Translate your website’s content!
Why you should translate your website content
Translating your website’s content is an investment with a potentially very high return. Not only does website translation increase your search presence on major search engines, but when done professionally, your website translation will make you appear as a trustworthy and professional company. Digital media and your website help you reach your audience all over the world at a very low cost.
Did you know your audience wants to be addressed in their native language? Common Sense Advisory has published research showing that consumers value being addressed in their native language. Remember, your audience is not limited to your consumers. Other stakeholders will also appreciate being able to connect with you in their native language.
While it is obvious that your website content translation and multilingual communication make the most sense in the field of e-commerce, it is important to know that all major search engines can index and display the content of your website by language: potential consumers searching in their preferred language for your product or services offering will miss out on your website if it is not available in their language.
Likewise, when recruiting new employees or looking for new contractors, you can ensure that your company is one step ahead by addressing these potential stakeholders in their own language.
Finally, even internal communication with your employees, such as online content on your intranet or newsletters, should be multilingual to ensure everyone is reading from the same page.
Five steps to translating your website
As with any venture, preparation is crucial and is all the more true when embarking on the translation of your website content.
Below are five steps to preparing for the translation and localisation of your website:
1. Plan ahead
The planning process can be broken down into three steps:
Do your homework: understand the culture of the markets you wish to enter
When engaging with new markets, you need to understand the culture of the markets you wish to enter. Your message, your brand and your image must be appropriate for and adapted to the new markets you wish to enter.
The style used in the original language for your home market may be vastly different from the style required in a new market; if this is the case, there must be enough influence to make the necessary changes.
Assemble your team
Your company, like many others, is continuously creating content and you need to make sure that there is an unbroken chain of content creation, translation, localisation and publishing. This is a long-term undertaking, and everyone involved needs to understand their role in the process.
Set your goals
Before translating your website’s content, you need to clearly define what you wish to achieve with your translated website’s content. Below are some examples:
- drive more visitors to your website
- improve brand visibility in a new market or new markets
- increase sales in a market
Completing these steps in advance will ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.
2. Create a translation-ready design
Your website’s design must include some features that allow translation and especially localisation. Some languages require more characters than others: for example, German usually requires about 25% more space than English. Other languages have other intricacies: some Slavic languages and many Far Eastern languages use a different alphabet, and some languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left instead of left to right.
Certain units, such as measurements, dates and currencies, are often generated automatically, independent of the content – for example, a “created on” and “modified on” date. Your website’s design must be able to display these units in your audience’s local format.
Another factor that your design needs to take into account is the ability to handle localised metadata, such as URLs (Uniform Resource Locator), web page titles appearing in the title area of your browser’s tab, names and alternative text of images. These elements are often forgotten, both during the analysis of your design’s conformity to the current worldwide web standards, and in the translation of these elements themselves, which negatively affects the discoverability of your website.
3. Define the content workflow
The localisation and translation of your website is a continuous process: content is created, updates are made, communications are disseminated. You will need to decide whether new or updated content is destined for all or only a few markets, and you wish to publish the same information across all relevant markets at the same time, so you need an efficient process that minimises the time between the creation and eventual publication of your content.
Remember, the localisation and translation of your website is a marathon, not a sprint!
4. Set your KPIs
As part of your website’s content programme, you need to set the KPIs to monitor the effectiveness of the translation and localisation of your website. What are the goals, where exactly do you want to go and what are the points you want to measure? Here are some ideas:
- number of visits according to language or market
- sales figures from your localised website
- market share of each targeted market according to customer satisfaction
The potential is endless, so it is important to focus exactly on the points you want to measure over time. With accurate information, you can see what is working well and what’s not and you can take timely corrective measures.
5. Define the translation and localisation process
When defining the translation and localisation process for translating your website, consider the following issues:
– Weigh up the pros and cons of Google Translate/DeepL versus human translation
– Find your company’s tone of voice in the foreign language
– Incorporate Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
– Include meta content
Weigh up the pros and cons of Google Translate/DeepL versus human translation
The process of translating a website can range from labour-intensive, human translation carried out by a professional translator at one end of the spectrum, to automatic translation carried out by machine translation engines such as Google Translate or DeepL without revision, at the other end of the spectrum; between these two options, many combinations and permutations are possible.
Choosing the most effective method of translating and localising your website will depend on the type of content, the target audience and the frequency with which the content is updated. Obviously, web content translation that appears for only a few hours will not be treated in the same way as web content translation that remains constant for several years, for example a landing page. This is an area where your translation service provider can provide advice.
Find your company’s tone of voice in the foreign language
The tone of voice of your website content in the foreign language needs to be appropriate. Often your translated website will be used in a market where your position is not as strong as in your home market. Therefore, consider whether the voice used in your home market matches the new markets you want to target and develop a style guide to determine what impression you want to make and how you want to appeal to these new markets in terms of culture and language.
Incorporate Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is not only important for the content written for your home market, but also for the content translated to target new markets: you need to invest in multilingual SEO. If you pay attention to the keywords that are commonly used in your home market, then pay equal attention to keyword research for your target locale: what works for Dutch speakers in The Netherlands may not necessarily work for Dutch speakers in Belgium. In other words, pay attention to language variants.
Moreover, keywords evolve over time and need to be updated: keywords research is a continuous process, and not only a preparatory step.
Include meta content
The translation and localisation process should also take into account the analysis, translation and localisation of meta content. Meta content is information on your website that is not visible to visitors, but is noticed by search engines, such as a web page description and your website’s structure. These elements can be easily forgotten during the translation and localisation process, so incorporating these elements into the process at the outset is an important step.
Website localisation: the technical aspects to consider
Alongside the linguistic aspects discussed in the previous section, there are some technical aspects to consider when developing a multilingual website.
First, and most importantly, use a web content management system (WCMS) which supports multilingualism! You do not want to set up separate dedicated or virtual web hosting instances for each target locale, which would lead not only to increased web hosting costs but also to messy management of your website’s content. Luckily, many popular WCMS such as WordPress or Drupal provide support for multiple languages within one single instance, either out of the box or by adding a plug-in.
Once you have settled for your favourite WCMS and have added the content in your home market’s language, you will need to tackle the following issue: how do you get the web content out of your WCMS’s back-end into the hands of your localisation services provider? And how do you get the translation back into the back-end of your WCMS? Some of the methods of doing this are considered below:
The cut-and-paste method
On the face of it, the most straightforward solution is to cut and paste your content from your WCMS’s back-end into a Word document and arrange for this Word document to be translated. After the website translation, the content is copied from the Word document and pasted in the appropriate place in your WCMS’s back-end.
Although this may appear on the face of it a straightforward solution, it is not the most effective solution, as you will be confronted with the following issues:
- It is time-consuming
Although the front end might display your content as single, long pages, the content might be fragmented into hundreds of snippets in the back-end. Navigating twice through all these pieces of content, once to get the content out, and once again to get the translation in, can take hours if not days.
- The risk of overlooking content increases
If your content is indeed fragmented into hundreds of pieces, it is easy to overlook a few pieces while getting the content out or the translation in.
- Formatting can be lost
Typically, the content in your WCMS’s back-end contains character- or paragraph-based formatting, such as words in bold or italics, numbered or bulleted list and headings. This type of formatting might get lost during copy-paste operations and needs to be reapplied to the translation.
- The risk of polluting the translated text increases
Certain special characters used in Central-European languages might look fine in a Word document, but after the copy-paste operation, these characters might become corrupted in your WCMS’s back-end.
Use a WCMS with export and import functionality
A better solution is to automate the process as much as possible to ensure that manual intervention is kept to an absolute minimum, for example by using a WCMS which has export and import functionality for its content. Usually, a WCMS is able to export content to a structured format like CSV or XLSX.
These formats can be easily handled in the standard translation tools used by the translation agency you choose to work with. This means that you will receive the translations in the same format, so that they can be easily imported back into your WCMS. This approach eliminates the first two issues straightaway: no time is wasted and the risk of overlooking content for translation is drastically reduced.
Use a plug-in
You can take things a step further: plug-ins exist to extend the functionality of the back-end of your WCMS with a translation management system. For example, the TMGMT module extends Drupal with this kind of functionality, as does the WPML plug-in for WordPress.
Such systems also tackle the last two issues: you will be able to see the translation status of your content – either next to the content item itself or on a dashboard showing a summary of all content and their translation status. You will also see when content has been updated: the system will tell you that the translation is outdated. These systems typically allow an export of your content to XLIFF (= XML localisation interchange file format) to send to your translation partner: this format ensures that all formatting of your content is retained and that no character corruption will occur.
Connect the translation management system of your WCMS with the business management system of your translation partner
Choose a translation partner whose system connects with yours
The most complete solution is to connect the translation management system of your WCMS with the business management system of your translation partner through the APIs of both systems. This integration will allow you to send your content to your translation partner with the single click of a button, without the need to export it and attach it to an email. Your translation request will be created immediately in your translation partner’s system, and the status of your translation within that system can be synchronised with the status in the translation management component of your WCMS. It’s the Rolls Royce of website translation and localisation: within one single system – your WCMS – you can create content, manage translations, and communicate with your translation partner.
Website translation using a translation proxy
There might be several reasons why you cannot or do not want to add the translation of your website’s content into your WCMS:
- Your WCMS does not support multilingualism, or has no export and import functionality, and you do not want to waste time on copy-paste operations.
- You would like to test the initial response of a new market on your website’s content, before investing in a full-blown translation of this content integrated in your WCMS.
- Due to security or performance risks, you do not want to expose your main website to traffic from a new market.
Luckily, there is a solution: contact your translation agency to set up a translation proxy. With specialised software, all pages of your website will be crawled to discover all content to be translated. The translation of the content is either done beforehand by a human translator and stored in a database – which is called a translation memory – or can be generated on the fly by machine translation engines such as Google Translate or DeepL.
When a visitor makes a request to see the content of your main website in a different language, their request is sent to the translation proxy, which then serves the requested page to the visitor while replacing all source language content with its translation, either with human translations coming from the translation database, or automatic translations originating from the machine translation engine.
The specialised translation proxy software will also crawl your website’s pages regularly, to detect new content and send it for translation to your translation partner, to make sure the database with translations always contains the translations for all content. To cover the usually short time gap between the discovery of new content and its human translation, your translation partner can set up a combination of a translation memory for the already translated content and a machine translation engine for the newly discovered content. Choose your translation company wisely: most of them can provide professional translation services done by a professional translator or by generic machine translation engines like Google Translate, but the more experienced ones can develop an engine trained on your content.
A translation proxy is a fast and cost-effective way to introduce your website content to a new market, without having to worry about performance or security issues on your main web hosting server used for your well-established markets.
Website localisation: other tips and tricks
We have covered the linguistic and technical workflow and would like to conclude this article with three more tips and tricks, often forgotten but quite important.
- It is an ongoing debate how you should refer to the target language in your localised website’s URL: do you add it as a subsection of your website (www.yourdomain.com/fr/) or as a subdomain (fr.domain.com). Both have pros and cons, but in fact, the best option is to give each target locale its own domain: www.domain.com for your USA and global website, and www.domain.fr for your website for the market in France.
- Audit your entire website! Not only before translation, to check whether all internal and external links are working, whether your forms and buttons do what they are supposed to do and whether your content is free of linguistic errors, but also after translation, to check whether your translated pages remain fully functional and to find those last bits of content which have not been translated – even the best WCMS are customised by designers who have no other option than to hard-code a string of text, instead of making it accessible through your WCMS’s back-end.
- A website is a living creature: new content will be added all the time. Although your translation partner will collaborate with you to set up a workflow to get the new content translated as soon as possible, don’t make the mistake to already push the not-yet-translated content to your target language sections. A page displayed in multiple languages not only creates a sloppy impression in your visitor’s mind, but it also results in a lower ranking by most search engines.
Ready to discuss your website content translation project with Lexitech? Contact us and discover our range of website translation services.