Website translation involves many moving parts.
It needs to be consistent with the source material whilst appealing to a separate target audience and taking into account SEO.
So how can you improve this process? Let’s take a look.
Different types of web content to be translated
There are many different kinds of website.
Some focus on posting detailed product information and pricing. They often gain their traffic from users directly searching for their brand name or specific products or services.
Others share a lot of informational content, usually in the form of blogs. This strategy can lead to organic rankings which bring traffic, a portion of which then gets funnelled to product or service pages and converted into sales.
Some website owners might simply request a direct, clear translation of their current website with some practical issues covered (such as currency conversions).
Others may want more localization and even trans-creation. This requires creative textual translation choices, such as creating new marketing slogans and new product names in the target language.
Decisions about design or even website structure are often an important consideration.
For example, the UK and Chinese versions of Calvin Klein’s website not only use different images, messaging and calls to action, but also have different top bar menus, too:
3 ways to translate a website
There are three main ways to translate a website.
1. Use a plugin
There are a number of paid-for and free website translation plugins available.
One example is TranslatePress, a paid plugin for WordPress sites. It automatically translates pages and enables users to edit strings of text directly on a website.
Plugins can simplify the translation process. They work best when pages simply need direct translation.
However, when more flexible or totally different content is needed, they can limit design aspects of the new translation page.
2. Use subfolders
Subfolders help keep website’s data all within one content management system (CMS).
Many CMSs accommodate translation by making it easy to duplicate specific pages and edit them in draft mode before publishing them.
WordPress and HubSpot are two such examples. They enable you to easily add new versions of pages with the appropriate URL and subfolder settings.
The disadvantage of this system is having to manually update each page after changes are made to the original. However, if you keep track of updates in a clear and organised manner, a good CMS should make the editing process easy.
3. Create a separate website
Some companies like to maintain completely separate websites in other languages.
These are often hosted on different servers and have different structures and designs. They sometimes – but not always – redirect users to the other language version of the website once the user selects that version’s language.
This is useful for websites operating in particularly different markets that require very different content or pricing – China and the US, for example (which have the added complication of almost entirely separate internets and favoured search engines).
The disadvantage of having separate websites is the maintenance it requires. But if there are separate teams managing each domain and marketing activities don’t crossover, this should not be a big problem.
What is the best way to translate a website?
Which translation option is best for you (or your client) depends on three primary factors:
The mark of a good website translation process (or translation agency) is being able to balance all of these requirements.
1. How can you translate a website faster?
Obviously, using more translators will help with speed. However, this risks ruining the consistency of work, especially with regards to terminology but also more intangible features of translation, such as style, emphasis, tone of voice, etc.
Translation plugins that utilise machine translation enable you to translate quickly and at scale. However, these still require a human to edit the end result to avoid mistaken or unnatural text.
2. How can you improve the quality of your translation?
Improving the quality of translation comes down to the quality of translators and translation process involved.
A good translation process involves project management and quality assurance processes.
For some brands, localization and transcreation services will often be more effective than straightforward translation services. This is because both services also take into account design and cultural influences that – if done well – can raise conversion rates.
3. How do you do Multilingual SEO?
Doing SEO across multiple languages is not easy.
For a smaller project, using a single or small team of translators adept at SEO is a good solution. However, this isn’t easy to find or practical to scale.
Like many complex tasks, the division of labour can increase productivity enormously. Hiring an in-house SEO specialist or SEO agency is a logical solution.
6 steps for optimizing website translation process
Once you have decided how to translate your website, the process of website translation comes in.
There are a few areas to consider, given the multitude of goals possible (level of localization, structural changes, SEO, etc).
Let’s assume you are aiming for both speed and high-quality translation that includes SEO.
Below are our six steps for doing this.
1. Establish website translation parameters and review processes
As mentioned, not every website translation is the same. The website owners’ goals need to be established early on.
When localization is involved, processes need to be built in to review decisions, especially when it comes to messaging and other areas where brand assets might be impacted.
Website structure is also important to finalise before translation begins.
You also need to decide if SEO services will be part of the process.
Many companies may not understand how SEO works and assume that it’s a relatively minor extra task. In fact, it is a specialist and time-consuming task that will affect the deadline (and impact) of the translation.
2. Search engine optimisation (SEO) actions part I: target language keywords and linking
Keywords are words, phrases or questions that users put into search engines.
Before the translation process begins, you should list the main keyword for each page of the original site. In some cases, there won’t be one (for the ‘About Us’ and ‘Contact Us’ pages, for example).
Next, you should establish the equivalent target keywords for each page of the website translation.
The new versions of your target keyword will have different competitors and might even have different search intent (see below). These need to be checked because they might influence how you create your new pages.
Having the right keywords will enable you to optimize each page accordingly. It is especially important to get the correct keyword in the meta title, h1 and body text of a given page.
Keyword research involves using SEO software, such as Ahrefs, Semrush or Moz.
This software gives estimates of a number of important metrics about the keywords. The important ones to consider are:
- Keyword difficulty: This essentially means how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword on a scale of 0 (easy) to 100 (extremely difficult).
- Search volume: The average number of monthly searches there are for a keyword. You should take into account seasonality when it’s relevant (for example, most searches for ‘Christmas trees’ take place in November and December).
- Search intent: Is the person searching for this keyword looking for a standard blog, a comparison blog, a service page, or something else? You can check this yourself by searching for the keyword and looking at the top-ranking results.
External and internal linking
Internal linking (links between a website’s own pages) can make a big difference to SEO.
Simply transposing the internal linking of the original website is not always viable. Some pages might not be replicated on the new version and the anchor text (the text where links are inserted) may need rethinking for the target language.
You also need to reconsider the outgoing links you may have. It’s not ideal to link external sites that are in a different language because it gives poor user experience (UX).
Checking the same domains for translated versions of the linked content and scouring the web for equivalents on other domains is a task worth building into your project.
3. Use the right translators, project managers and translation software
Generally speaking, the second part of the website translation process is the same as the first part of the translation process more broadly.
(There could be exceptions to this. For example, if the original website content hasn’t been written yet, it could possibly be written with translation in mind, i.e., by using simple language and avoiding cultural references or wordplay.)
Exceptions aside, the first step is simply finding the right translators and project managers. These are, after all, the key to any translation process.
Getting the translation team to work in sync with one another is crucial. Using the same translation memory tool will keep their work consistent.
4. Check the design
As the website’s text is being translated, someone should have oversight on how it looks from a design perspective.
Different space requirements and word counts between languages might negatively impact the end result, undoing gains made in the translation itself.
You also need to change the alt text of all images and maybe many images themselves, too, especially infographics.
5. Check the user experience (UX)
UX is its own discipline that crosses over with both design and SEO.
Though the above steps (particularly design) should cover much of it, you also need to consider other UX issues such as anchor text, menus and call-to-actions (CTAs).
Generic CTAs such as ‘learn more’ still exist on many websites. However, UX and SEO-savy companies often go beyond this with unique CTAs that can raise the conversion rate of pages.
These are often also highly idiosyncratic and dependent on the specific language or dialect they are written in. Therefore they often need to undergo localization rather than straightforward translation.
6. Search engine optimisation (SEO) actions part II: Hreflang
Hreflang is a section of changeable code which tells search engines which language or dialect version of a webpage to show users.
This sounds simple, until you consider that there are different dialects and language spoken in the same country and different languages searched in different places.
John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate once described Hreflang as follows:
Getting it right is an important part of international SEO success.
Hreflang should be implemented at the end of the translation process.
Ongoing website translation issues
Website translation is rarely a one-off task. Website content changes and needs to be updated in new languages.
Prices and promotions are one example. Not keeping these up-to-date across different language versions can cause headaches. Promotions owing to different national holidays are another example.
SEO is also an ongoing task. Content that isn’t kept updated will lose rankings, which will lose you traffic.
Establishing an efficient review process is the final part of optimizing the website translation process.
Website translation has the same speed, scale, consistency and quality pressures as translation more generally. However, it also has the added task of SEO.
There is no one-size-fits-all website translation process.
Websites come in many different shapes and sizes. There is also a range in how much localization or even transcreation is required.
Translation can be implemented via a plugin, multilingual subfolders or on an entirely new domain.
SEO is crucial for any new website. Once you have found the keywords for your target language, you can plan the page you should create.
You need to bring together the right translators, project managers and translation software in order to maintain quality and consistency. Maintaining these across design and UX is also important.
And finally, you need to create a review process. Websites are dynamic and constantly in competition for search engine positions.