The 10 commandments of website translation
The 10 commandments of website translation are like any other rule of thumb – often ignored. When translating a website, however, it is always better to stick to these rules in order to ensure that the translation achieves its purpose, which is to increase traffic to your website and improve your company’s reputation.
1. Start planning your website translation early
Consider the languages into which you wish to eventually have your website translated already when ordering the website and putting together its content. Ask your web developer if the website enables the text to be imported or exported automatically. If automated text importing/exporting is not possible, be ready for additional expenses related to the insertion of the translations. If you are planning to have your website translated into multiple languages, but you have not hired a dedicated website manager, then you should choose a website platform that offers easy translation management and supports automated text exporting and importing.
2. Choose a domain that is suitable for the foreign market
If your plan is to only introduce your business to Estonian clients and have your website translated into English and Russian then, for example, a domain with the .ee extension, where other languages are displayed at a URL such as domainname.ee/en or domainname.ee/ru, will do just fine. However, if your ambition is to make your mark on foreign markets as well, it is a good idea to register a foreign domain extension or an entirely different domain name. For example, in Estonia, Transly Translation Agency uses the domain name toimetaja.eu, while our foreign-language website versions are registered at transly.eu, transly.ru, transly.fi and transly.fr. You can check the availability of your preferred domain names or extensions from various databases, such as Veebimajutus and Zone.
3. Select a font that supports the alphabet or font type
If you have decided to have your website translated into languages which use the Latin alphabet, such as English, Finnish, Norwegian, German, French, Spanish, etc., you should choose a font that looks good in it. However, if – like many Estonian companies – you would also like to have a Russian-language version of your website, you should pick a font that also supports the Cyrillic alphabet, ideally already during the web design stage. Otherwise, some Cyrillic characters may be replaced with symbols on your site, making your Russian texts illegible, in which case you will need to change your font to get the Russian translation working.
If you are planning to have your website translated into Russian at some point in the future, choose a font that also supports Cyrillic.
4. Adapt your web texts to the foreign market
Before ordering a website translation, determine which pages, posts or products you would like to have translated. If necessary, make suitable changes in the original texts. For example, if your homepage says that your goods are delivered within 48 hours in Sweden, then for a Finnish translation you should adapt the text to offer meaningful information to Finnish customers. When ordering a website translation from a translation agency, you should include information on how you would like units of measurement to be localised and whether you prefer the formal or informal form of ‘you’ to be used in the translation. For example, while in Estonian, addressing website visitors using the informal form of ‘you’ is common, on Russian websites it is entirely inappropriate.
5. Provide some context for your product or service
If your product or service is innovative, the translator may not understand it fully, if no such product or technology is yet available in their country. Therefore, you should always try to make the benefits of your new product or service clear to both your potential customers as well as your translator and editor. To do that, prepare a guide in which you describe your product or service in detail. If you have any videos about the product, we recommend including these in the guide as well. Also, don’t forget to explain any acronyms and abbreviations to the translation provider.
6. Avoid copying your website content manually
The most common way of translating a website is by copying and pasting the texts manually into a text editor. However, it is much more efficient to use automated exporting for preparing your original texts and automated importing for inserting the finished translations. Copying the texts manually from your website means that someone will have to insert the translations manually into the site as well. This can be extremely time-consuming and may also prove quite costly – especially if you need to order the insertion as an additional service. Depending on the size of your website, manual text insertion may take several days. Additionally, it can lead to a number of mistakes if the person responsible for the data entry is not proficient in the language of the translation.
Copying website texts manually to order a translation is outdated
7. Avoid using text in your images
Text on banners and in images looks great and both designers and web developers love it, but when it comes to translation this is a relatively impractical solution. This is particularly true if you need to have your website translated into multiple languages, as it means that the text in the image needs to be translated and then inserted into the image, which is both time-consuming and costly. Unfortunately, many website owners fail to realise this until they have already commissioned elaborate images with embedded text from designers, and it turns out they need to be in five more languages.
8. Avoid using flag icons in menus
Our mother tongue at Transly is Estonian – a small and singular language, for the most part only spoken in Estonia. For speakers of small, uniform languages like ours, it can sometimes be easy to forget that that the particularities of language use vary immensely among countries and cultures. In Spain, for example, Galician, Catalan and Basque are also widely spoken. In addition, Spanish is also spoken in Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador and many other countries. This means that when a Colombian visits your website, it might not be so obvious that in order to read about you in their native language – Spanish – they need to click the icon depicting the flag of Spain, not Colombia. For that reason, it is better to list languages in your menu in the respective language (suomi, English, Deutsch) or using the official language code (FI, EN, DE). The language selection menu should be easy to find – it is usually placed in the top right corner of the website. For more information on flag icons, see our blog post How to use flag icons when translating your website.
9. Edit and test your web content for suitability
To err is human, and even the best translators sometimes make mistakes. That is why any website translation service should also include editing. Editing helps make your website texts flawless and natural. It is also a good idea to test your website translations in desktop browsers and smart devices, because the same text in different languages can vary in length, which means that sometimes achieving the best text layout requires phrasing things differently. For more information on what makes edited translations better, see our blog post Edited translation or unedited translation – that is the question.
10. Order your website translation from a professional translation agency
The translator, editor and tester of your website should always be native speakers of the target language. Instead of trusting your website translations to a colleague or friend that speaks the language but has never translated before, use a professional translation agency that handles website translations daily and whose translators and editors have received a specialised higher education. In addition to a team of skilled translators, many translation agencies also use translation software that helps make the website translation process smoother and more systematic. Translation agencies also create a translation memory and term base for translation projects.
Through doing so, translation software also makes it easier to expand your website in the future, as all previous translations will be retained in the translation memory. Always ask your translation provider about the possibilities of using translation software before ordering a website translation. For more information on the advantages of using translation software, see our blog post Tõlkimine ja tõlketarkvara. Some translation agencies also offer keyword analysis services for target language keywords to maximise the visibility of your website in foreign-language search results. For more information on website optimisation, see our article Kodulehe tõlkimine ja optimeerimine.
Following these 10 commandments will ensure a smooth and successful website translation project and make your website translations work for you!