The World Wide Web was originally mostly a tool for the Western world and English speaking people. That's been rapidly changing in recent years; English will soon no longer be the predominant primary language of Internet users and web page translation is becoming a increasingly important strategy in web site marketing.
While over 350 million people speak English as their first language and it's estimated somewhere around the same have English as a second language (and to varying degrees of proficiency); given that the global Internet population is now over 1 billion and rapidly climbing in Non-English speaking regions; that's a huge number of people and potential customers who may not be able to read your site. It's interesting to note that as of the end of 2006; Asia had more Internet users than the USA!
Search engines and translated pages
Here's something you might not have considered and perhaps a very important motivator for having your web site translated into different languages.
If you translate a page into a different language; search engines see it as a totally separate page; so it's another ticket in the search engine lottery. Your 20 page site translated into 7 languages suddenly becomes a 140 page site casting a net to a broader audience.
Types of web page translation options
There's all sorts of options available to site owners for translating web pages into different languages and some of them are totally free to use. Each option has it's positive and negative aspects.
3rd party automated language translation
If you would like to provide a translated version of your page as more of a convenience rather than as a search engine marketing strategy; it's quite easy to do - and free! Babel Fish is a service provided by Alta Vista and easily done by copying a pasting a single line of code into a page you wish to offer translation of:
And there you have it - this page is now available in 8 languages - Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Portugese and Spanish and with a few seconds work; I've now made the content of this article more available to millions of people who might not have otherwise been able to read it. By the way, if you use the above translator for Chinese, Japanese and Korean versions of this page and you see lots of "来" characters; that's because your computer doesn't have the relevant character set for the language installed.
By simply pasting that code into a common navigation element on your site; such as the header, footer, right or left menu areas; you'll have set and forget language translation services for all your web pages.
Another great new service that incorporates BabelFish and other popular online translators is ConveyThis. Give it a try:
There's a couple of issues with these automated translation options to bear in mind:
a) It doesn't create new pages on my site; the translation occurs on the Babel Fish site; so there's no search engine benefit.
b) Language translation is a tricky business, and translating from one language to another is really a case of "humans do it better". The same word can have different meanings in different contexts which may be beyond an automated translation engine's capabilities. A machine doesn't understand all the nuances and flow of a particular language and in some cases automated translation can give you quite a different result to what you'd have if a native speaker had translated the page for you. In some cases the translation can be quite hilarious.
c) The language options are limited. Perhaps your goods and services would be more attractive to another market; e.g. Indonesia.
d) The on the fly translation can really mess up the way your page looks in the translated version :).
While the services offered by Babel Fish/ConveyThis are great given they are free; see it more as a convenience for some of your visitors rather than as a solution and use it knowing that the translated versions of your pages that it creates won't be polished.
Specialist languages translation services
Many language translation companies have sprung up in recent years; offering to translate web pages on a per word or per page basis. Like any service industry, there's quality companies and hacks in amongst them.
When considering a company to use; take a look at their client lists for well known organizations. Where possible, contact those companies for affirmation of the quality of service provided. Also establish that translations are carried out totally by native speakers rather than machine.
Here's a couple of services that you may wish to consider: Corporate Translation Services and Lengua Translations. Both are well established companies offering certified native language translator services in many languages.
Using freelance services for web page translation.
This *can* be a cheaper way to go. Using freelance marketplace services such as Elance, you can post translation projects for free and then service providers will bid on the work. Be sure to check out the bidder's credentials.
One of the advantages of using a freelancer is that you can build up a relationship with that person. The translator will become accustomed to your writing style and business; which can make for better copy. Added to that, they may also be able to assist you with inquiries you receive in the chosen language and assist with responses. Freelancers love ongoing work and if you make mention of this possibility, you'll likely get a better price. If you use a service such as Elance as a go-between; it will also provide you with added protection.
Cutting costs of paid translation services
Given that this will be an investment on your part; you'll need to think carefully about what language you'll translate your pages into.
If your budget allows for X pages; then perhaps an initial trial would be wise. Create a page in English that summarizes your company, products and services and then have that translated into multiple languages rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.
If you start receiving responses on a particular language, then flesh out the number of pages offered in that language.
While English may not be the primary language of most of the world's people; it is a secondary language for many. Non-English speakers may search in their native language and once on your site; they may still be able to understand your English pages. Think of this as a type of landing page strategy.
If your budget only allows for a single page in a few languages, then perhaps combine it with something like the free plugin automated translation service mentioned earlier in this article.
Responding to foreign language inquiries
This is where it can get a little tricky or perhaps expensive; so you'll need to be creative if you have a limited budget and don't have a translator on tap.
Let's envision a scenario where suddenly you're getting inquiries in Chinese. My Chinese is somewhat lacking (read totally non-existent); so how would I read or respond to these inquiries?
Firstly, to read the inquiry, I would probably use a free online translation service to get the gist of what's being asked. Alternatively, there's some very good desktop language translation software packages available, such as Babylon 6; which is a very economical option. Babylon 6 is an intuitive translation and dictionary software in over 50 languages. It's very simple to use; you just click on any text you want to translate in Word, Excel, emails, instant messaging, web pages and other desktop applications, and a small window instantly appears with the results.
As part of having your pages translated; allow some budget for boilerplate text. I suggest one template should be an FAQ; and be sure to have another template that states something along the lines of:
"Thanks for your inquiry; please excuse my poor Chinese - it is not my native language. I will address your question in English below, but here's a link to an online translation service where you can translate it back into Chinese"
I've carried out a few successful conversations in this manner over the years. The important point is to immediately identify the fact that the clients' language is not your primary language so that they know from the outset that you're not illiterate :)
Another approach could be to try and enlist the services of your friends, associates and perhaps even existing clients in other countries whom you are really familiar with to assist you during this trial phase.
Of course, these aren't the best or most professional solutions for breaking into foreign markets and gaining added search engine presence in those counties. I offer them as strategies for perhaps getting your foot in the door on a very limited budget and gaining some added presence in countries where English is not the primary language.
If you do find there's some indication of a positive response to your trial; then you can make further investment in page translation :).
In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.
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