How to Organize Website Translation?
Any exporter’s website should be translated into the languages of all countries where it sells goods or provide services. The easiest and almost free way to create a multilingual website is to use machine translators, for example, Google Translate; however, in such a case, the percentage of rejections by users will be extremely high, which may have a negative effect on the website’s ranking on different search engines. Furthermore, the accuracy of conveying the meaning will be approximate only and will change constantly depending on updates of the machine translator’s ‘engine’. Such a translation can be misleading for users and will not improve the company’s image.
So, you have decided to localize your website and make it multilingual. In this article, we have gathered general recommendations based on Alba Translating Company’s multi-year experience in website localization.
Step 1. Determine a list of languages
Russian-speaking users account for about 3% of all Internet users, and English-speaking users account for 26%. Increasing the number of website language versions will allow you to increase traffic to your website, but sales growth will follow only if the company is ready to work with clients from these countries, i.e. if the company has a customer support service and sales department, which are able to communicate in those languages, as well as relevant branches. In most cases, localization ‘just in case’ does not make much sense.
According to https://www.internetworldstats.com
Step 2. Approve the final version of the website source content and determine sections to be localized
The cost of any change in a website text increases in direct proportion to the number of language versions of your website. It is not uncommon that upon completion of a project, the translating company makes up a long list of misprints, logical contradictions, inconsistencies, etc. found in the source text . Not all of such inconsistencies can be resolved by a translator without the customer’s involvement. It is even worse when the customer adjusts the text after commencement of translation. All this can result in confusion and significantly lengthen the time needed to complete the project.
Estimate the project budget. Is it really necessary to translate your entire website, or it can be limited to certain pages? Is it necessary to translate the ‘News’, ‘Articles’, ‘Reviews’ sections?
Step 3. Define the website structure and the scope of technical adjustment
А. How will multilingualism be realized?
Language versions can be organized as follows:
- root domain ccTLD (yoursite.ru, yoursite.de, yoursite.fr, etc.);
- language-specific subdomains (ru.yoursite.ru, de.yoursite.ru);
- subdirectories with a language identifier (yoursite.ru/de/);
- content substitution.
The first method is the most complex and expensive. Certain domains may be occupied and will have to be purchased. A change in the design or functions will require adjustments to each of the websites. At the same time, this approach provides for most localization freedom. The structures of individual websites will not be rigidly interrelated. Furthermore, each website will be indexed and ranked by search engines independently of others.
A multilingual website built with the use of a subdomain is technically equivalent to the use of a separate domain name for each language, so this approach is reasonable only where it is impossible to purchase all necessary domain names.
A subdirectory with a language identifier is the most common and simplest way to implement a multilingual interface. Many website management systems use free or inexpensive plugins (for example, WPML for WordPress) to implement this option. In certain systems (for example, Joomla), this plugin is already built-in to basic functions. All advantages and disadvantages of this approach result from the website being a single whole. This may cause difficulties, for example, if you try to fill your website with content in a decentralized manner where different branches of the company are responsible for each of the language versions.
The content substitution option is extremely rare due to its negative impact on the website promotion. In such a case, the website pages may have the same URL, headings, keywords, which affects negatively their promotion.
B. Will the structures of all website language versions be equivalent?
The need for different structures of individual language versions of a website can be driven by many factors: specifics of order placement or delivery, specifics of the legislation (for example, different requirements for personal data protection). The assortment of goods, campaigns, news can vary.
C. Will the functions of all website language versions be equivalent?
Building a multilingual website can result in extension of its functions: automatic conversion of prices into different currencies (measurement units), reformatting dates.
D. Is the website design suitable for multilingualism?
A text in different languages can very widely in terms of graphic presentation. If the website design has been developed based on hieroglyphic symbols (for example, Chinese), it can hardly be used, say, in German without some serious adjustment. Long German phrases simply will not fit into the buttons. Design rework can also be required in the case of localization into languages with a reverse (RTL/LTR) direction (e.g., Arabic or Hebrew), where key modules should be mirrored.
E. Are there editable sources for all audio and visual materials (schemes, charts, videos, presentations)?
The absence of editable files can significantly increase the cost and time of layout work. Moreover, if the text or subtitles form part of raster graphics, then either the image behind them will be lost when the text is replaced (the target text will be placed in a text box with background fill) or you will have to pay for time-consuming work relating to manual rasterization of these image parts.
F. Flags or languages?
Flags symbolize countries but not languages. You need to be very careful in using them to denote language versions of the website in order not to confuse or insult the user. While the US or UK flags will hardly confuse anyone, many rarer languages are simply impossible to denote with a flag. For example, which flag should be used to symbolize Arabic, Hindi or Persian? When using language names, it is extremely important not to specify them in the main website language, i.e. not to specify ‘Deutsch’ and ‘??’ instead of ‘German’ and ‘Chinese’.
G. Is website coding suitable to display the content in multiple languages?
If the project uses not only Latin and Cyrillic scripts, there is practically only one option to implement multilingualism—to use Unicode, normally UTF-8.
H. Is it necessary to try to determine the user’s language automatically?
There are many ways to determine the user’s language and to redirect this user to the relevant website version. It is important to understand that none of these methods can guarantee 100% accuracy. The user who has been redirected to a wrong website version should be given the possibility to switch quickly to the right one.
I. Which website page will open when the user switches languages?
Ideally, switching the website language will open the translation of the same page. If you only translate a certain part of materials, it will be impossible to fully follow this principle. In such a case, switching the language should redirect the user to the translation of the website homepage.
Step 3. Prepare materials for translation
А. How will you export texts for translation and import translated pages? Does it make sense to automate this process?
If you have only a small website, the so-called ‘business-card website’, you can do without automation by copying the text into an Excel file. It is highly undesirable to use MS Word for this purpose. First, it is much more complicated to structure the content elements and to search and match them in different languages (in Excel, translation can be typed into the next column regardless of how many languages you use). Second, any serious translating company is able to work with HTML layout. If you send for translation an Excel file containing formatting tags in the cells, all these tags will remain unchanged after translation is completed. This is ensured by special-purpose translation software, which blocks the tags from being deleted by the translator and allows to compare the source and the target texts to ensure that all tags remain unchanged.
In the case of larger projects, the setting of content export for translation can become an effective solution. This can be done either using modules (which modules already exist for most of popular CMSs) or on your own if you figure out the database structure of the website on which the content is placed.
B. Doublecheck to make sure you have not forgotten anything during uploading:
- menu items;
- contents of all modules and plugins;
- messages regarding errors in sending forms;
- templates of emails sent by the website to users;
- metatags and keywords;
- text on images and subtitles for videos;
- legally relevant texts (non-disclosure agreements, delivery terms, product catalogues, price lists, specifications, etc.).
Step 4. Interaction with the translating company or hiring a team of translators
Modern translation is a complex and multistep process, which, apart from translation itself, includes different types work relating to project preparation and quality control: preparation and approval of a glossary, editing by the second translator, automatic formatting control, transfer of digital values. For site localization, for example, you may need a team of 12–15 specialists. Managing this process requires special knowledge. Experience has shown that customers can rarely achieve substantial cost savings when they try to organize this work themselves.
You should make up at least a tentative schedule. Will the entire text be sent for translation at once? Are you planning to translate any materials on a regular basis (news, auditors’ reports, press releases, etc.)? This information will allow the translating company to plan it resources and to ensure that a stabler team is working on the project, which will have a positive effect on the quality.
Step 5. Linguistic testing
Once translation is completed and the text assembly of a multilingual website is ready, you can start linguistic testing. Linguistic testing allows to discover errors, which are impossible or very hard to find at earlier stages. Those include:
• Semantic mistakes due to the lack of context. Such mistakes rarely depend on the translator’s competence as the translator works with the text not from the website, but in most cases, receives the text exported into Excel, where content elements are grouped in a way that is different from what they will look like on the website.
• Format distortions due to changes in the text length (the text goes beyond the button fields or is only partially displayed).
• Font errors (e.g., when the fond used lacks symbols of the required language).
• Incorrect hyperlinks (e.g., linking to a wrong language version of the website).
Step 6. Multilingual SEO
Modern search optimization is primarily a linguistic task. Only a person with excellent knowledge of the target language can choose the right keywords. Ideally, a list of keywords should be prepared before translation. This will allow to save effort and time needed to adjust the content in the future.