Website translation and localization are essential services for companies and individuals looking to market and sell their products (or services) in an increasingly connected world. There are hardly any “national markets” any longer, and the growing number of startups in Europe and the US is proving that a good idea, some investment, and good execution can reach the world very quickly. But translating a website, if you ever tried, is challenging and very time consuming (in the wrong hands).
Nevertheless, website translation and website localization are so essential to a company’s business that it becomes a priority from day 1. Companies can take positive steps to ease the translation process by adequately preparing their websites for localization.
Website localization goes beyond simply translating a website. It includes some technical areas and website management, SEO research, and text optimization. Your “translation” may not reflect the original, but a good localizer will make it effective. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to facilitate effective localization and make the easy transition from a monolingual website to a multilingual website.
1. Choose a multilingual or multisite strategy
This is a key decision that will affect the whole of your website translation and website localization strategy. If you decide on a multisite, you need to purchase your site’s name and secure it in different countries to make it more “local” and relevant to readers. See http://www.cocacola.es/, which is the Spanish website of this famous brand. They bought the local .es domain to address their Spanish audience. We have Pangeanic.es to address specific issues of Spanish-speaking companies that need international translation services. Check out www.sony.de as another example of a multisite strategy.
But type panasonic.de and you will be re-directed to http://www.panasonic.com/de/consumer.html. This is the root site (.com) which then tells search engines you have a specific section for German speakers (/de/). This is a multilingual site, that is to say, one site with several language options. In theory, both strategies are fine for SEO and ranking, but there are some advantages to having multiple sites, as search results will make you appear more local and relevant to the country in question. Also, in a general backlink strategy, multisites can provide a number of quality links. The disadvantage is that you need to purchase and maintain several domains, which may differ over time.
A multilingual strategy often forces you to publish almost simultaneously in several languages in order to maintain a coherent structure, but it is much easier to manage. If you are targeting different countries that share the same language, make sure to tell Google that content is "canonical" in order to avoid search engines penalizing all your sites for duplicating content. Pangeanic has two English sites for the US and the UK and we have to tell Google that although the content is identical, each site is directed (with different spellings) to different countries. Lastly, adding hreflang attributes and markup to your sitemap will help Google know which of your websites corresponds to which language and country.
2. Use a Content Management System (CMS) with multilingual capabilities
A good CMS will streamline the website localization process. However, not all CMSs are the same. Consider the markets and languages that are important to you and make sure your CMS supports all of them, including right-to-left languages (Arabic, Hebrew). Check compatibility with Indian languages if India is going to be key for you, and double-bit Asian scripts like Japanese, Chinese and Korean. The CMS you choose should also be flexible when it comes to source languages. Sooner or later, you may find comments and relevant content coming from different languages that need to be translated into the main language.
How will you deal with comments, reviews, or entries in a different language? For me, the most important single aspect is seamless and powerful API capabilities. CMS software designers work in the knowledge that their users will come from countries all over the world like Turkey, the US, Poland or Egypt, and that users will need to manage multilingual content.
Therefore, a CMS that already takes translations into account and has a translation API will make it easy to pull monolingual content and publish it in several languages using your translation company’s translation management system (TMS). You may include machine translation solutions to enable a first draft or to publish non-essential documents. In short, any solution that works without the need to copy and paste text or files between systems manually is good.
3. Define a clear keyword strategy and plan Search Engine Optimization (SEO)Many website localization processes are delayed in time, causing a great deal of frustration because decision-makers only decide on multilingual SEO once translating the website has finished. This is a huge planning mistake. Any doctor will tell you that it is better to prevent than to cure. Effective multilingual SEO requires several actions from your web developers. So please never forget:
- Keyword research - Even countries sharing the same language tend to use different words to refer to the same thing. It is OK if you are looking for information on Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, but terms like rubber or eraser mean very different things in the US and the UK. Latin American countries do not search for information in the same way as European Spanish speakers. A bunch of good keywords for the UK, France or Spain may not be successful in the US, Canada or some Latin American countries, not to mention Portugal and Brazil.
- Remember the different engines in different regions. Google is king in the West, but Yandex is still the preferred search engine in Russia and it is becoming popular in other countries, like Turkey. Baidu is the indisputable search king in China. Also, focusing your strategy on Google may make you disappear from Yahoo or Bing results. Yahoo is still a very respected engine and service in Japan, whereas Google’s privacy issues are viewed with suspicion in a country where privacy is a very big deal.
- Monitor search engine updates. All search engines try to improve and update their search algorithms. It is true that good content and friendly design are key and will never go out of fashion, but some periodic SEO strategy updates are necessary to maintain a healthy ranking.