Best Way to Translate a Website: How to Choose the Best Website Translation Method

How to translate a website: the right choice for your company

So, your company is going global

You already know you need to translate your website and create localized sites. You know which languages you want to focus on first, and perhaps you’ve even chosen a language services provider (LSP). But you need to make one more major decision: how will you approach website translation?

How to Translate a Website: 4 Choices

Selecting a website translation method will impact your processes and functionalities within your localization project. You have four main choices:

  1. Manual File Transfer
  2. CMS Integration Technology
  3. Translation Proxy
  4. Outsourced Global Website Operations

Make sure you understand each option before deciding on the approach that’s best for you. When in doubt, ask your LSP for advice.

Option 1: Manual File Transfer

Manual file transfer is the oldest and lowest-tech way to localize websites. As such, it is usually the most affordable option for website translation, and one that all providers are suited to handle. Using this approach, organizations and their LSPs simply send content via XML or HTML (and sometimes even Word or Excel) files as needed.

Is it right for you?

Manual file transfer can be a labor-intensive process that relies heavily on human coordination. That, in turn, introduces opportunities for error. You may still decide this is the best option if you have limited content that you are translating into few languages. You should also consider this option if your publishing platform is not “globalization ready.” Does your platform have workflows that allow you to automate the import and export of content for translation? If not, this option may be a strong choice.

Option 2: CMS Integration Technology

If your global needs are more substantial, and you are using a content management system that supports global workflows, you can streamline your website translation and localization process through a translation-integration-based approach. The best translation integrations allow you to automate the selection, transfer, and retrieval of content from directly within your CMS. They also simplify adoption by offering a user experience in the CMS environments you already use. More advanced integrations can provide additional functionality, including real-time status reporting, in-context review capabilities, and dynamic translation memory updating.

Today’s marketing buyers are already inundated with tools. With this model, they don’t need to learn another one,” said Arnie Koh, Senior Director for Global Offerings at Lionbridge. “Successful integrations leverage a company’s investment in the platform they’re using for content management.”

Two basic types of CMS translation integrations exist: extensions within the CMS (plug-in-based solutions) and versions outside the CMS (middleware-brokered solutions). Whichever kind you choose, make sure it's provider-neutral. If you decide to change your CMS, you can take your translation workflow with you and avoid vendor lock-in.

Is it right for you?

A website translation-integration-based approach works well for companies that create and update multilingual content regularly. Organizations that rely on rapid time-to-market will find these systems especially helpful, as will entities with multiple contributors to their sites.

Option 3: Translation Proxy Server

Translation proxy server solutions present another viable approach to localizing your website. A translation proxy is a technology that hosts the foreign versions of your website. This eliminates the need for companies to host and manage localized content within their publishing platforms. Translation proxy servers work well for organizations using publishing platforms that don’t support localization workflows or presenting content that is not dynamically generated.

Translation proxy allows localization of content text and presentation-template text in one place and doesn’t monopolize IT support because it takes advantage of current site functionality. This option presents a hands-off approach that speeds time-to-market and requires very little extra IT effort. As a trade-off, though, a translation proxy server is best leveraged when local sites have minimal unique content, as the translated sites typically mirror the original site.

Clients who don't want to "lock into" an expensive integration solution find proxy, which works off rendered HTML pages, attractive. Likewise, clients seeking an interim solution prior to purchasing a full-featured CMS may select this option.

How does a translation proxy server work?

The proxy sits atop the client’s original website, replacing source-language content with target-language content upon request. The proxy can significantly simplify globalization workflows, as clients only need to manage their source content. At the same time, global users can still interact with content in their native languages.

Think of a proxy server as an always-punctual connecting flight. Your content needs to reach its goal destination (the multilingual consumer), but it can’t get there directly. The proxy server moves the content onto a smaller plane (the recipient’s language) and thus allows you to actually reach your customers.

“Our proxy allows you to focus on your source English site,” explained Koh. “That content is then crawled for content, translated, and hosted in the proxy.” Updates to source content can be auto-detected and translated, providing a largely low-touch approach to website localization. When visitors come to your site, their browsers will specify their preferred language, and target-language site translations hosted on the proxy sites, rather than the original site, will appear.

“Because it only replaces language, the translation proxy server approach maintains your website’s brand look and feel across languages,” Koh said.

Is it right for you?

The translation proxy server software from your chosen LSP will scrape or crawl the original site and send strings of text and code out for translation. Depending on your quality needs, the translations you receive can be machine translation only, machine translation with post-edit, or full professional translation/transcreation (or any combination of the three). While most websites call for professional human translation, other approaches can be useful depending on factors such as content type, use case, and budget considerations.

Koh noted that clients large and small continue to request this approach. “Proxy seems to be here to stay,” he said.

“It’s an attractive option, because many customers say they want to ‘future-proof’ their solution, and using proxies is platform neutral.”

Option 4: Outsourced Global Website Operations

Still not sure which website translation approach to choose? You can also completely outsource your site localization to a qualified vendor. The outsourcing option is best for medium to large enterprises, especially if they aren’t as confident in their web development and marketing capabilities, or if their teams are already stretched thin. Do you have a combination of large, content-rich sites and an assortment of local teams with region-specific needs? If so, outsourcing may be the best option for you.

If you plan to take this approach, consider partnering with a large and experienced LSP. Established providers more likely have the combined cultural, linguistic, marketing, strategic, and technical expertise you need. As a bonus, outsourcing to these partners can give you and your business the option to scale at a later point using an established relationship—a key part of long-term translation workflow.

What's next?

Koh said his team works with clients to determine what method is best given their technology, how dynamic and varied their content is, and importantly, their budget. “And of course, for all of these approaches, the back end utilizes our full stack of efficiency and quality tools and is supported by a crowd of hundreds of thousands of translators,” he added.

For more tips on improving your company’s multilingual localization projects, or on starting them in the first place, contact us today.

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April M. Crehan
April M. Crehan