Note: This post mentions and recommends third-party tools. I receive no commissions for these recommendations, and my recommendations are purely based on my personal experience.
Do I really need to translate my website?
One of the best things about the Internet is that it doesn’t have borders. Yes… we still have to keep in mind local laws and regulations such as data privacy, sales tax, and in some cases government-sanctioned censorship, but for the most part, your website can be accessed by anyone in the world. According to DataReportal, almost 62% of the world’s population had access to the Internet as of October 2021. That’s 4.88 billion people!
“Sure, that’s great…but I only work with people in my city or country,” you’re thinking. So let’s take a look at the United States. According to Babbel in May 2020, here is the breakdown of languages spoken in the United States by number of native speakers:
- English – 254 million
- Spanish – 43.2 million
- Chinese (incl. Cantonese, Mandarin, and other varieties) – 2.9 million
- Tagalog – 1.6 million
- Vietnamese – 1.4 million
- French & French Creole – 1.28 million
So if you only have your website available in English, you are potentially missing out on communicating with 50.38 million people. Sure, the majority of them probably also speak English… but having your information also available in their native language speaks volumes to your potential customers (as long as it’s translated properly).
What are my options?
By now I may have you convinced that offering your website in at least one other language could be of benefit to you and your business. But how do you accomplish this and also avoid making some major translation mistakes that could impact your brand’s reputation?
As you’ve probably seen from a simple Google search, there are multiple methods and technologies to translate a website with a wide variety of translation quality. These methods can also have a major impact on your website’s SEO in the translated languages.
Based on my experience, the most accurate and expensive method of translating is hiring human translators and the least accurate and cheapest method of translating is a free machine translation. There are pros and cons to all options, but I’ve found that a middle ground is the best path forward for most organizations.
What do you recommend for WordPress websites?
The free Google Translate
widget that you see embedded on a lot of websites is a machine translation
that translates the text of a page on the fly. Search engines cannot crawl this translated
content, and therefore your translated content is not searchable in other languages. You have no control over the types of languages that are available in the widget, and you also have no control over the translations.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could hire a translation service to translate every word of your website into your desired languages. This type of model usually charges per word, per language, and it can get very expensive. However, if you are in a very specialized industry that requires a high quality of translations (e.g. a lawyer or a physician’s office) then this may be an option that you want to consider. A lot of the options offered by this method will enable your site to be SEO optimized in other languages.
The best middle ground that I have found is offered via the GTranslate plugin
with the Custom plan or higher. This translation
technology for websites is actually powered by Google Translate, but it offers a lot more features beyond machine translations. GTranslate layers on the following features, which enhance the quality and SEO of your translations:
– Neural translations (this is like a middle ground between human and machine translations)
– Ability to edit translations (e.g. if you don’t like the way a word is translated, you can manually go in and change it)
– Search engine indexing, language hosting, URL translation (all features that benefit SEO in other languages)
To summarize, here are the questions I would ask myself if I were considering website translation:
- What languages is my target audience speaking?
- What quality of translation do I need for my site and how much am I willing to pay?
- How much control do I want over the translations?
- Do I want my site to be visible on search engines in other languages?
Hopefully this post has helped point you in the right direct, but if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.