What is Website Translation?
Website translation is the process of taking your website content in its original language and adapting it, often word-for-word, into other languages to make is accessible and useable to global customers.
Your website's translatable content ranges from on-site static text to multimedia content such as images, videos and PDFs. There's also:
- “Invisible” metadata text that only search engines and social media platforms see
- Dynamically-loaded content from applications
- User experience notifications such as error messages and confirmation emails
These can all can—and should—be translated, to ensure all customers receive an immersive in-language experience.
There are different degrees of translation, including conventional translation, localisation, transliteration, and transcreation. Each approach is unique, and ideal for different translation needs. Learn more details about the different types of translation.
Is Website Localisation The Same as Website Translation?
Although website translation and localisation are commonly confused, both are related methods of creating multilingual websites. Website localisation goes beyond the linguistic word-for-word conversion of conventional translation to create an online experience that resonates within specific markets. Localising a website requires five key elements:
- Language and regionalisms: Word choice is customised to accurately and authentically convey the brand voice to local customers. This includes phrases that may only be used in specific countries or regions.
- Cultural elements: Communicating the understanding of local date and time formats, units of measure, and holidays and values can make users feel at home.
- Transactional elements: For accuracy and trust, elements such as currency, payment options, addresses and character sets must be relevant to local customers.
- Communication and trust elements: Local phone numbers, addresses, in-language customer support, legal notices and security banners are all key to earning trust from local customers. It also helps equip in-market sales and marketing teams with information needed to serve your customers.
- Navigation and discovery: It’s critical that users can select the language they need, and immediately start interacting with your site in an authentic way.
Utilising localizations generates more interest and engagement among customers. Learn more about website localisation, including how to execute it in persuasive ways.
How to Translate Your Website
Translating and localising your website is fundamentally a technology issue, requiring automation and software to manage numerous workflows and processes. In general, there are three different technologies that can be used to handle these workflows:
Read on to learn more about these approaches. For even more details, check out our The Technologies of Translation e-book.
Using a Translation Proxy for Website Translation
With the proxy localisation approach to website translation, technologies are used to leverage the content and structured code of your flagship website. This makes it easy to translate, deploy and operate multilingual versions. This approach can be fully turn-key, meaning it requires little to no customer-side effort to launch or maintain localised websites or manage workflows.
A proxy-based system is layered on top of your website to dynamically translate content in real time so that end users worldwide can view your website in their local language. Essentially, it's like a mirror is being held up to your site, and the reflections are fully translated versions. Proxies are intermediary servers that retrieve content from your server (also known as a client server), translate it in real-time either through machine translation or by taking from a set of previously approved translations, and then display the translated content to end users on your website.
Since localised sites are built from your flagship site's content and code, the user experience and functionality is consistent across all sites. This continuity also ensures that new content is swiftly-and automatically-detected, translated and published.
- Proxy-based translation simplifies the translation process, and eliminates the complexity and effort that traditionally goes with website translation.
- Translation proxies are easy to implement, making them a less expensive way to test a new international market strategy before deciding on a more complex translation method.
Using CMS Connectors for Website Translation
For companies that prefer to store and control translated content internally (rather than with a translation vendor), it’s possible to translate a website with a CMS connector. The connector allows content to be sent to a translation vendor, and then uploaded back to the CMS for publication.
A CMS (content management system) is an application used to publish and manage content on your website intuitively. Examples of platforms include WordPress (WPML), Drupal, and Adobe Experience Manager. Using a CMS simplifies maintaining site content for the site administrator or content manager, especially for large websites with multiple sub-pages. In addition, CMS plug-ins allow for efficient and straightforward management of a website's various language versions directly from the content management system.
For example, a CMS eliminates the need to alter the underlying HTML code of a website when changing content; instead, new content and images can easily be entered and edited through a protected area called the "back end." Customers would send content ready for translation to the language service provider (LSP) in the given source language through the back end. The finished translations are sent back to the CMS, where the website administrator or content manager checks them before publication.
- CMS gives greater flexibility with translation, including tone of voice, layouts, colour changes, style, and glossaries that should be used during the translation process. In addition, the client is able to revise the content as needed on their server both before and after a website goes live.
- A CMS solution ensures that businesses can keep their websites current with the most updated technology, including new video and file formats, functionality, and apps.
- CMS connectors can struggle to communicate properly with the CMS interface, which can lead to usability issues. Connectors are standardised and pre-configured, meaning they may not work exactly as advertised given your specific CMS.
- Modifications are required to bridge connectors with content platforms. These modifications are time- and effort-intensive. Even with a well-set system, connectors are fragile and often break after CMS software or security upgrades. This can cause delays to translation workflows.
Using an API for Website Translation
A translation application programming interface (API) is typically provided by a translation provider and has a broader scope than a CMS connector. It allows companies to create workflows for any type of content requiring translation, not just content stored in a CMS.
A translation API is a way to pass content between two computer systems (content that needs to be translated and the content that has been translated). It's a software interface that developers can use to add machine translation capabilities to their products or programmatically translate texts and content that their product displays in localised versions.
APIs can be valuable tools to facilitate continuous localisation needed for multilingual site updates. Tasks such as monitoring source materials for updates, creating projects, assigning translators, and downloading and uploading files are administrative time sinks that can use up a lot of the project manager's attention, but this is where an API functionality shines. It's a precursor to accessing features that will automate tasks.
- Translation APIs are often easier to tailor than a CMS connector, and are compatible with a range of formats, including HTML, XML and even JSON.
- Proxy-API hybrid solutions can combine the flexibility of the API with the ease of the turn-key solution for an ideal omnichannel translation approach.
- Translation API implementation can take some time and requires careful planning and preparation. The structure and storage of the content must be well-organised, or the API won't function consistently.
- A developer is required to programmatically configure and support translation requests that will be serviced via the Translation API, which can add cost to a project.
Human vs. Machine Website Translation
In addition to the translation technology methods outlined above, you’ll also need to consider whether to pursue human or machine translation when translating your website.
Human translation involves the translation of content by professional linguists fluent in their international customers' industries, brands, languages, and cultures. Studies show that human translation generates superior engagement, conversions, and credibility among multilingual customers because human translation ensures superior translation accuracy and quality assurance due to human editorial oversight and multi-step review processes. In addition, website content can be easily customised for regionally preferred dialects and phrases.
Machine translation uses computer software to translate text from one language to another. Content is fed to machine translation software, which automatically translates content into the target language without human involvement. Machine translation allows businesses to use "machines" such as Google Translate to translate content at scale. Machine translation is often an integrated feature within localisation platforms and is used by companies looking to lower their translation costs. It's effective for content that does not require translation precision and extensive copywriting.
Neural machine translation (NMT) uses deep learning techniques and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the source sentence and find patterns to create a suitable translation in the destination language. This technology is based on deep neural networks, an interconnected series of "nodes" modeled after the human brain. Before translating, NMT software will be given training data such as different examples of translations for a certain text. The software is then "trained" to produce the most accurate translation.
Translation proxy systems, CMS, or API translation systems all utilise machine translation to translate website content. However, a hybrid approach to translation is generally recommended. For example, Google Translate can easily translate content and then it can be reviewed again by editorial and quality assurance teams for accuracy and relevance. This can come in handy for content like product descriptions or other straightforward content that doesn't need a lot of emotional nuances or cultural localisation context.
2 Examples of Successful Website Translation
Aventa Credit Union
Aventa Credit Union is located in the Colorado Springs area and is expanded into more southern Colorado counties, resulting in member growth from Spanish-speaking communities. Aventa wanted to ensure all their members had access to financial resources in their preferred language, so they decided to translate their website into Spanish. In 2020, Aventa focused on hiring bilingual Spanish-speaking associates and leveraged their workers' fluency in Spanish to translate English content for their website. But, this took away from other work employees were hired to perform. Employees who knew Spanish also didn't know the same Spanish, resulting in inconsistent translations.
Aventa hired MotionPoint in 2021 during a rebranding effort to translate and localize website content for the various Spanish dialects their clients speak. Using translation connectors, a reverse-proxy system, and web plugins, Aventa's content translation and localisation is now effortless. New content is quickly localised into Spanish and published on Aventa's digital channels in less than a day with little to no work required from them.
VITAS Healthcare is the nation's leading provider of end-of-life care. They recognised the complexities and cultural sensitivities around end-of-life care and dying topics. They determined that offering content in local languages, including through multilingual websites, would greatly benefit customer service and support. VITAS set out to translate their website to Chinese and Spanish and searched for a website translation solution company to deploy and operate multilingual websites. They also wanted to ensure high-quality and accurate translations, including reflecting the language's original tone and cultural nuances, so they looked for a service that provided human translation support.
VITAS worked with MotionPoint's proxy-based technology to support their careful, culturally-appropriate language needs. Now, MotionPoint can automatically identify changes to VITAS' English-language site, which alerts MotionPoint's human translators to translate content and makes it available on the localised sites - typically within one working day.
Website Translation vs. Traditional Translation
Website translation requires technical nuances that make it challenging for traditional translation agencies to handle. Such nuances include:
- Complex ecosystems of platforms and contributors
- The lightning-fast pace of online business
- User demands for fresh, shareable content and interactivity
Traditional translation solutions can’t distinguish code from content, can’t handle coordination of multiple workflows across platforms and contributors, can’t keep up with constant updates, and struggle to preserve the look, feel and function of your website.
Thankfully, digital-first solutions can easily handle code, multiple platforms, fast deadlines and more.
Challenges of Website Translation
Beyond translation technology, here are some other noteworthy challenges to consider about website translation. Follow the links for details and best practices.
- Website translation is difficult, and a traditional agency may not be able to handle it.
- Your website will change over time, and you need a translation solution that adapts with you.
- To remain relevant, your translation solution needs to move fast. Your translation provider needs to move fast, too.
- External content and third-party applications can add risks that make website translation complicated, painful, and costly. Select a digital-first solution that eliminate burdens and costs.
- Brand consistency across languages matters. Top translation vendors can make it simple, painless, and cost-effective.