Having to translate changing content into multiple languages and serve the right language to the right visitor is one of the most complex, time consuming and expensive tasks associated with developing and maintaining a website. Traditionally, there have been three options available to most marketers needing to translate their site:
- In House: Hire a translation team or pull from diverse resources across international offices. Hiring a team is obviously expensive and only makes sense if there’s enough content to keep such a team busy long term. Pulling from resources around the company is hard because website translation is a unique skill that goes way beyond just speaking another language, not to mention that coordinating such a team can be like herding cats.
- Outsource (Manual): Hire a company who logs into your CMS and enters translated content. If your CMS has workflow capability, updated content can be assigned to translators before being published. The tough part is that the outsourced staff need to know how to use your CMS, and do so without breaking your site. It can also significantly delay the publishing of new content.
- Outsource (Automated): Hire a company for translation and automate the push and pull of content to and from your CMS via an automated workflow integration. This can be tricky and expensive to set up, and usually requires some level of development investment on your part.
All three of these options require your web site to manage storage of multiple languages, workflow, juggling lots of users in the CMS, handling visitor language preference and the complexities of international SEO.
Enter a fourth option that has emerged more recently: Proxy Translation. Here, the translation company provides a fully managed service that acts as a front door to your website. The service intercepts requests and serves either translated content it provides or the untranslated content from the default language on your web site based on the visitor’s language preference or location.
Benefits of Proxy Translation
The benefits of proxy translation are many. Not all providers offer all of these options, but the following gives you a sense of what is possible with many of these services.
Your website remains relatively oblivious to the translation
The most important benefit of these services is that your website does not have to support the content management, workflow integration, SEO or visitor preference redirects normally associated with a multi-language website. That can mean a huge savings in development and time-to-market for a new site, and reduced total cost of ownership for a much simpler web site.
Culture prefixes or country domains
You can decide whether your translated content is served up as culture prefixes (domain.com/en-us/home) or country domains (domain.com vs. domain.es). The proxy nature of these services allows them to reroute your existing content to work alongside translated content without having to restructure your website.
The translation service knows automatically when content in your default language has been changed or added and creates a task to translate the new content. Once complete, the translated content is available via the proxy service without any updates required to the source website.
The SEO side of a multi-language website gets complicated fast. You need to use canonicals in order to avoid duplicate content penalties and make sure your site map ties translated versions of pages together the right way. Not having to worry about this on your website is another big advantage of a proxy service.
When Proxy Translation Doesn’t Fit
As good as it sounds, proxy translation isn’t a good fit for every scenario. Here are some scenarios where you might not want to consider proxy translation.
Your International Content is Structurally Different
Because of the way it works, proxy translation will not be able to serve up very different content based on the translation. If your group in France wants a substantially different site map from the US site, proxy translation will not make them happy. Think of proxy translation as a 1-1 translation of the content found on your default language website. Most vendors offer page-level exceptions, but this may become unmanageable at a certain level.
Your International Content has Functional Implications
If your website has functionality – interactive stuff beyond basic web content – and that functionality behaves differently based on location or language, proxy translation will probably not be able to handle it. For example, if you run an ecommerce site and need to show different product mixes, pricing, or options based on country, you’re going to have to build that into your website.
Because your content is being translated, stored and served off site, you don’t have it, and taking it with you may not be as easy as you’d like. While vendors may tell you they can export and provide translated content if you want to take things in house down the road, be sure to vet that claim with a customer who’s done it if doing this is part of your long term plan.
To summarize, if your website is complicated, chances are you’re going to struggle with proxy translation. It’s best suited to relatively simple content sites.
Not All Providers are Equal
As with any service, finding a good provider that does it right is absolutely key. Some proxy translation services simply provide the technical solution and either outsource or expect you to provide the translation and associated project management. Others use automated translation, which is akin to Google Translate. Proxy translation is a complicated product, so you won’t get the same features, capabilities and reliability from every provider. Make sure you take a look at several sites the company has done and talk to a few of their customers about the experience.
Proxy translation is a great solution for many scenarios, allowing you to focus on your default language website while leaving the technical details of serving multi-language content to professionals. It’s an easy and potentially inexpensive way to add languages to your site. Just make sure you understand the limitations and think about your plans 2-3 years out before pulling the trigger.