Buying translations

How to get your website professionally translated

Businesswoman works on a website on her laptop

A website is the digital calling card of a business. So a professional website translation, produced by a translation agency, is essential. But how does the process work, what options are there, and which issues should you think about in advance? MEINRAD gives you an overview of fully automated, semi-automated and manual workflows.

“We’d like to get our website translated” is often the first message sent to translation agencies when a business has made the decision to publish their website in multiple languages. But before the translators can begin their work, a number of technical issues need to be clarified. Simply giving the agency a link isn’t enough, unfortunately – at least not always. As the client, you should know in advance how you’re going to send the website content to the agency and then incorporate the translated texts into your content management system (CMS). There are three main workflows for professional website translations:

  • Manual workflows: The translators work in the respective CMS itself or with HTML pages, and the content is manually copied back into the CMS
  • Semi-automated workflows: Content is exported manually using file exchange formats (e.g. XLIFF) from the CMS and imported back into it
  • Fully automated workflows: Your CMS is connected to the translation agency’s systems or proxy solutions, and files are exchanged automatically

The common methods of professional website translation

Translating in the CMS itself

At first glance, this seems like a good idea: simply get the translator to work in the CMS itself, and your website is ready to go in the target language. But a closer look will make clear the various drawbacks of this option. Translating in the CMS rather than in the CAT tool, as normal, means that translation memories and term bases can’t be used – and there’s no way to carry out a detailed analysis either. As a result, translations aren’t saved anywhere and they’re invoiced by the hour rather than by word count. Another major disadvantage is the risk of a translator accidentally causing serious damage to the website: if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, it’s easy to make a mistake, and even small mistakes can take a long time to identify and fix. So this option is only worth considering if your website is to be translated by your in-house staff.

Translating the HTML files

Whichever system you use to create and manage a website, ultimately it will consist of HTML pages, and they can also be used for the translation. In fact, all you need to do is tell the translation agency the website URL – their technical experts can then use special crawler software to scan the website, download all the webpages in HTML format, and translate the content. You’ll then get the translated pages back in the same format. It means either you or the agency which maintains your website will have to copy the translated content manually into the system (double-clicking opens the page in a browser so that the text can be highlighted and copied). So a manual workflow like this is best suited to smaller websites, or static websites where the content is not expected to be updated regularly. This method is also ideal for an initial cost estimate, even if you later decide to use a different method, as there’s no need to export any files from the CMS in order to get a quote.

Exporting from / importing to the CMS

This approach involves exporting the files to be translated from the CMS, for example in XLIFF format, and sending them to the translation agency. Once they’ve been translated, you’ll get the translated XLIFF files back and can import them into your CMS. It keeps your workload fairly low, and it also reduces the risk of errors that can occur when manually inserting translations. Most CMSs now give you the option to export files, though you may need to install an additional plug-in first – with WordPress, for example, you’ll need WPML. If you choose this option, it’s important that you know exactly what needs to be translated and that you export the right content. After all, the agency can only translate the text actually contained in the files you send them. And remember that menus, metadata and keywords can sometimes be “hidden”.

API integration

API integration is more or less the premium option for website translations. It stands for Application Programming Interface, and the main benefit of API integration is that it simplifies the process of ordering translations. You don’t have to leave your CMS to do it, and large amounts of content, or newly added content, can be translated and delivered more quickly. The way it works is that the content to be translated is encrypted and sent to the translation agency, translated there, and then sent back to the CMS. Different forms of automation are available depending on the systems used, such as the option to automatically send new content straight to the translation agency. However, setting up an effective interface can be extremely time-consuming and expensive, so it’s only worth doing if the amount of text you produce is above a certain level or if you constantly create new content (e.g. blog posts) that needs to be translated. This option is not recommended for a one-off translation.

Proxy server solutions

In simple terms, a proxy solution involves setting up another website which creates copies of the web pages to be translated so that the translators can work on them. Once the translation is ready, the other language versions are published on this server, which means you only have the original website on your server and the data for all other languages are stored somewhere else. On the one hand that gives you less control over your data, but on the other it’s easier to set up and you get a range of options for automation.

This table summarizes all the options for translating websites:

in the CMS itself

No additional tools required

No file export required

Translators need write permissions in the CMS

Translators need to be trained by the website operator

CAT tools can’t be used, so no money can be saved from repeated content or previous TM entries (additional costs)

Translating the HTML files No additional tools required

Translated HTML files can’t be imported straight into the CMS – time and effort required to copy them

Only suitable for simple, static websites

CMS export/import

CAT tools can be used
lower costs and higher-quality translations

Cost-effective, fewer manual steps

Website operators need to export/import the files

Many CMSs need their own plug-ins for importing/exporting

API integration

Files don’t have to be sent to and fro – instead they’re encrypted and automatically exchanged between the CMS and the translation agency’s systems

Enables a certain amount of automation (depending on the tool)

More complex to set up

Time-consuming and expensive to implement, so only recommended with regular and/or large translations

Proxy solutions

Hands-off approach with minimal workload for website operators

Options for automation, whichever CMS is used

Regular checks for website updates

Translated content is published via a proxy server (potential privacy issues)

Monthly costs

Questions to be clarified in advance

The option you choose will of course depend heavily on your CMS and your requirements. To give you the best possible advice, your translation agency will ask you the following questions:

  • Which CMS is used, and does it support multilingual content?
  • Can you export files from the CMS, and if so, in which format?
  • And can these files then be imported back into the CMS once they’ve been translated?
  • Is there the opportunity to create an interface, and if so, is that what you want?
  • How often will you have translation projects (just once, or regularly)?
  • Who manages the website and is responsible for exporting/importing the files and sending the content?
  • Which web pages do you want to be translated?
  • Are there any images, videos, linked PDFs etc.? (These will have to be sent separately in order to be translated.)
  • Are there blogs / news pages which also need to be translated?
  • What about Terms and Conditions, Privacy Statements and so on? (Sometimes translations of these already exist, or they may not even need to be translated.)
  • Is there external content (e.g. contact forms) embedded in the website, and if so, does this need to be translated too?

Once all these points have been resolved, there’s nothing to prevent a professional translation service provider delivering a successful, high-quality website translation. One more top tip to finish: whichever approach you ultimately choose, make sure you give yourself a few days between delivery of the translation and going live with the website, so that you have plenty of time to check that all the content you need has been translated.


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