Best Way to Translate a Website: How to Choose the Best Website Translation Method

You’re planning to initiate a professional website translation project with your language service provider. So what is the best way to translate your website?

The four ways to approach translating your website are:

Keep in mind that the method you select will also define key processes and functionalities within your localization project workflow. So you’ll want to weigh your options carefully to choose the one that best meets your project needs and business requirements.

Choosing the right website translation method: Key issues to consider

Deciding on the best approach for you and your business depends on several factors. As you explore your options, you may find it helpful to keep your answers to some of these questions in mind:

  • Do you create, review, and approve your source-language content directly within your CMS platform, or do you use Microsoft Word or Excel to route content?
  • Are there others in your company who will manage the website localization process with your LSP, or is that a new responsibility for your team?
  • What is the typical update cadence for your website’s main content types?
  • How quickly are you required to publish those updates once you’ve received the requests?
  • Is it necessary that your translated content goes live simultaneously across multiple language sites?
  • Is your CMS a candidate for integrating with your LSP’s translation management system via integration technology?
  • To what extent can your CMS be described as having multilingual content management capabilities? (True multilingual content management means more than supporting the Unicode* standard. It includes the ability to synchronize the same content across a multitude of languages—among other key functionalities.)

Note: Overview descriptions of the methodologies described below represent industry best practices where applicable, but LSP solutions will vary.

*The Unicode standard: According to the Unicode Consortium, “Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the program, no matter what the language.”

CMS integration technology

What is it?

Available for many prominent CMSs, integration technologies integrate with your CMS system to enable you to select and transfer content to your LSP for translation. By automating source- and target-language file transfers to and from your LSP’s translation management system, CMS integration solutions help you streamline workflows and boost efficiencies.

How does it work?

Some integration technology platforms are quite robust, enabling users to automate the selection, transfer, retrieval, and monitoring of content for localization from within your multilingual WCMS itself. And industry-leading integration solutions typically serve up unique user interfaces (UIs) in the same environment you use to write content about a new product, for example.

CMS translation integration technology is typically configured in one of two ways (or a combination of the two). Plug-in-based or middleware-brokered technologies primarily differ based on where the business logic for the integration software is hosted. Plug-in-based solutions reside as extensions within your CMS, whereas middleware-brokered versions live outside your CMS—yet interact with your content in a variety of ways.

CMS Integration Diagram

When the content you want localized is ready, you simply select it and send it for translation from the integration software’s unique UI—which automatically transfers it to your LSP’s translation management system. Then, once it’s been localized and reviewed, your translated content is transferred from your LSP’s system to its proper location in your multilingual WCMS. From there it can be pushed live to a production server to be accessed by site visitors via their chosen channel—and in their preferred language.

How do I know if it’s right for me?

CMS integration technology is particularly helpful if you’re managing medium-to-large deployments with several multilingual websites and lots of dynamic content. It’s also useful for organizations requiring rapid time-to-market and frequent, immediate site updates—as well as environments with multiple content owners, contributors, editors, and stakeholders. If your system is optimized for multilingual translation workflows, ask your LSP if you can connect directly to their translation management system via CMS integration.

What else do I need to know?

It’s a highly automated approach that facilitates the creation of efficient, multilingual web presences—while enabling in-context layout and asset reviews for you and in-country staff via a staging server. CMS integration vendor capabilities will vary, so you’ll want to do some research to make sure your solution is secure, scalable, and reliable. Also, think neutral. Stay away from solutions that lock you into working with a single provider or technology. Vendor lock-in due to technology integration can make switching to a new provider an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

Additional information on CMS translation integrations:

Translation proxy technology

What is it?

Translation proxy server technology is a cloud-based approach that enables LSPs to easily create and manage globally consistent websites in any language. The translation proxy server sits between your main website and global audiences. Traffic from your localized sites is routed through the translation proxy when site visitors request pages in other languages. All target-language translations are hosted on these proxy sites—while your source language content remains on your main site.

How does it work?

The LSP’s translation proxy server software “scrapes,” or “crawls,” your main website (much like a search engine), ingesting strings of text and XML/HTML page code. The strings are queued for localization in the LSP’s translation management system and the text strings are localized by a professional translator. (You can also choose other translation methods such as machine translation with human post-editing.) The files are cached with the corresponding localized versions replacing the original page source text. The process is replicated periodically to update local sites when edits are made to the main site.

Translation Proxy Diagram

Traffic from your local site is routed through the translation proxy, which is essentially a software layer that sits between your global visitors’ sites and your main or “source” language site. As visitors browse your multilingual proxied sites, page requests are routed back to the source site. Source-language content is then seamlessly replaced by previously translated target-language content as it passes back through the proxy.

How do I know if it’s right for me?

Translation proxy is best suited for companies that want to go global with standardized, relatively non-dynamic site content that changes frequently. It’s also particularly helpful when your CMS doesn’t support multilingual content. And unlike other website translation methods, content text and presentation-template text can be localized together in one place. (After being identified when changes are made to the source site.) Proxy technology also leverages your current site functionality. It doesn’t require your IT team’s on-going support and is fully hosted in a high availability, secure data center.

What else do I need to know?

This is one of the most hands-off approaches. It accelerates time-to-market and enables multilingual site translation or localization with very minimal design, development, or management responsibilities on your part. And reviewers get in-context views of localized text. But generally, no changes can be made to localized sites without first making them to the source, or main site. (Local sites are mirrored versions, so little to no customization is possible.) To ensure multisite content integrity, technical processes for content updates must be closely managed by your LSP. Expect a monthly service fee from your provider for site hosting.

Manual file transfer

What is it?

Manual transfer of files for translation—from your CMS database to your professional translation vendor—is often regarded as a traditional approach to website localization. There are no automated elements associated with this decidedly low-tech method of working.

How does it work?

This entails manually transferring XML or HTML files back and forth between you and your LSP. If your content is stored in a database, then it would be exported as CSV (comma-separated value, a common import/export file format for databases and other applications), XML, or other file format. In rare cases when a CMS has no export functionality, files can be shared by copying and pasting strings of code into (and out of) Word or Excel documents.

Manual File Transfer_V4-01

Manually transferring files to your LSP is the most labor-intensive and error-prone approach to website translation services. For this method, you copy and paste files to be translated from your CMS into a Word or Excel doc and email or ftp them to your LSP. Translated files are sent back from your LSP the same way—requiring that you cut and paste strings of code from the documents (for various web pages and target languages) back into your CMS system for review and publishing.

How do I know if it’s right for me?

Traditional file transfer may be suitable if your site is based on a home-grown* CMS that doesn’t support languages other than English—or if you simply aren’t ready to invest in more automated methods. It also might be employed if your site is small with relatively static content and infrequent updates. Or if you’re localizing for just one or two global sites, and time-to-market isn’t of particular concern.

*“Home-grown” generally refers to a system that is custom built, uses technology not designed to manage or store content, or is a heavily modified version of a commonly marketed CMS.

What else do I need to know?

Manually copying and pasting strings of code—for every page and target language—is time- and labor-intensive. And the human factor can result in a higher rate of errors than other website translation methods. (Use of headlines and other formatting should be carefully considered to avoid copy/paste errors with languages other than your own.) However, some freelance translators, agencies, and internal stakeholders prefer working with Microsoft Word or Excel copy decks rather than directly with XML/HTML files.

Outsourced global website operations

What is it?

Global website operations is a comprehensive solution that enables you to completely outsource the management of all your multilingual global sites. Depending on your unique requirements, this model may include a range of translation and localization, strategic global marketing, content creation, publishing, creative services, and more—up to, and including, full operational responsibility for your brand’s international web presence.

How does it work?

With this approach, your LSP assumes responsibility for managing all of your global websites—and digital marketing campaigns, as required—from content creation through go-live and distribution. How do you benefit? By reducing or eliminating the need for digital marketing, web development and publishing, IT, design, and content-creation staff. And, perhaps more importantly, by being able to shift resources toward business innovation, planning, and other initiatives.

Global Web Operations Diagram

With this end-to-end approach, your LSP generally handles all processes associated with global website and campaign management. Depending on your LSP’s capabilities, this solution may deliver a full suite of creative, marketing, and localization services—and is generally geared toward medium-to-large-sized international organizations. Perhaps the largest benefit of this translation and localization method is that your company’s marketing, IT, web, and other teams need not be staffed to manage multilingual sites or campaigns.

How do I know if it’s right for me?

This website operations model can be the best fit for medium-sized businesses or larger enterprises whose digital marketing and web development and publishing teams aren’t staffed to effectively produce and maintain multilingual sites or global campaigns. Global website operations may also be an appropriate solution for your business if you:

  • have large, content-rich sites and multiple local teams with a range of marketing needs;
  • are undergoing website redesign or transitioning to a new CMS or other technologies; or
  • are looking for a flexible, deployment-only, web-publishing model.

What else do I need to know?

Global website operations solutions are most often provided by the industry’s larger, more established LSPs. Because only these select organizations can deliver the language, cultural, strategic marketing, and technical expertise required to completely manage your multilingual sites and campaigns—while helping to ensure that you meet your international e-business goals.

> Choosing the right website translation method is just one of several ways to ensure the success of your company’s multilingual localization projects. Discover more valuable best practices—download the comprehensive new ebook, The Definitive Guide to Website Translation.