Translating your web site: a 10 step guide

Paul Mason is the managing director of Cicero Translations, a UK-based translation company that has been helping SMEs, large companies and multinationals to conduct business all over the world since 1980.

Here, Paul shares a step-by-step guide to translating your web site to increase your foreign sales.

If you want to promote your services in other countries, consider having your web site translated into the local language of your target market. It is likely to be the single most cost-effective marketing investment you could make.

The benefits are simple.                                              

  • More customers will read your web site if it is in a language they understand.
  • Clients are more likely to trust your web site, so more likely to buy from you.
  • You will project a helpful, customer-oriented attitude.
  • Translated web sites attract more agents and distributors.
  • You will increase your visibility on foreign search engines.

Read the Open to Export article on the important role of translation in entering new markets for more information.

website translation

Once you have decided to go ahead, here is a 10 step guide on how to go about it.

1.  Ensure the English version of your web site is the best it can be.
Ensure that the content is correct, up to date and search-engine optimised. This may involve changes to structure and metatext as well as content. It is worth getting this right before proceeding with any translation.

2.  Get clear about your objectives.
Make a firm decision about what you will be translating and into which languages. Are you going to translate the entire web site, or just the top level pages? For example, you may decide to proceed with translation of your web site’s home page plus other top level pages, terms and conditions, FAQs and order forms into the languages of your top five markets.

3. Get as detailed a quote as possible from potential suppliers.
When you begin searching for translators, it helps to be as specific as possible about what you need. Give them as much detail as you can. Including the following is helpful:

  • Notes about your target readers (nationality, age, gender, level of education)
  • Clear instructions about which pages to translate and which languages (Portuguese/Brasileiro, traditional/simplified Chinese)
  • Requirement to weave key search terms into the text
  • Degree of licence to adapt, paraphrase and explain
  • Translation of meta-text: page titles, descriptions, key words, alt-tags
  • Insertion and testing of hyperlinks and navigation tools
  • Insertion of translation directly into your HTML source code, PHP, Type 03 etc
  • Advice on advertising the languages (flags, headings, pop-down menus).

Also see the advice on our web site about on getting a quote.

Note: steps 2 and 3 may be an iterative process. Experiment with various options until you reach proposals that will be effective and within your budget.

4.     Start small to spread the risk.
Reduce risk and stagger your costs by starting with two or three languages, testing them in the market and assessing the results. Have you attracted new agents or distributors? Have you had more enquiries and orders from the relevant markets? If the investment has paid off, then translate more of your web site in the existing and additional languages.

  • Rule of thumb: translate just enough to make the customer think “This is the supplier for me”.
  • Do not try to save money by getting translations done by amateurs or machine translation. This will give your site and your business a poor image.

5. Consider your post-publication strategy.
Think about what happens after translation, such as fielding enquiries in foreign languages, measuring success, and dealing with updates. Decide how these will be handled and who will be responsible.

6. Discuss and agree on logistics and trade-offs with your translators.
Once you decide on your preferred translation supplier(s), it is worth discussing with them:

  • How to keep your site easy to navigate (keeping a logical folder structure)
  • Faithfulness to the original, versus fluency
  • Translation versus localisation (for example, changed emphasis, different FAQs).

From a technical point of view, discuss and agree on the following points:

  • Country code top level domain (ccTLD – .fr,.es,.de)
  • Dynamic web site management
  • Expansion and contraction
  • Alt-tags, internal and external hyperlinks, flash files, and graphics with text in them.

7. Proof and proof again.
Once the translations are complete and in web format, get your translators to double check them. Mistakes may have crept in owing to your web developers not understanding the languages they are dealing with.

8. Test the translations on some friendly customers or agents.
Ask them to consider the following:

  • Is it obvious the site is now available in a foreign language?
  • Is the site easy to navigate?
  • Is the language natural?
  • Do the hyperlinks work properly?

9.    Go live and promote!
Once your translated content is live, make sure you promote your web site in your literature, to your customers, agents and distributors and with the search engines.

Monitor the results of your promotions too. Keep a close eye on your web stats to see who is visiting your web site. Google Webmaster offers a complete suite of tools to monitor your web marketing success such as click-through rates, positions in search engine results for a range of key terms and so on.

10. Decide on any next steps.
Once the initial promotion period is over, think about where you go from here. Do you need to translate into more languages? Or do more pages in the same languages? You could consider changing copy/content/structure to improve effectiveness.

For more information about the importance of language in marketing and preparing your products for export, read these articles on understanding and recognising cultural differences in new markets and producing foreign language documents and marketing materials, and check out the Open to Export webinar on taking your website and digital marketing global.

Sectors: Communications, Events & Attractions, and Fashion Design
Topics: Getting Started and Localisation
Export Action Plan