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The ultimate guide to website translation

Wolfestone covers everything you need to know about website transltion and getting your own website translated into multiple languages.

So, you’ve done your market research, weighed up the risks and made the decision to take your business into a new international market. Exciting times! Among the many jobs now on your to do list is the small matter of translating your website into the new target language.

Our website translation services have helped businesses of all sizes go global, so we understand that this stage of the process can be overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide with everything you’ll need to know when translating your website. We’ll cover:

  • The different types of translation available and which one is most suitable for you
  • The different translation technologies available and when you might use each one
  • Considerations regarding layout and design
  • Technical ‘back end’ considerations such as where to host the new version of your site
  • How to make sure your website is seen by your new target audience

But let’s start with a question you might well have considered:

Do I really need to translate my website at all?

Unless your website is highly visual and contains almost no text, then almost certainly, yes. In fact, even image-based websites can benefit from many of the translation elements we’ll discuss below. While it can be easy to assume that most of your customers (or potential customers) speak English to some degree, all the research indicates that translating your website copy to the native language of your target audience pays dividends. Research indicates that around 75% of people would be more likely to make a purchase if visiting a site written in their own language.

Man making purchase online holding credit card

Along with this, there’s the small matter of being seen in the first place. Google is more likely to bring up local results first, so using multilingual SEO and hreflang tags (more on both of these later) to help locate your site in the target country is well worth the time. Of course, if you’re happy to take the odd order or enquiry here and there from abroad, then website translation may not be necessary. But if you want to seriously establish a strong position in a new target market, then we’d highly recommend getting your website translated.

What type of translation service do I need to translate my website?

You may not have been aware that different types of translation are available depending on your needs. These are:

We’ll explain a little more about these and when you might need them below.

Standard translation

As the name suggests, this is the simplest form of translation. A website translated using standard translation will be replicated following the source text very closely. Sounds ideal, right? Well… yes, for some pages of your website, it might well be. But for many elements of your website copy, simply using standard translation can cause a few problems. To resolve these, you might need the next type of translation on our list: localisation.

Localisation

Localisation is the process of making sure that the content of your website doesn’t just get your message across, but is just as impactful in the new target culture as well. This means looking out for any phrases and expressions that might not translate well word-for-word, or even worse, might cause offence when replicated in the target language. One famous example of this can be found when the American Dairy Association entered the Mexican market. When their slogan, ‘Got Milk’ was translated into Spanish, it was understood by locals as asking them if they were lactating. Not ideal if you’re looking to sell a delicious glass of milk.

So while standard translation may suffice for technical pages such as product descriptions and other technical details, for more creative website copy such as your home page, your 'About us' page, or your service descriptions, website localisation services may well help you get your message across in a more effective way.

You can find out more about the difference between standard website translation and localisation services here.

Good to Know: Website localisation isn’t just about the words. To make a website appropriate for a new target culture, you should also consider elements such as the colour and any images you use as well. Yellow, for example, which is generally seen as a positive, sunny colour in the UK, is indicative of jealousy in France. This is where using professional website localisation services really pays dividends – you can be sure that the words and the design are right for your new target audience.

Transcreation

Sometimes the adaptations that can be made by a localisation process are not enough to help the website ‘hit home’ with a new target audience, and the message just doesn’t have the same meaning in the new culture. In this instance, you will need transcreation. The object of transcreation is to ensure that a brand’s personality and message are understood by your new target audience. Based on the original brand guidelines and brief, a copywriter working in the new language will create a new slogan, home page or web copy. As you might imagine, this takes a high degree of skill, combining cultural understanding, fluency in the target language and creative marketing skills. We’d always recommend using professional website translation services for this kind of work.

Man pointing at globe

So which kind of services do you need for your website translation?

That will depend on a number of factors, including the type of copy that needs translating and your budget. E-commerce website translation will require a different set of skills to a more text heavy, professional services business, for example. But in our experience, most businesses need a mix of all three when it comes to translating their website copy: standard translation for simple product descriptions and product details; localisation for more descriptive pages such as the ‘About us’ and service description sections, and potentially some elements of transcreation to make sure the brand tone and message is fully conveyed. Our friendly team will be happy to look at your website to help decipher which kind of website translation services you will require.

Technology for translating your website

You may have heard of different technologies that can help you translate the text on your website. Here, we’ll briefly run through some of the most commonly used, and the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

Translation plugins

Many hosting platforms such as Wordpress now offer translation plugins. By installing these, you enable readers to access your website in their native language. You may have encountered this if you have ever accessed a website written in a foreign language – a button towards the top of the page gives you the option to automatically view the site in your own language. These plugins work by running your web copy through a free machine translation programme such as Google Translate. The result is a quick and free translation of your website copy.

However, if you have ever clicked through to a translated version of a foreign language website you’ll almost certainly have noticed that elements such as grammar and vocabulary choice are often less than perfect. In fact, the copy can often turn out awkward, comical or plain offensive. If you do choose to use a free translation plugin, we’d always recommend asking a professional website translation agency to proofread the translated copy and check for any grammatical mistakes or words that did not translate as intended.

Another downside to using machine translation tools is the negative effect it can have on your SEO, as Google and other search engines don’t value automatically translated content as much as original copy. Why? Because they are looking to improve their own capabilities as a translation tool all the time. If a search engine sees two versions of the same web page that have been translated by a human it compares them and logs the differences. Essentially, the translator is ‘feeding the machine’, helping the automatic translation software to become more accurate in the future. If, on the other hand, the search engine sees that content on a page has been autogenerated, it knows it is less likely to be accurate, and so does not value it as highly. Clever stuff, hey?

So - machine translation or human translation?

Again, it depends on your specific project. If you need a large amount of copy translated in a short space of time for understanding purposes only, machine translation (with or without post-editing by a human translator) can be a great solution. Likewise, machine translation can help businesses on a budget to reach new audiences and perhaps test the water in new markets. However, if you are serious about making sure your website resonates in your new target markets, we would always recommend involving professional web translation services from the get-go. Good website copy does a number of important jobs; informing your customers about your product or service, communicating your brand values through its choice of language, and persuading customers to choose you over the competition. Despite the considerable improvements in machine translation software in recent years, they are still a long way off being able to capture nuances in language such as tone and humour in the same way that a human can.

Still unsure? Find out more about when to use machine translation here.

Layout and Design

It’s not just the words that will have to change when you translate your website to a new language. Elements of the layout and design may well be affected too. We have already touched on the idea of localisation and changing colours and images to fit with the sensibilities of new cultures. Content localisation services that look at these elements of your website are essential to making sure you don’t strike the wrong chord with a new audience from the outset. Images containing alcohol or gambling, for example, may not go down well in some Arab countries. However, there are a couple more key considerations regarding the look of your website.

Website design on a laptop

Firstly, space. It might not always seem like it, but English is an extremely efficient language when it comes to the number of words used. When translating from English to Italian for example, the character count usually increases by around 15%. If your paragraphs have been carefully designed to fit around images, you may need to adjust the design of your website to make sure it still looks impactful in its translated version.

Secondly, user experience. You may have heard of ‘F shaped reading patterns’. This refers to the pattern deciphered by eye scanning technology that looked at the typical way most people scan a website page. Most people, that is, who follow the western ‘left to right’ reading pattern. Other cultures, of course, read in different ways: Arabic goes from right to left along the page, Mandarin is read from top to bottom. If you are translating to a language that reads differently from English, you will also have to consider the positioning of key features. ‘Buy Now’, buttons, for example, should be relocated to more prominent locations for this reading style.

Technical considerations

Once you have decided how to translate the content of your website for a new audience, there are some technical details to think about as well. The most important is the way you structure the domain of your new website. If you have decided against the automatic translation plugin option (as we'd recommend!) then you will give new customers the best chance of finding your site with a country-specific domain name.

Depending on your budget and the level of complexity you want to manage, you can choose from one of three options.

1. In-country domain.e.g. www.wolfestone.fr

This is a separate site for the new target market. It is the hardest to manage, and typically tends to be the option preferred by larger brands with the resources to manage separate websites in multiple countries. However, if you have the time and the knowhow, in-country domains come with some real advantages. They are better for SEO, as the local search engines see you as native. It also allows customisation for the locality.

2. Subdomains e.g. www.fr.wolfestone.com

Subdomains are probably the least-used approach, though they do offer some advantages, particularly for websites with large amounts of content to manage. They negate the need to recreate and customise your site for each country you operate in, as the site is all hosted on the same domain. However, SEO can be negatively affected, as can the user experience of your site. We’d always recommend a conversation with your website translation company to see how this option might affect your particular website.

3: Subfolders, e.g. www.wolfestone.com/fr/

This is the most attractive route for many SMEs and smaller brands due to its cost effectiveness and ease of use. With this option, each translated version of the site would simply exist in a subfolder under your main domain name.

Visibility

With all the work that goes into translating your website, let alone the market research and legal considerations of entering a new target market, you want to make sure that you reach as many potential customers as possible. Choosing one of the domain structures above (as opposed to an auto-translate plugin) will help with this to an extent. But to really rise above the competition, you should consider a few other tactics as well.

Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the process of making sure your website appears on search engines for specific terms. There are a number of ways to improve your SEO, but one important one is to include these ‘keywords’ within your website copy.

You may well already do this on your own website and optimising your translated website copy is no different. However, successful SEO in a new language is not simply a case of translating the key search terms word for word. Customers in your new market will have their own ways of looking for the services you provide. To get noticed, you should look to carry out the same kind of keyword research that you did in your original website copy, and work with your translation provider to include them in the new version of your website. Good website localisation companies will have a specialist in multilingual SEO on their team to make sure your website gets noticed in the search engines.

You can find more detail about Multilingual SEO in this short video:

Hreflang Tags

Hreflang tags are another useful tool to help your business appear in the search rankings. They are a piece of code that lets the search engines know which country the site is intended for. As well as helping to point relevant users to the right version of your website, they stop search engines from seeing the different versions of your page as copied content, and so do not negatively affect your SEO.

In summary

We hope this guide has been useful in giving you an outline of the main considerations when translating your website. If you’d like to know more, our friendly team would be happy to help you decide on the best way to translate your website and break into a new target market. We pride ourselves on meticulous attention to detail, exceptional quality work and our track record for helping businesses in almost every sector successfully communicate with overseas customers. Get in touch today to discuss your website translation needs.

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