Website Translation and Localization on a Budget

Hello everyone, my name is Alex and I’m the Founder of Translation Cloud. We’ve just posted a video to YouTube on website localization on a budget.

Over the course of many years, we’ve worked with many different clients with different needs ranging from website localization to simple translation to complex, dynamic translation solutions. We therefore know that when it comes to planning for localization, budgeting should play a big role. But how do you budget for website translation?

As a business owner, the first thing you need to know is what technology your website runs on. It could be:

  • Plain HTML
  • A server-side language such as PHP or Python
  • A content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla
  • Or a framework such as CakePHP, CodeIgniter, Laravel, or Django

Certain translation solutions may work better for certain setups. In the table below, we’ve listed five different options which clients—small or large—can utilize for translating their websites:

Solutions Quality Speed Price Localization SEO Example
JavaScript (on the fly) Low Fast Free No No Bing Translator
PHP + JavaScript (memory) High Moderate $ Yes Yes ConveyThis.com
JavaScript + Proxy Low Fast $ No No EasyLing.com
FTP High Slow $$$ Yes Yes Translation Cloud
Excel High Low $$ Yes Yes Translation Services USA

An overview of website localization methods.

1. JavaScript Snippet (on the fly) — The technology is very low-tech, as all it requires is copying and pasting a small snippet of code, written in JavaScript, directly into your website’s template or the page where you want the translation button to appear.

This option will utilize machine translation to translate the page on demand. Machine translation, while improving, is still low-quality compared to a professional linguist. This is, however, an extremely fast approach because the translation is populated through machines, not humans, on the fly.

The price of these snippets is free, with services like Google, Bing, and Yandex Translate offering these snippets at no charge. The drawback is that it provides no search engine optimization (SEO); since the pages are created on demand, there is no possibility to cache them in the browser, server, or a database, and therefore search engines such as Google or Bing cannot discover your translated content, and your site will not benefit from them in terms of discoverability. This is not the way to get more search engine traffic, so if you are in ecommerce, this solution will not be sufficient for you to remain competitive.

Luckily, there are other options.

2. PHP + JavaScript (Memory) — This is a pretty viable alternative to the first option. It is similar, as it too involves an on-page javascript button for choosing languages, but with a translation memory capacity that can be plugged into with PHP and/or a database. This allows the plugin to create and store a cacheable, permanent translation of each page which can be crawled and indexed by search engines—very SEO fiendly.

The quality of this solution is considered high because it allows translators to go back and edit the translations to enhance their accuracy and generally perfect them. Compared to the first option, the speed is moderate because of the combined approach: the first iteration uses machine translation for a fast result; since this option involves human translators translating and proofreading the text for accuracy, it is a slower process.

The price is almost free—you only pay for the technology. If it’s a pay-as-you-go provider, you might even have a free option available for small sites; as you learn to work with the service, and as your website grows and you need more content translated, there are typically options for larger packages that provide more languages, translations, page views, and levels of support. Additionally, this option is good for localization, as you can make your translated text distinct to your targeted audience. A good example of this service is ConveyThis.com, which has been offering this hybrid service for quite some time.

3. JavaScript Proxy — The JavaScript Proxy method is an intermediary between your website and the translation. It works similarly to the way the JavaScript snippet method does, where you copy and paste a small bit of code into your site’s template. What the code then does is create a static, read-only version of that page, which it translates and then stores elsewhere, such as on the host server of the translation provider.

The quality is considered low, as it’s tied to machine translation and has low customizability. However, is a fast and moderately priced option, but the translations are not localizable. The static versionos of the pages are spiderable, though, and therefore search engine spiders can crawl, index, and bring more traffic to your site with the translated content.

4. FTP — This is a relatively common version that has been around since the beginning of the internet. FTP is familiar to any webmaster who has uploaded content to their website. Web browsers really only understand three basic technologies: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The rest is all handled by server-side languages such as PHP, Python, or ASP which are languages that are compiled on the web server into readable code that the browser can display and manipulate.

This is a very deep approach, but it is a fairly high budgeted option—this will essentially double your development time and costs. If you hired a freelancer or have your own IT staff that built your site, you will need to have them create a separate version of your site in whatever additional languages you need, then integrate and interlink those pages into the main site. Since you are dealing with the raw files which you then manually extract the source text from. This does produce a high quality result, but it is very slow and expensive as it is a very labor intensive process. Localization and SEO optimization are the strongest benefits of this option.

This is the way to go if you know what you’re doing. Many large companies, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, have their own in-house team for translating their content, often using crowdsourcing to get the translations directly from their own multilingual users. Consider services such as Translation Cloud, which will instruct your team how to get it done faster, better, and avoid problems down the road, in addition to providing the completed translations.

5. Excel — This is one of the easiest methods to implement. Working with a spreadsheet file allows you to employ someone with a low level of technical skills to copy your content into one column, and then add additional columns for each language. The spreadsheet can then be sent to as many translators as you need, and the original person can then match the source language with the translations and paste them back into the source files to create a translated version.

Speed is slow as the spreadsheet acts as an intermediary; everything must be copied and pasted twice for each snippet of content. Additionally, you need to keep track of all changes manually and ensure the translations stay up to date, which is tricky. However, it is highly localizable and SEO friendly. Translation agencies such as Translation Services USA can help you with this manual, but effective, method.

Which method is right for you?

If you are contemplating translating your website, but don’t know how to get started and don’t have enough resources to experiment with lots of options, the ConveyThis Plugin mentioned above is one of the better options, as it works with all kinds of CMS configurations including as WordPress and WooCommerce, and everything is customizable and SEO friendly. Its “freemium” approach means you don’t pay unless you grow and need more languages, more translations, or other resources.

If that doesn’t work, the next best option for a majority of sites is working directly with a translation agency like Translation Services USA. They are professionals and industry specialists who understand the process of translation, the process of communicating between you and your customers, they employ the best translators on the market, and understand all the intracies of transcreation, localization, and product testing to make sure the translation carries out the right meaning and your target audience will not be confused or offended by your translation.

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