7 tips for translating a website

Are you thinking about translating your website?

Whether you want to respond to the newly developed consumer demands or expand onto international markets, you know that a multilingual presence is essential.  (Just in case you need any convincing, you can read about why it is a good idea in my blog post here.)

Choose your target market wisely

Before you even start looking for a translation service provider, you need to know your target market.

Using tools such as Google Analytics will help you determine which countries and languages will bring you the most sales. For a more comprehensive list of tips on identifying markets and the best product-market fit I recommend this article by Nataly Kelly, VP Localisation at Hubspot, where she says:

“You want to ideally choose markets where you’ll have a high degree of success. This means you want countries where you can achieve product-market fit — but ideally, without having to make too many significant adjustments to your product or your go-to-market strategy.”

What is the difference between translation and localisation?

When launching your website on a new market, you will actually need to “localise” it, not translate it. So let’s look at these two terms? What’s the difference and does it matter?

Translation will transfer the meaning of your content into another language.

But what is localisation?

The term “localisation” actually comes from the term “locale”, which refers to the combination of the language a user speaks and the place they are from. So, in other words, it is making something appropriate for a given locale. It deals with the technical needs of each locale such as postal addresses, currency, pricing, units of measurement. It also means culturally adapting the text, making it appropriate for the target audience. For example, if your website is in American or British English, your CTA (call-to-action) will probably be too firm and compelling in France, where a subtler and softer message is necessary.

How to translate a website – 7 practical tips

Finally, you are ready to embark on the website translation journey and you want to entrust your content to a professional linguist. Now what?

Here are my 7 tips for translating a website (or rather, localising it):

1. How will we work together?

What will be our processes and tools?

Word or Excel files

If you create all the new content for the website in MS Word, this will mean a rather simple process for the translator. They will process the files in Word or in their CAT (computer-aided translation) tool for consistency purposes and send them back in the same format. However, (a BIG “however”), this means that your web design team or firm will have to insert all the bilingual content into your page templates. Then your QA staff will have to proofread every single source page, and the translator can proofread every single target language page. This is laborious and time-consuming. Do not run the risk of having the words translated, rather than the overall message. Make sure that you share the context with the translator.

7-tips-for-translating-a-website-same text-box-length-can-vary-in-different-languages-use-a-plugin-such-as-TranslatePress

With a plugin such as TranslatePress we can immediately see how the translation fits on a page.

Translating directly in a CMS

If the website is in WordPress or Squarespace, it can be helpful to use a plugin like TranslatePress (picture above) or WPML. The translator can work in the front end of the website and no one has to paste text. We can immediately see how the text fits on the page. The French language is longer than English and this method can quickly flag any placement or font and box size issues. It saves time but can also add another technical layer to the project, so you need to be comfortable with it.

7-tips-for-translating-a-website-same text-box-length-can-vary-in-different-languages
The same text box length can vary in different languages

Complex releases

If you want to run your website in several languages and manage multiple updates, a proper localisation management tool will be a worthy investment (such as Lokalise or Phrase). Not only you can see and edit your translated text in real time, directly in the front-end, but without it, managing the translation workflows in spreadsheets would be a logistical nightmare.

2. Who will proofread and QA your site?

Will the translator do it or do you have linguistic resources at your end?

If it is the translator, ask for the cost upfront. It may be a separate item on their quote, or it may be built in their hourly rate (check that). The entire site must be proofread before it goes live. QA is vital: if you think that having a typo in a document is bad, how embarrassing will it be if there are typos on your website for the whole world to see! Your top-notch products will not look professional. And do not think that only linguists laugh at language mistakes. The media is full of photos and articles, written by clients, about embarrassing goofs in museums, famous tourist attractions or on e-commerce sites.

3. Do you have a style guide or a glossary?

When you translate a website, it is important that the new language version carries the same appeal and style (e.g. friendly and relaxed or formal and professional). When we talk about formality, we also need to talk about inclusiveness. Consider your audience’s age, background and business environments. Deciding between the formal or informal “you” in certain languages — “vous” in French, “du” in German or “tú” in Spanish — will allow you to convey an inclusive, clear, and courteous style.

If a translator is part of your localisation team (e.g. working with QA staff on your site), sharing these guidelines and technical terms with everyone involved will help to keep the terminology consistent. And if you make further updates, next time these resources will make the website translation process faster and more accurate (not to mention the eternal gratitude from your chosen translator😊). You can find more details about style guides and glossaries in this article.

4. What about images?

They say a picture can be worth a thousand words. And it is true! In the era of digital marketing, imagery plays a part so important that it would be your loss to ignore it.

Firstly: are your images still appropriate for the culture that you are targeting? Your translator’s advice here can be crucial.

Make sure all images have appropriate translations and that they have been adapted to fit the local culture because they may carry different meanings. Additionally, links, headers, and titles should not break when users switch between languages, so including this in your QA process is vital.

5. What will happen after?

So, you have a new, shiny webpage in Spanish, French or Polish. Congratulations! Your multilingual website is likely (let’s hope!) to generate inquiries from people reading the site in languages other than the original.

What now?

How will you follow up on inquiries in other languages?

If you sell physical products, maybe this isn’t much of a consideration. A multilingual ordering interface will simply allow clients to place orders in their language that are then fulfilled like any other order. Even then, you may get questions from your potential clients about the technical details or features of your products. But what if your business is a hotel, a spa or a ski resort? What happens when you start getting reservation inquiries in French? Will the French website create a demand for French-speaking staff, and can you fill that demand? This is where continuous support and relationship with a freelance translator might help.

6. Prioritise

You received some quotes, but in the end you think you can’t afford a translator. Before you decide to quit and go with a free tool, consider some other options:

  • Do you really need to translate everything? Maybe just a landing page will suffice.
  • Can you prioritise the content to be translated?
  • Can you send the content in chunks for translation rather than wait until the entire catalogue of products or online guides is available?

7. The magic word – SEO

Your freshly translated website needs to be visible and rank well with the international market audience. And for that, you can’t just translate the keywords into the target language. The keywords have to be researched for each market separately. Let’s look at an example:

An e-commerce portal ranks highly in English-speaking search engines for keywords: “gifts for her” and “gifts for him”. But, a word-for-word translation of these phrases might not give them good rankings on a French market, where web consumers tend to look for “cadeau pour femme” (gift for a woman) or “cadeau pour homme” (gift for a man).

Other techniques such as the hreflang tag, dedicated URLs, creating engaging metadata, and local market backlink building will also matter.

A skilled SEO translator, who not only knows the local culture, but has adequate training and experience in the SEO strategies, will be instrumental to the good ranking of your localised website.

A final note: machine translations are not going to get you very far

Please consider this before you go with a machine solution.

Language complexity can only be handled by a human.

Translation is not only about changing the words. It is about the overall message. Local idioms and cultural references, are equally important. And so far, in spite of huge progress in Neural Machine Translation, only humans can do this. Share on X

WordPress like TranslatePress will offer to integrate with automatic tools such as Google Translate and DeepL. While no human translator can compete with the machine speed, beware. Translation is not only about changing the words. It is about the overall message. Local idioms and cultural references, based on cultural and socio-economic factors, are equally important. And so far, in spite of huge progress in NMT (Neural Machine Translation), only humans can do this. For example, if your website copy contains slogans that rely upon a cultural reference, a joke, or an idiom in your native language, the translator will have to find an image in their native culture that has a similar effect.

References to sports are notoriously difficult: no one understands baseball outside the US or cricket outside the UK and the Commonwealth countries. The meaning will be totally lost unless it is reliably localised (adapted to the target culture).

Cultural adaptation cannot be done by even the most advanced NMT engine.

These are just some tips that you need to consider when you decide to have your website translated.  

Want to know more? Have questions?

Drop me a line or post your comment below.

(This is an updated version of a blog post originally published on 11/06/2020.)


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