Finding the right approach to translating your website for global audiences may seem daunting. The solution you choose should do more than expand your organisation's global reach and optimise the on-site customer experience. It should also play well with your current content management system (CMS) and scale easily to meet future needs.
Read on to learn about the top approaches that companies use to translate their online content, and compare their advantages and drawbacks.
Why use a specific technological solution to translate a website?
Website translation is different from-and far more complex than-document translation, and requires specific technologies to do it efficiently and effectively. Traditional translation agencies aren't equipped with the technology or know-how, resulting in inefficiencies at best … and brand-wrecking mistranslations or delays at worst.
Legacy agencies excel at offline translation, but website translation requires additional tasks that can sideline their translators and workflows. Technical issues abound, too. Learn more about the potential pitfalls.
Expanding companies may be tempted to use free or low-cost machine translation services to localize their global websites. This appears to be a quick, cheap solution, but machine translation is years away from being as reliable or accurate as human translation. If you value your brand, you simply cannot trust translation software with your company's voice, tone, messaging and image.
To maintain brand consistency and image across all channels and markets, the best approach is to translate your website with a proxy-based approach, and utilise API integration and interfaces for omnichannel.
The Main Approaches
Website translation options exist beyond the proxy-based approach. We’ll describe them at a high level here, but if you’d like more detail on them, check out this free white paper.
Other website translation solutions include:
- Parallel sites, or localised microsites
- Multilingual CMS capabilities, used in conjunction with a traditional translation agency
- Multilingual CMS capabilities and integration via a connector or an API
These solutions have pros and cons, depending on specific circumstances, including:
- Size and complexity of the website
- Availability and technical/linguistic expertise of internal teams
- Presence of in-country marketing teams
- The website’s current (and future) technology stack
- Integration with other systems and platforms
However, it's rare that a solution can offer a better combination of ease, speed, and flexibility compared to a proxy solution for website translation-paired with API integration for omnichannel. Let's learn why.
Parallel Sites and Microsites
For many years, companies that wanted to launch localised websites created entirely separate, standalone sites from scratch to serve global markets. As changes occurred on the companies' flagship primary-market sites, teams would manually update the localised sites with new translated content to keep pace. Companies soon found this approach extremely expensive, time-consuming and difficult to scale.
To cope with the challenge-and reduce time to market, and costs-some companies now operate localised microsites for these markets. Unfortunately, these microsites deliver an unsatisfying experience to local customers. Customers become frustrated with a scaled-down site, and its compromised functionality and content.
When should I use microsites?
While global users have better experiences—and convert more—on more content- and feature-rich online experiences, microsites can be an option for some companies with specific circumstances:
- Offerings differ dramatically across markets
- Local marketing teams are completely independent
- Local company branches have different messaging, or value prop positioning
- Running a trial in a new or developing market, or to support a local campaign
Even in these cases, the best solution is to create content customizations from a central website, rather than replicate separate websites entirely from scratch.
Most content management systems now feature multilingual capabilities. This enables companies to launch new instances of their websites for global markets, and manage localised content for those customers.
Unfortunately, these features aren't core to the CMSs and underperform in critical ways. Multilingual CMSs have weak translation workflows (which manage the translation process) and translation workbenches (which ensure translation accuracy and consistency). They also often lack the ability to provide a live preview of how the translated content will appear on a localised web page. This is important, as translated content can be longer than expected and break page templates, resulting in subpar UX.
Further, multilingual CMS capabilities are limited to content stored in the CMS database itself, and can't translate important content that's dynamically loaded from third-party services. This could include e-commerce platforms, ticket booking engines, Find a Store functionality, digital marketing solutions and more.
To offset these undercooked capabilities, CMSs often use connectors and APIs to receive translated content from localisation vendors. This content is then integrated into the localised instance of the CMS.
Connectors (or cartridges) are preconfigured integrations. They can be problematic because they tend not to work out of the box if any customisation has been done to the website. They require development to work properly, and can break after major CMS updates. They also lock you into using your current CMS, preventing you from easily upgrading your tech stack in the future.
APIs allow your company to develop—and modify—its own interface between the translation vendor and your CMS.
When should I use a CMS for multilingual websites?
When should I upload translation manually into my CMS? Using a CMS with a manual translation process is slow, inefficient and prone to error. Unless you have a very small, simple website, using a CMS with a translation agency is not recommended.
When should I use a CMS with a connector? You may feel comfortable using a CMS with a connector if you are confident in your CMS and have no plans to change it in the future. A connector may be an adequate solution if you:
- Have no other channels beyond your website
- Have a large development team that can take care of customisation needs
- Have no need for content or technical customizations at all
In today’s digitally-driven, multichannel marketing landscape, it’s unlikely your company’s marketing strategy fits many—if any—of these exceptions.
When should I use a CMS with an API? You could use a CMS with an API integration when you have a high-end CMS, and want to integrate translation across channels and content repositories, and have a large development team that can take care of customisation needs.
The ease, speed and flexibility of a fully turn-key proxy technology makes it the best option for website translation. It can be accompanied with an API or other interfaces to use translations for channels beyond the website, such as marketing material, emails and native apps.
Unlike other solutions that integrate directly with your technology stack, proxy-based translation solutions operate independently of your CMS. By sitting between your global customers and your primary-market website's servers, it can present localised content in efficient ways that eliminate technical and operational effort on your end.
Proxy solutions leverage the code and translatable content of your website. They essentially react in real-time to your global users’ interactions and requests. When users click a link or type in a URL on your localised site:
- The proxy determines the appropriate translated webpage content to present
- It delivers that translated content via a special separate translation server
- It then assembles it on-the-fly and merges it with your website’s code and page template
- And seamlessly presents it to the user as a localised experience
This process occurs instantly, with no perceptible delay to end-users.
Proxy-based solutions avoid the need to create and maintain separate websites. They also incorporate translation tools and management functionality.
Turn-key proxy solutions take this technology to a new level by adding services and capabilities that support automation and minimise operational complexity.
Fully turn-key proxy solutions handle website translation, deployment and on-going operations to accelerate time to market and support scalability. They also easily handle content loaded from third-party services, and can translate any content in any media—or in applications programmed in any coding language—in any language, for any market.
When should I use a proxy?
Always, unless you fall under one of the very special cases mentioned in the Multilingual CMS section above. The proxy solution is the easiest, fastest and most flexible approach to website translation. It is recommended that you go with the most complete, turn-key proxy solution to save yourself time, money, and effort—all of which is better spent growing your business in your primary market.
Main approaches: a comparison
The proxy solution is ideal for website translation, but what about omnichannel?
API integration is the best approach for translating content that lives outside of your webpage. It is the most flexible, easiest to manage, and gives you the most control.
For companies with large dedicated development teams and rich tech stacks, including a state-of-the-art CMS with multilingual capabilities, it is possible to use API integration to translate everything, including the website.
But for the majority of companies, the best solution is to use the proxy for website translation, and the API for everything else.