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The Future of Language Technology: The Benefits and Dangers of Translation Proxy

A Translation Proxy can be an effective tool, but only in very specific cases    

This is the fourth part in The Future of Language Technology Series, which explores the changes of language delivery as a result of technological developments.

If you are a company that operates in one or very few markets, it is vital to expand your offerings to consumers in other countries to boost your bottom line. To move forward with this transformative strategy and reach new buyers, you will need to figure out which languages they speak and identify how to best execute localization. Localization is the process of adapting your products or services to new markets.

There are multiple ways to implement localization, though it is often dictated by your Content Management System (CMS) setup and the strategic localization choices you have made in the past. You can integrate your CMS with a Localization Service Provider (LSP) who will then carry out your localization. You can handle your content manually. Or you can utilize a technology called Translation Proxy.

Translation Proxy comes in like a Holy Grail of localization, promising great performance and hassle-free implementation. But does the technology live up to the hype? Before moving forward with a Translation Proxy, read on to learn more about its benefits and potential pitfalls.

What Is a Translation Proxy?

A Translation Proxy is a set of technologies tightly knitted together to instantly serve localized webpages. A Translation Proxy usually includes the following components:

  • A web crawler that monitors your website for changes to the content in the original language and then triggers a translation as soon as new content appears;
  • A web server that functions as an ad-hoc localized website and is placed in between the end user’s requesting site, which is in another language, and your website that is in the original language;
  • A Translation Management System (TMS) that might be used for more elaborate translation workflows but can be omitted if you do not have complex requirements;
  • Translation Memories (TM) that store past translations done by humans and are leveraged by the web server to provide translated content; and
  • Machine Translation (MT) software, which is used for the ad-hoc translation of content that has not been localized and that cannot be translated in real time by humans.

All these components work hand in hand to deliver a multilingual digital experience to your website in real time.

Here’s how a Translation Proxy operates:

  1. A Translation Proxy positions itself between an end user’s requesting site and the server where the content in the original language lives.
  2. When the end user wants to access your site in a language it was not created in, the Translation Proxy system intercepts that request and routes it to another web server.
  3. This second web server usually recreates the structure of the site on the fly in another language and serves the content.
  4. The second web server replaces the text that is in the original language with a translation that is delivered in real time from either Machine Translation or pre-translated content leveraged from Translation Memory.

In order to execute a Translation Proxy, all you need to do is deploy a few lines of code on your home page to trigger a language selector and a geo-targeting script. These tools identify where the traffic is coming from. From that moment on, the Translation Proxy will direct traffic coming from other countries into the local versions of your global site, which are hosted and spontaneously created by the Translation Proxy.

This approach to localization sounds like an easy way to localize your site and there are benefits to it, but it also comes with important caveats.

What Are the Benefits of a Translation Proxy?

Among the benefits of using Translation Proxy systems, customers appreciate these advantages most:

  • It works on legacy websites and eliminates the need for Content Management Systems, which is particularly helpful when the deployment of those systems is not possible.
  • It’s fast to deploy and does not require significant changes to existing website infrastructure.
  • The initial investment is relatively small compared to a full-blown multilingual Content Management System or a Translation Management System deployment.
  • It’s an easy way to go multilingual for companies that are just starting to think about localization and global expansion.
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What Are the Pitfalls of a Translation Proxy?

There are several drawbacks to using a Translation Proxy. Companies should be aware of these downsides before committing to this technology.

The development of bleed-through occurrences

Translation Proxy technology is prone to so-called bleed-throughs, or intermittent occurrences of unlocalized content. These incidents deliver an inadequate customer experience and may negatively influence their perception of the brand.

The negative impact is especially evident if the website has a complex structure and fetches content from other websites or multiple databases. In these cases, real-time Machine Translation is often used to translate the original pieces of content on the fly. The cost of doing that can be noticeable differences in the quality of the translation in different sections of your website.

Amazon found this out when it entered the Swedish market. Automatic translations caused numerous, embarrassing errors on its retail site that resulted in public mockery and media attention.

The inability to localize non-text materials

A Translation Proxy is unable to localize non-text materials, such as videos, e-books, brochures and graphics. As with bleed-throughs, this shortcoming will diminish a customer’s experience with the website, product and brand.

These non-text assets would need to be localized in a traditional way before deploying a Translation Proxy, either by using a Translation Management System or by working with a local agency or LSP. These solutions would further complicate your localization workflow, effectively forcing you to run two localization workflows. This is of concern because non-text materials now make up a significant amount of content on today’s websites.

Increased time to load your site

Placing anything between your end user and your website will affect website load times. A Translation Proxy makes it take longer for your site to load. Even though the impact is usually relatively small, adding even just a second or two to the load time can negatively impact user behavior. Research conducted by HubSpot shows that each additional second of load time reduces conversion rates by 7%.

Your digital marketing team usually works to reduce the load time as much as possible. A Translation Proxy works against those efforts.

The need to frequently troubleshoot

A Translation Proxy requires frequent troubleshooting due to bleed-throughs, which can be nerve-racking if they occur in the most critical and visible parts of the website. While these bleed-throughs might be easy to fix, it will take time for your Translation Proxy vendor to resolve them. That is time that may impact your conversion rates.

Quite often, these ad-hoc fixes require additional expenditures and may eventually make the technology cost prohibitive. Depending on the degree to which you are ready to accept breakthroughs, bleed-throughs will either be perceived as a serious problem or something you are willing to tolerate.

Negative impact on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

In today’s dynamic and ever-changing world, there is a lot of content being generated every minute. Consequently, search engines have developed capabilities to assess and grade content for originality and impact. Search engines will likely detect content that is automatically generated and penalize that content, making it harder to find. Search engines do not impose the same consequences for content that is generated and localized by humans. Using proxy as your localization strategy for some markets might, therefore, lead to disappointing search results and further erode its ROI.

More costly than you think

In the long run, a proxy might prove to be costly to run. In addition to the frequent bleed-throughs of non-localized content, which requires intervention, there is a need to run a separate localization workflow to translate the marketing collateral that lives on your website. These conditions make Translation Proxy a highly unpredictable localization strategy in most setups.

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When Does a Translation Proxy Make Sense?

Translation Proxy is an interesting technology that can be an effective solution in several specific cases.

When you need to have market presence fast

Although relying on a Translation Proxy is not ideal, it can be a useful starting point for companies seeking to build their global and multilingual digital experiences within a week or two.

A Translation Proxy does not require set up on your website. However, the Proxy engine must be configured properly to pick up most of the content your users care about and keep bleed-throughs to a minimum. While this might seem like an enticing solution for companies just starting to localize their assets, it is important to understand the trade-offs of the Translation Proxy approach.

When you can’t make a full investment in a multilingual technology solution

The initial investment for a Translation Proxy is relatively small compared to the deployment of a full Translation Management System or a Content Management System. However, a Proxy takes you only so far. You will soon be required to make additional investments once you need to handle other marketing collateral or address bleed-throughs.

Costs associated with a Translation Proxy are highly unpredictable. What initially seemed like a cost-effective option will instead start to negatively impact your marketing or localization budgets as well as your customer experience. It’s important to look at the total cost of ownership rather than just the initial investment when comparing the costs of different alternatives.

When you need speed and your content is not highly visible

If parts of your website contain content that is low visibility and the prospect of bleed-throughs is not an issue, then a Translation Proxy might be a good solution to enable you to build your global digital experience quickly.

When you have simple, static websites

A Translation Proxy works best for simple static websites.

These sites have a central repository of content, there are no social media widgets and content is not pulled from multiple places. It is easy to map the site and localize all its assets—either by using Machine Translation on the fly or before using professional translators. However, today, most brands have a complex and sophisticated global digital experience and interact with their users via social media, e-commerce chatbots and other methods. These types of complex websites are not a good match for Translation Proxy technology.

How Can Translation Proxy Technology Inform Your Localization Strategy?

Translation Proxy technology is an interesting option that should be considered as part of your content and localization strategy. However, when evaluating your options, compare the total cost of ownership, not just the initial investment.

A Translation Proxy can be enticing for companies that have not engaged in long-term localization strategy planning or who are just beginning to formulate their localization strategy. However, be aware that a Translation Proxy might become significantly more expensive to run in the long term and pose other challenges due to its lack of scalability.

Translation Proxy: What’s the Final Analysis?

Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of a Translation Proxy, you’re in a better position to assess its value. Should you implement the technology? In most cases, the answer is a resounding no.

A Translation Proxy is not the best choice for the majority of businesses. In our experience, mid-market and large enterprises that are serious about capturing global digital sales typically forgo a Translation Proxy. The strategy is often short-lived by those businesses that do try it.

So, what is the alternative to a Translation Proxy? We most frequently recommend the deployment of a Content Management System (CMS) in conjunction with a strong LSP partner. That’s the way many mid-market and large enterprises handle their global e-commerce initiatives and find success doing so.

This may be an especially good option if you have already implemented a CMS that integrates with the LSP’s technology. Lionbridge’s commitment to integration allows retailers to streamline and speed up the translation process while working within their own CMS platform no matter what technology they use.

If you do opt to partner with an LSP, you can choose to work with a single vendor or multiple vendors. If you decide on the latter, you may need to implement a Translation Management System to manage all the vendors. This avenue can be costly, and it is one reason why working with a single LSP can be more advantageous. To learn more about the pros and cons of a multivendor strategy, read part one of our series.

Choosing to deploy a CMS and partnering with one LSP is a more mature solution to multilingual content management and localization than the implementation of a Translation Proxy. Although it takes longer to execute a multilingual CMS, it will be worth the effort. End users will have better customer experiences, companies will have predictable costs and the end result will likely be increased sales.

Get in touch

To learn more about localization strategies for your websites, reach out to us.

The Importance of Using Translation to Capture E-Commerce Sales

Offering product information and other content in a customer’s local market language greatly helps companies to capitalize on e-commerce sales, which are projected to reach $3.9 trillion globally in 2020, according to eMarketer.

Most people are more comfortable making decisions about their purchases when receiving information in their native tongue, according to CSA Research. An in-depth survey of 8,709 consumers in 29 countries found:

  • People generally do not buy what they don’t understand—39% of respondents suggest that they would only make purchases at websites or on apps that are in their own language.
  • Even the most skilled non-native English-speakers favor their own language by a wide margin—76% of respondents indicate that when they have a choice of buying two similar products, they are more likely to purchase the one that has product information in their own language.
  • Content in a consumer’s local tongue plays a critical role in converting people from browsers to customers—75% of consumers surveyed indicate they are more likely to purchase the same brand again if the post-sales support is in their own native language.

Source: “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy — B2C,” CSA Research, June 2020

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Kajetan Malinowski with Janette Mandell
Kajetan Malinowski with Janette Mandell