7 tips for translating a website

Are you thinking about translating your website, especially after the Covid-19 crisis has left our in-person life and business so constrained?  Whether you want to respond to this new reality, or simply 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.)

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.”

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 7 practical tips to help you manage this process:

1. What are you asking your translator to do? To translate or to localise? 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.

2. What technical process will we be using?

  • Word or Excel files. If you create all of 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 of 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, but not the overall message. Make sure that you share the context with the translator.
7 tips for translating a website - use a plugin such as TranslatePress
  • 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 so this method can quickly flag any placement or font and box size issues. This method 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-text-size-matters
how 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.

3. Who will be doing the proofreading and QA? Is it the translator or do you have linguistic resources to do this 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.

4. Do you have a style guide or a glossary? It is important that the new language version carries the same appeal and style (e.g. friendly and relaxed or formal and professional). When you think about formality, you also think about inclusiveness. Consider your audience’s age, background and business environments. Deciding between the formal and 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 a 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 process faster and more accurate (not to mention the eternal gratitude from your chosen translator😊).

5. 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. 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.

6. 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.

7. You received some quotes, but in the end you don’t think you can 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?

Please consider this before you go with a machine solution: Language complexity can only be handled by a human.

WordPress like TranslatePress will offer to integrate with automatic tools such as Google Translate and DeepL. Whilst 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, joke, or idiom in your native language, the translator will have to find an image in their native culture which 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 a reliable localisation (adaptation to the target culture) is applied. Here is an example of a successful cultural adaptation: Slack communication tool shows friendly messages when you’ve read everything in your “All Unread” section. In English, this message appears: You’re all caught up. Here’s a pony. This copy works great in English but would not really make sense in Spanish or French. The Spanish copy says: Has leído todo. Aquí tienes un caramelo de regalo. (Literally: “you have read everything, here is a free sweet”.) To successfully localise, you adapt your voice to other cultures. This 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?

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