In May 2011, the European Commission published a report on native-language speakers and their web visiting tendencies. According to the report, 90% of participants in the study were more likely to visit a website written in their native language, if given the choice. However, 53% of the multilingual participants also reported that they would accept an English version of a website if that was the only version available. So, it’s clear that, if you want to target users that speak English as a second language, you should consider translating your website content, especially if you have competitors that already have a site written in the local language you want to target.

But website translation services can be expensive, and free translation tools can spit out content that’s nearly unreadable. So how do you set out getting your website content translated? How do you know when it’s necessary? And finally, how do you make sure that the content still meets your standards and properly delivers your message?

Deciding Whether You Need to Translate Your Website

One of your first tasks is, of course, deciding whether you really need to target another language at all. It’s not necessarily a wide-open market in any given language, and you might have a great deal of competition. The best way to test the waters before investing in a multilingual website is to run a test PPC advertising campaign, similar to how you might test any new keyword or niche.

  • Leave your current site alone at first — you’re just testing traffic with this method so there’s no reason to translate any portion of your website until you get some definite data.
  • Purchase or create a simple written PPC ad that is written in the language you’d like to target with a keyword that best describes your site, but puts visitors in a buying mood. For example, if you operate a site advertising wireless Internet services from AT&T, you might target the buying phrase AT&T wireless internet comparison, like this site did with its multilingual PPC campaign.
  • Point the advertisement at your English website.
  • Record visit data, even though your conversion rate will likely be very low.

If you receive a large number of visitors from the PPC campaign, chances are good that the market is open and a website translation is justified. For this method, we’re not really considering conversions as part of the equation. If you do want realistic conversion data as well, especially if you’re also testing a new keyword target, you might consider creating a landing page in the local language you’re targeting.

Free Website Translation Tools

Free website translation tools are useful for translating content that you don’t expect to pack much of a punch — like article directory submissions or purely SEO content. But free tools can cause significant problems with your translated website. For example, automatic English to Russian translation is notorious for being absolutely unreadable to native Russian speakers. Worse, some tools can cause problems in your website tracking data.

Google Translate: Google Translate is an easy-to-use and free tool that you can choose to install on a portion of your website, or the entire site, depending on your needs. You can choose to translate the copy, or install a tool that allows visitors to hover their cursor over a word for a translation of the single word. The big problem with Google Translate is that it not only looks a little dated with current web design standards, but also sends users away from your website. Once the visitor clicks for the translation, they are sent to Google for the translated page, meaning you lose a great deal of tracking data and linkbacks.

Global Translator: If you run a WordPress site, your best option is probably Global Translator, a WordPress plugin. This translation tool offers 41 different languages, and allows you to choose your engine, including Google Translate, Promt, FreeTranslations, and Babel Fish. This tool is likely the best free tool you’ll find for high-traffic websites that would cost a fortune to translate manually. As a bonus, the tool is very search engine optimization friendly, simply adding small language codes to your existing URLs.

Paid Website Translation Services

If you find that your initial language testing is yielding huge traffic numbers, you might need to consider professional, paid website translation services. A good strategy is to make sure landing pages and key content is professionally translated, while negligible content that’s really mainly for search engines is translated through a free tool. The reason for this is that website translation services can be pricey. Most services range from around $0.10 to $0.18 per word of the original content. At this moment, this blog post is around 800 words. Having this post translated, then, would cost anywhere from $80.00 to $144.00.

If you’re accustomed to paying $0.02 to $0.04 for your English content, paying so much for properly translated content can be a tough pill to swallow. But your conversion pages absolutely have to be properly written. You’ve likely seen content in English that was clearly written by a person that didn’t speak the language very well. How much authority did you place in that page? Was there even a remote chance you’d convert on the poorly translated page when also faced with a well written one?

When you look for paid website translation services, pay close attention to the fee structure. The company should charge per word on the original content, not the translated version. Expect a turnaround time of less than a week for a 10,000 word project, and don’t accept companies that charge more for faster turnaround times.

If you’re careful in your testing and consider how your content should function on your website, you should be able to utilize some free translation tools on your website. In the end, however, it’s best to hire a professional translator to keep your conversions high. You might even hire a second editor from a different company to make sure that the content is up to your standards. But don’t ignore translation of your website altogether — you could be missing out on an additional 47% traffic in your niche.