accuracy.
Google Translate is among the most popular ones- a free tool with impeccable accuracy. It sounds too good to be true, but Google Translate is legit as far as machine translation systems go. All you have to do is copy and paste your content into a text box and choose one of over 100 languages.
There’s no denying it; machine translation does have its advantages:
- It is cost-effective
- It is fast (software can translate hundreds of pages in minutes)
- You can always use a human translator to edit machine-translated content to get the best of both worlds.
- And it is fairly accurate. But…
Machine translation solutions can dilute the meaning (and impact) of your website content by substituting carefully researched keywords with generic words in the target language.
This is how you can tell the difference between content that has been translated by a human and content translated by a machine (software);
Machine-translated content often lacks context.
Idioms, metaphors, and cultural references are all just words to a machine. This means a human translator is more accurate because they understand the context in language, which is usually implied and rarely stated explicitly.
Humans can understand and therefore translate cultural nuances and references. Software translation tends to be all about ‘copy and paste’ which is not ideal for website translation.
And there’s more:
- Human translation ensues your website content maintains the overall voice of your brand.
- By carefully selecting and localizing keywords, a human translation team can result in higher SEO scores for your translated website.
The other option is using both machine and human translation solutions. You just have to know when to use which:
Human translation is suitable for brand-sensitive content, highly specialized content (legal and medical text), and high-traffic web pages because it accounts for cultural nuances and context. Machine translation is best when word choice isn’t a priority (like in product pages).
Using a Translation Management System
The global marketplace expects brands to communicate with their foreign audiences in their native languages. Company reports, email campaigns, blog posts, and even user-generated content (like reviews) all have to be updated quickly and regularly.
Website translation is a never-ending process, which is why you may want to invest in a web-based translation management system (TMS).
A TMS ensures your content and your translation process move at the same pace. The system streamlines your website translation projects by integrating with your CMS (content management system) to allow for continuous translation.
An ideal translation management system allows your CMS to communicate with human translators that work on your content.
In today’s global economy, website translation is not an option anymore, it’s an obligation.
Although the process can be expensive, especially if you update your content continuously, the rewards are well worth the cost- but only if you’re doing it right.
Remember to recheck your translated website content for spelling mistakes, untranslated strings of text, or any words that sound offensive in the target language. A property translated website can help brands win new audiences in foreign markets.
For the best results, always keep these five best practices in mind when translating your website.
Start your website translation today in Bunny Studio.