Google Translate is a popular tool, and for good reason.
It's free, making it well within reach for many companies. And it's readily available with a few browser clicks, so it can feel like an easy, effortless way to translate your online content for global customers.
Google Translate provides two options for businesses to translate their websites: a plugin, and an API.
But before you rely on these tools for something as vitally important as your multilingual online presence, it’s best to consider Google Translate’s potentially critical shortcomings before you use either of its translation solutions.
The Google Translate Plugin
Google Translate claims its plugin is an easy way to present your website to global visitors in other languages. They say you simply add the plugin to your website's back-end (or add code snippets to the relevant pages), and voila, your site is instantly translated.
It's not quite that simple. Even aside from Google Translate's inaccurate translations-a key drawback to all pure machine translation-this approach doesn't really give you a translated website at all.
Because content is "skinned" by the plugin and isn't truly replaced and housed on a dedicated site or server, there's no way to actually track the performance of that content. So forget about leveraging your robust marketing analytics tools to see whether your localised website is converting. You also won't have any visibility to see if your content is resonating with your global audiences. Plugin solutions like this won't show the performance of translated content or pages, anywhere.
And because there's no permanent home for the translated content on your site, search engines can't crawl it, can't find it, and can't rank it in local and regional search engines. (That includes leading engines like Google itself). You spend a lot of time and effort in SEO already, but using Google Translate, it won't carry over to any of your multilingual sites.
If you’re trying to demonstrate the bottom-line impact of your translated site investment, translation plugins leave a lot to be desired.
The Google Translate API
Google also offers a translation API that technology teams can integrate with their websites to provide content translation.
That's handy, provided you have the technology resources to implement this solution in the first place. Even then, it's still not bulletproof.
Here's why: Part of the value in website translation is in communicating your brand's voice, personality and value proposition to new audiences in global markets. But if you're relying solely on machine translation to get that done, there's a lot of nuance that gets left behind.
API translations can't adjust for cultural idiosyncrasies, nor can they apply variations in language, idioms or lexicon that might be unique to local markets. The resulting translations can feel monotone, repetitive and clumsy-or might be downright inaccurate. This sends the message to global users that you don't really value their time and attention.
Great content marketers also know how important it is to evaluate the subtle differences in language and phrasing that can drive engagement or conversions. API translation solutions don't allow for customisation and variance testing, and don't give teams the opportunity to tweak and adjust the content that supports the customer journey.
Rigid solutions result in rigid content. That's the last thing you need when you're trying to shape an authentic version of your brand that will resonate with international customers, and a multilingual website that generates a return on your investment.
There Are Alternatives
The good news is that there are better ways to tackle website translation, and track its positive results.
Look for partners who can blend the very best in machine translation technologies with human expertise that can ensure not just translation quality, but on-going support and strategy for your global digital presence. These solutions should also keep costs manageable, and complexity to a minimum.
The best website translation partners can also build multilingual sites that are fully indexable, optimised for search, and easily integrated with analytics solutions to evaluate site and content performance.
Investing in a multilingual website isn’t a small thing, so it’s worth finding a translation solution and partner that can tackle the challenge holistically and deliver long-term, reliable results for your global business.