The Definitive 12-point Checklist on How to Translate a Website
Since the advent of the internet, the world has become smaller. Traditional barriers to commerce such as national borders and languages are no longer as restrictive and challenging as they once were. Consequently, a strong online presence has become an indispensable aspect of modern business. For companies that do business or intend to do business outside of their home country, multilingual and localised websites are now an absolute necessity.
Developing, maintaining and optimising a multilingual website is, however, a complex endeavour with many potential pitfalls. To help you get a head start on creating your own multilingual website, Contentor has outlined below a 12-point checklist, with tips culled from our 12 years of online translating experience with over a thousand clients.
1. Identify Your Target Audience
As many businesses know, when marketing a product, you don’t target the entire population. Instead, you market the features of the product to specific market segments which you believe will benefit from its features. This is why you don’t see auto parts makers paying for costly double-page spread ads in newspapers and magazines – they know that display ads in trade journals or automotive-themed magazines present a more cost-effective approach to marketing.
Similarly, don’t localise or translate a website for everyone on the planet. Your website messaging should be geared towards articulating your business and product or service features to attract the attention of specific demographics in selected geographic areas. So spend time developing a customer profile for your products and services by analysing factors such as:
- Historical sales records;
- Total addressable market (TAM);
- Demographics (Income level, education, location, etc.);
- Background and lifestyle;
If you’re entering into new markets, you may need to make educated guesses about your potential customer profile. However, you can improve and refine the profile as you gain more insight and experience in the market.
2. Tools for multilingual websites
Multilingual websites offer incredible opportunities for growth. However, to take full advantage of their potential, businesses much ensure that their websites are capable of integrating technologies and plugins that will help with scalability, adaptability and automation.
- Ensure that your content management system (CMS) or e-commerce platform can integrate multilingual content.
- Seek platforms which can integrate APIs from translation partners to automate workflows.
- Set up frameworks and internal SOPs (standard operating procedure) for internal translation workflows.
- Designate endpoint users to manage and oversee the translation workflow and content publication.
- Encode your website with UTF-8 for global browser compatibility. UTF-8 will be able to display non-Roman characters; this is essential if you are targeting regions such as China, the Middle East, Russia, Japan, Israel, India or Korea. UTF-8 will also facilitate the right-to-left displays of Hebrew, Jawi and Aramaic texts. Avoid Big5 and EUC-JP encodings due to interoperability concerns, as well as ISO-2022, JOHAB or EBCDIC due to security vulnerabilities.
Keywords are arguably the most important element of your SEO strategy. Great content can only reach your target audience with the use of the right keywords. That’s why you should seek translation partners who can help you with keyword research and work with SEO copywriting.
High-quality and accurate keywords not only can help you rank well on search engines, they can also shape your website’s editorial direction. Keyword research tools and analytics data can help you recognise trends and plan ahead.
Be mindful that the right keywords are not uniform across all regions. You and your translation partners need to perform individual research for each new market.
4. Should I Localise or Translate?
Literal translations help to maintain consistent messaging across all markets. However, the effectiveness of your content, especially marketing and sales-related, will degrade outside of your home region. To ensure that your web copy resonates with the same impact in each market, localisation is the way to go.
Localisation ensures that your content is adapted to local languages, cultures and dynamics. Localised content will also help you to better connect with your target audience. In addition, localisation allows you to optimise content for SEO purposes.
Nevertheless, some types of content, like product descriptions and specifications, rarely require localisation. Keep that in mind when discussing the scope of projects with your translation partner.
Speaking of translation partners, make sure that they have the required expertise and experience for the project. Keep in mind that second-language translators may not be able to localise content perfectly. It is imperative that you are assigned translators who are native to your new market.
5. Should I use Google Translate?
Google Translate and other machine translation tools have come a long way. They have huge databases that are much more expansive than dictionaries. When you also factor in their almost instantaneous turnaround time, it’s easy to understand why machine translation tools have grown increasingly popular in recent years.
However, organisations must understand the limitations of machine translation. The accuracy of translations from such software is nowhere close to that of competent human translators. Frequently, machine-translated content appears disjointed and truncated. Machine translations also lack the ability to localise content, and their literal translations may convey entirely different meanings compared to the original copy.
This combination of factors can tank your SEO and cause your website to plummet down search engine rankings. Moreover, machine translation tools like Google Translate often have strict terms and conditions, which often include co-ownership of translated content. In other words, your website content may no longer be exclusively yours!
However, machine translation tools are not all bad; they do have their use. If your company wants to enter new markets quickly, you can use a combination of machine translation and human post-editing. Many translation agencies offer this service. While the results may not be completely localised content, the copy will nonetheless convey your core messaging without causing too many SEO penalties.
6. Local Hosting
Local hosting is a great way to earn bonus SEO points since search algorithms reward local websites.
- Use a local hosting service in new markets. As always, don’t simply go for the cheapest hosting providers – do a little background research to verify their reliability and level of service.
- Consider using country top-level domains (TLDs) to further reap SEO benefits. Similar to hosting location, country TLDs are viewed favourably by search algorithms. However, please be mindful that new domains will require additional layers of administrations, especially if you’re using licensed CMS and digital tools. Your license costs may also increase.
- Another way to avoid any potential search engine penalties is by using content delivery networks (CDNs) and caching functions. CDNs and caches can improve load times for repeat visitors and reduce server load.
7. Translate Gradually
Never bite off more than you can chew, especially during the early stages of your entry into a new market.
- Start small and expand incrementally in tandem with your growth.
- This approach allows your website to be launched quicker without taxing your budget.
- Establishing a landing page and contact form may suffice for a start.
- Consider using a microsite or subdomain to prevent draining resources from your flagship website.
- Progressively add more pages.
- Use tools to analyse the performance of the translated pages (Google Analytics, Google Trends, Google Search Console, A/B test, etc). This will help you to calculate ROI.
8. Minor, But Important Details
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. So make sure that you perform a full website audit to cover your bases. Don’t forget frequently missed elements such as:
- Texts in images;
- Texts for buttons, forms, popups and error messages;
- Texts for headers, footers and menus;
- Texts for URLs and navigational breadcrumbs;
- Texts for metadata like alt tags.
9. Translate Official Non-Website Content
It is vital to ensure a smooth user experience across different official channels including email, social media and promotional newsletters. Make sure to provide your translation partner with all your non-website communications.
10. Translate your content marketing
Content marketing is a powerful strategy to expand the reach of your marketing. Ensure, then, that your content marketing is also included in your website localisation and translation planning. Your content marketing may include blogs, videos, tutorials, podcasts, white papers and case studies.
Don’t simply pick your most popular content for translation. Give some thought to whether the copy is relevant to the target audience in your new market. Content about a product launch during the Midsummer Festival may be popular in Sweden, but it will not gain much traction in China. Instead, try adapting the launch to local festivals like the Dragon Boat Race or Lantern Festival.
Be cautious of local customs, expressions and cultural references. A crude joke about the Queen of England may elicit a few laughs in the UK. However, a similar joke about the Malaysian King or the royal institution may land you in a world of trouble under the country’s strict sedition laws.
For audio or video content, you may need to make new recordings. However, if you’re facing budget constraints, you can simply add subtitles for the time being.
Important: When entering new markets, it is sometimes easier to create new content instead of localising or translating existing content.
11. Graphical content
Effective graphic design enhances the appeal of websites and content to customers. However, graphics don’t always translate well across different markets and regions. Ensure that your translation partner has access to your graphics, which may include images, banners, videos and HTML videos, and flash images.
They will be able to offer advice on how to effectively adapt your artwork for local markets. Many translation agencies also offer in-layout translations which would speed up the graphic localisation process. Most importantly though, your translation partner will be able to alert you to an artwork which may cause cultural or legal issues. For instance, women in images of skimpy clothing, alcohol and same-sex relationships are literally illegal in many countries.
12. Managing Dynamic Content
Static content, documentation and product features typically require only a single round of translation or localisation. But what about websites which publish fresh content regularly?
- Do you have an existing process to replicate the new content from your primary website to all other subdomains, country TLDs or microsites?
- Do you have SOPs and designated executives to manage and curate the new content for external markets?
- Do you have a periodic translation schedule for your blogs, videos, social media content and marketing materials?
Arguably the best solution to all these time-consuming and resource-intensive tasks is workflow automation, which, fortunately, is provided by some translation agencies.
Do you still have some questions? We’re here for you. Get in touch with us today if you need to get some advice on an upcoming project or if you have questions about this page. We won’t bite – promise! If you’re in town, we might even buy you coffee.