If you are considering an attempt to grow your website’s audience beyond its local appeal into one that captures a large, international audience, then you must translate it into foreign languages. And unlike many things on the Internet, good translation isn’t free.
Here are the options available when it comes to translating your website:
- Machine Translation: fast & free, but low quality
- In-house or contract translator: the slowest and most expensive option
- Crowd-sourced Translation: faster and cheaper than in-house or contract translators, but not free like machine translation
The Machine Translation Option: Free but…
It’s tough to beat free and there are a few machine translation services that allow you to quickly translate your site’s content for free. Two of the more popular machine translation services available are Google Translate and Microsoft’s Bing Translator. If your translation budget is zero, machine translation may be your only option.
Both Google Translate and the Bing Translator have widgets (here and here) which you can embed in your website. When embedded, they make it easy for visitors to a site to translate content on the fly.
Machine translator widgets aren’t going to do you any favors in helping you grow your international audience. The reason is because they don’t translate your content automatically, which won’t help you with SEO. Because the content is only translated by request, foreign search engines won’t readily recognize it as a resource for it’s users. For example, Google.es, the Google site for Spain, isn’t going to show your site high on many search engine result pages because as far as it knows your site is only available in english. People searching on google.es aren’t going to be searching for english-language keywords. If your site is about potatoes, it isn’t going to show up when someone searching on google.es for patatas.
So while machine translate may increase its accessibility to international audiences, it won’t necessarily increase its popularity. To do that, a foreign language version of your site’s content must be available at all times. The only way to do that is to run each article on your site through a machine translation service, copy the returned translation, and paste it into the appropriate place on your website. But with Google Translate, this is not allowed because of licensing restrictions. Specifically, they restrict anyone from storing and using Google Translate content on any website.
The Bing Translator does have an API you can integrate into your content management system and automatically translate your site’s content. But if you can’t find a plugin or extension that already works with your content management system you’ll have to program your own at a significant expense. And if the objective is to get the translation for free then custom programming isn’t going to be an option.
Don’t forget the accuracy problem
The biggest issue with machine translation is accuracy. Even if you were to run each and every page through a machine translation service, it might not do a very good job of retaining an international audience. It does not have enough understanding of culture and context to know how to translate everything accurately. In fact, even Google recommends against using Google Translate for marketing purposes.
Machine translation is better than nothing, but definitely not an ideal solution to help you grow the number of international eye-balls on your site.
Contract translation services: $0.20+/word
For companies needing accurate translation services, this option has traditionally been the only one available. Businesses could hire a freelancer or an agency to provide translation services, typically as a fairly substantial costs. This route is pretty simply to understand; you contract out your translation project at a cost of $0.20 – $0.30 per word (possibly more depending on the project) and in a few days or weeks it will be fully translated.
Many companies still go this route. But for a growing number of companies it is considered too expensive and too slow. This gives rise to a number of technologically-driven crowd-sourced translation companies
Translation as a Service (TAAS): $0.06 – $0.20/word
The best way to explain how TAAS provides greater value than the other options is to give an example of how it is used. Imagine you work for a tech company that has decided to begin offering your services to customers in Europe. But in order to do so you need to be able to provide customer support with with customers who communicate in German, Italian, French, and every other European language. Machine Translation is too unreliable and traditional contract translation is too slow and expensive. Historically this would be an insurmountable stumbling block for many companies eyeing overseas expansion. But with Translation as a Service, your customer service emails, trouble-tickets, even chat communications can be translated in seconds for anywhere from $0.06 – $0.20 per word.
Translation as a Service: how it works
TAAS services typically work in this fashion: as translation projects come in, they are dispatched to the most appropriate translators who are currently logged into their computers. For example, as a French-to-English translation comes in, the system dispatches the project to someone with that skill-set. The translator translates the text and the system dispatches the resulting translation to the person that requested it.
Most TAAS platforms have APIs that allow for your business tools to be integrated with their translation system. So customer service tickets and emails can be translated from their original language to English as they come in. Also, outgoing messages can be automatically translated from English to the language of the customer as they are sent, without any additional steps by the customer service team.
Another great feature of TAAS services is that larger projects are translated much more quickly than with freelance or contract translation services. The reason is because large projects can be broken into several pieces and apportioned out to multiple translators. A 100-page translation project can be broken down into 100 separate translation projects and sent to 100 different translators. Whereas a project of this magnitude could take several days, or even weeks, by traditional freelance translators, now it can be done overnight.
One important thing to remember is that the cost of translation will be multiplied by the number of languages to which your content must be translated. If it costs $120 to translate your content from English to Mandarin, then you can figure it will cost roughly $120 to translate it from English to Simplified Chinese pushing your total cost of translation to $240.
Machine Translation will continue to improve going into the future, but since machines can’t currently be programmed to understand context and culture, a universal translator, like the one seen in Star Trek, may not be invented until Captain Kirk’s birthday in the year 2228. Contract translation projects will always be a stable of business, but they don’t lend themselves to the scalability and speed demanded by many of today’s international companies.
Translation as a Service is a burgeoning industry capable of quickly, competently, and affordably meeting the translation needs of today’s webmasters, and at a significantly lower cost than other translation services.