With the prevalence of mobile devices and sophisticated search engine algorithms that provide local search results, users are becoming more demanding to find content that is relevant to them. To target a specific audience, you may decide to translate some of your website’s content, but before making the mistake of rushing into finding a decent translator as I’ve seen so many, many companies do, create a strategy for coordinating translation and search engine optimization (SEO) to reach more users.
To effectively translate your website while optimizing it so that it is easily discoverable, you need to choose your translator wisely, and tweak the traditional translation process of print material.
1. Choose Your Translator Wisely
Before choosing a vendor, know the basics of the translation process and SEO so that you can gauge the expertise of your potential vendors. I’ve observed some translation agencies that charged extra for SEO services, but discovered that they merely sprinkled in a few keywords here and there in the body text.
The translation process can be quite complicated. Source: Traducta.com
- Know the difference between using a translation agency and a freelancer. Use an agency if you have a tight deadline and multiple target languages. Doing so will help you avoid the headache of having to scramble around for available translators at the last minute.
Another benefit is that agencies have engineers and desktop publishers who can handle complex file types such as INDs and XMLs, so if you have little technical expertise, you can let them set up an easy way to extract the source text or upload the translated content automatically to your website. Additionally, you wouldn’t have to worry about linguists who are not tech savvy and have difficulties with computer-assisted translations.
However, if you do not plan on uploading tons of content in many languages, and have technical capabilities, freelancers would be your best bet. You would have direct contact with them, which allows you to build a trusted and loyal relationship. Although it is possible to demand that the agency use the same linguist for all of your content, there is no guarantee that this will happen, and should the linguist’s relationship with the agency sour for reasons that have nothing to do with your own account, you will lose your precious translator.
Finally, hiring freelancers can be beneficial because there is a learning curve in SEO; the quality of the search engine optimized translation is likely to be much higher if you could repeatedly use linguists that you train instead of spreading basic instructions that will most likely be filtered through account managers, project managers, and other positions at the translation agencies before finally arriving to the linguists.
Translation Agency Benefits
Freelance Translator Benefits
Ability to build a relationship
Ability to handle complex file types
No need to train linguists on technical matters
- Automated translations are a definite no. Avoid using automated translations as they can be inaccurate (as shown in the image below). In addition, not only will they prevent you from including keywords for each target language, but they can also cause search engines to deem your website to have low quality, which will hurt your rankings, and undermine your credibility with users as well. With that said, automated translations between English and other European languages fare better than those between English and Asian languages.
Source: Gawker *Google has since fixed this error.
- Always use a native speaker while considering the target region. The target language should always be the native tongue of the linguist. Make sure you know exactly who you want your target audience to be so that you can localize your content for different regions. For example, just as “have you got maths today?” sounds foreign to American English speakers, so will variations of a language to different speakers. The following are some of the written languages and variations to be aware of: Chinese (traditional, simplified), French (France, Canada, Switzerland, various African regions), German (Germany, Switzerland), Portuguese (Portugal, Brazil), and Spanish (Spain, USA, various Latin American regions).
Localized content will also go hand-in-hand with keyword research for the targeted region. For example, consider the queries “zits” and “pimples,” and where the majority of the users are based. The data for the four charts below are from Google Trends.
“Cabello” and “pelo” are both Spanish words for “hair.” The main reason that the Portuguese-speaking countries appear on the chart for “pelo” is that the Portuguese word for it is “pêlo.”
2. Adjust the Process for Translating a Website From That of Translating Print Material
Beyond choosing the right partner, the secret to a successful website translation also includes the process you follow. Translating a website is not the same as translating text for print. Do not make the mistake of using the same development process since website content needs to be optimized for the search engines. Below are a few areas to consider in your website translation process:
- Use glossaries and translation memories as reference only. The traditional translation process for print material usually involves creating glossaries and translation memories to ensure consistency and save time and money so that translators don’t have to translate the same word and phrases over and over. However, this approach can be detrimental to translating a website because it is devoid of variations and synonyms, both of which are important in SEO. Keep in mind that just because a search engine recognizes that two English words are synonyms does not mean that it recognizes that their translations are synonyms; Google, for example, is much better at detecting synonyms in English than other languages. Create a glossary and translation memory, but use them for reference only— do not leverage either to automatically populate segments for new translations.
- Include keyword research. Check the traffic volume and competition for keywords for each target language, and customize the content accordingly. Google’s Keyword Planner is an excellent, free tool. Give the linguists a list of keywords for the original text, and ask them to provide their own in the target language. You may want to have the proofreader verify that the translator included the keywords by highlighting the keywords in the translated copy.
- Clarify the scope, and write detailed instructions to avoid misunderstandings. Take your time to write out clear instructions, and make sure the linguists understand them, no matter how urgent the task is. For example, if you forget to include the HTML title tag in the source text, you would have to circle back to the translators and proofreaders in different time zones for each language, as well as perhaps the development team, engineers, and project managers – all for just 70 characters of text. To optimize the webpages for enhanced visibility, include the following elements:
- URLs: Make sure you translate the URLs for all languages that use the Roman alphabet, while tweaking the text to include keywords in the target language. All letters should be in lowercase and all words separated by hyphens per standard SEO best practices.
- Title tag: In the image below, the red box indicates the title tag, which tells both search engines and users what the webpage is about. Long title tags are truncated when displayed in the search engine results pages, so have the most important idea appear within the first 70 characters as a rule of thumb. Experiment with languages that do not use the Roman alphabet; for example, Korean titles are typically truncated after 40 characters in Google.
- Meta description: In the image above, the meta description is indicated in the black box. It is usually pulled-in automatically by search engines to let users know what the page’s content is about in the search engine results page. It is, however, possible and beneficial to control the text that is displayed to attract users, and have them click on your link. Keep the character limitation 160 for languages that use the Roman alphabet, since the meta description gets truncated as shown in the previous image.
- Character limitations: In addition to meta tags, character limitations may be necessary for aesthetic reasons. Provide screenshots to the translators so that they have a better idea of the layout of the webpage and context for the translations.
- Alt tags: Alt tags tell search engines what the images are about. Because they are not plainly visible to most users, it is easy to forget about them in the source text for translation.
- Links: If possible, have all links direct users to pages in the same language as the target language. If you are not replacing the link from the original language, let the users know what language the webpage is in.
A Secret Worth Sharing
Successfully translating a website AND making it SEO-friendly can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Remember to choose your translation partner wisely, and incorporate SEO into your development process. Together, these two elements should greatly influence the outcome of your website translation efforts.