How to Translate a Website Quickly and Effectively

Wondering how to translate your website? Let’s walk through the pros and cons of the top 3 methods: machine translation, human translation, and a mix of both!


It’s daunting to look at hundreds of web pages, blog posts, or FAQs on your website and know you need to translate them all. But you can’t afford to let that stop you from translating your site.

Why translate your website?

When given a choice between two similar products, 76% of customers choose the one with product info in their native language. For those who have no English-language competence, that percentage is even higher at close to 90%.

There’s a lot to be gained by translating your website or eCommerce store’s content. You’d have more control over the user experience than if visitors used the built-in translation tools provided by web browsers like Google Chrome to translate your web pages. (Such built-ins aren’t always accurate.)

Plus, you’d wind up with higher-quality translations and a greater ability to scale your translation efforts than if you relied on multilingual employees. Yes, they may speak the target language. But it’s no easy feat for non-translators to do quality assurance on hundreds of pages. Or to translate in different dialects and consider market-specific nuances.

The good news? There are several ways to make website translation feel more approachable so you can enjoy these benefits.

What’s the best way to translate a website?

Most companies use one of three translation options for their website translation projects:

  1. Machine translation (MT). Many companies use Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and similar software capable of instantly translating content from the original language to a target language

  2. Human Translation (HT). Professional translators study for years to perfect fluency in multiple languages and manually translate text from one language into one or more foreign languages.

  3. Machine and Human Translation. The perfect blend of localization software and translation services enables you to maximize translation quality while also realizing significant time and cost savings.

It’s up to you to choose which one will work best based on your localization strategy and your goals for the web pages in question. Let’s unpack each one.

1. Machine translation gives you fast, simple translations

Machine translation is a great first step for companies just beginning their localization efforts. Working with machine translation can accelerate your international expansion, especially if you focus on one or two markets with relatively straightforward translation needs. It offers several benefits:

  • Speed: Most machine translation tools deliver results in minutes or seconds — much faster than a professional translator ever could. If you’re looking to ship something quickly, the automatic translation that software offers gives you real-time results.
  • Cost: Compared to using professional translation, translation costs for MT are much lower. This frees up some of your budget that you can reallocate to more complex localization projects or other business initiatives.
  • Consistency: Machine translation delivers the same result every time. This works great for phrases you use throughout your website, like navigation, slogans, or CTAs.

While it certainly has its benefits, it’s important to be aware of its limitations as well. Even some of the most widely used MT engines sometimes struggle to translate slang and figures of speech, pick up on localized nuances, and use the right brand voice. Hence the reason many companies do post-editing of machine-translated content and use software like Smartling to incorporate brand voice, terminology, and translation memories into their content.

What should you use machine translation for?

  • Simple, fast translations: Just make sure you have a human QA before you ship.
  • Retranslation: If you’re swapping out one or two words that don’t change the fundamental meaning of the sentence, machine translation can be a cheaper option than re-submitting the entire string.
  • Temporary or pre-translation: Translating into other languages from English often impacts text length, making it challenging for mobile optimization and layout. Machine translation can give you a sense of what the text will look like in a more complicated language (we’re looking at you, German).

Think of machine translation as only the beginning of translating your website effectively. To have your products and services resonate in foreign markets, you need to add another layer of localization via human translation.

2. Professional translators offer detailed, thorough translations

You, of course, want high-quality translations and those are exactly what professional translators deliver. As native or fluent speakers, linguists offer a specialized experience for one or two of your target languages. We recommend building a network of professional translators based on your target languages, which will enable you to enjoy several advantages:

Professional translators offer several advantages:

  • Quality: While machine translation is improving all the time and is quite capable of producing quality translations, human translators have an edge when it comes to delivering website translations that feel true to your brand and resonate with your audience.
  • Workflow: You can work with freelance translators or hire them through an agency. Either way, the more you work with a given translator, the better they understand your business and your audience, and the easier it will be to slot them into your localization workflow. Done right, they can become an effective extension of your team.
  • Specialization: Translators often specialize in a given market, region, or dialect. If you have a niche audience or want to drill down on a specific market, hire a professional. Translators may also specialize in a given type of content for add-on services. So if you’re looking at transcription and subtitling, voiceover, or international SEO, human translation is the way to go.

What is the biggest drawback of working with professional translators, though? Cost and scale.

Typical pricing ranges from $0.15 to $0.30 per word depending on a translator’s experience level, services offered, and your project scope. But, the more complex your translation needs are, the bigger the budget you’ll need—particularly if you need to translate at scale.

Nevertheless, professional translators represent an investment into the future of your website performance. Hiring the best translators will be worthwhile as you expand into new markets. Use professional translators for the following:

Use professional translators for:

  • Complex or detailed translation for website content: Need to make an effective argument or persuade someone to buy your product? Need to translate text that‘s highly technical or otherwise complex? In either case, use human translators.
  • Transcreation: Many professional translators go beyond word-for-word swaps, using transcreation to capture your content’s meaning, style, and tone. This includes sarcasm and humor, which can often get lost in translation—literally. The final product is effectively written in the desired language with the source language as a guide.
  • Post-editing: If you’re using AI-based machine translation throughout your website, have a linguist check over important pages especially. That way, you can still ensure that you’re publishing high-quality translations while also enjoying the efficiency and cost savings that MT provides.

A professional translator can be a valuable asset for your website translation project, but they’re only one person. That’s why Smartling works with a network of translators worldwide to ensure our customers’ needs are met—whatever they are. These carefully vetted, 100% native-speaking translators specialize in making sure your translations are accurate, aligned with your messaging, and read naturally in each target language.

Localization software blends human and machine translation

Localization takes translation a step further. It completely adapts your website for a new region and new language, giving your site a familiar feel to anyone who visits it—no matter their location or native language.

The localization process includes adapting everything from content layout (including right-to-left for languages like Hebrew or Arabic) to color choices (e.g., red represents good luck in China but mourning in South Africa). Since it’s so extensive and touches every aspect of your site experience, it’s smart to use localization software. It will give you the best of machine translation and professional translators:

Localization software offers several advantages:

  • Quality management. Robust translation memory, glossaries and style guides, visual context, and automated quality checks give translators more information so they can deliver high-quality translations the first time. Together, Smartling’s AI-powered language services and Machine Translation Hub reduce the need for post-editing by over 350%.
  • Scalability. Leveraging a combination of localization software and services makes translating hundreds of web pages at a time possible with no additional developers or project managers needed. With Smartling’s software, in particular, you can capture new revenue opportunities 50% faster and scale into new languages more efficiently than with traditional translation methods.
  • Productivity. Our translation proxy, the Global Delivery Network (GDN), integrates with content management systems like WordPress to localize web-based content in record time. Once configured, it crawls your site on a schedule you set, ingesting content that needs to be translated and creating translation workflows accordingly. After the content is translated, either via machine translation or human translators, it’s delivered instantly to website visitors in their preferred languages. It takes all the hard work out of building a localization infrastructure without sacrificing security, scalability, and the ability to deliver content to your end users quickly. No wonder several customers have been able to translate entire websites this way in less than two weeks and even increase translation speed by nearly 60%!

Ultimately, localization software provides a centralized platform that acts as the single source of truth for all translations. In the case of Smartling, our platform provides a common space for stakeholders to collaborate efficiently and effectively. At the same time, via our suite of translation management technology, API and integrations, CAT tool features, and language services, much of the manual work involved in translation is reduced.

Preparing to translate a website

Before you can use any of the three methods above, though, you’ve got to get your website prepped and ready for translation. What does that involve? Here are just a few of several steps you should take:

  • Researching the new language and the people who speak it. First things first, learn about who you’ll be translating your website for. This can include nuances of the language (e.g., do native speakers of the language expect a certain level of formality from brands?) and cultural sensitivities or customs.
  • Adjust your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Different languages and regions may be linked with different search queries and/or get vastly different amounts of monthly searches. Plus, you may have different competitors in search engine results within a foreign market. In other words, you’ll need to do fresh keyword research to determine what keywords are worth targeting, and what the competition looks like in search engine results pages. It’s also smart to line up translation software that’s SEO-friendly like Smartling’s Global Delivery Network.
  • Plan content layout in the new language. Text length varies by language. Not to mention that some languages read right-to-left (RTL) instead of left-to-right (LTR). This may require adjusting your website to support RTL languages if it doesn’t already. You also need to increase or reduce space in the layout for text that’s likely to expand or shrink. The goal is for it to be easily readable and look natural no matter what device it’s viewed on or what language it’s viewed in.

You may also need to account for differences in number, date, and time formats, currencies, ideal font sizes for certain languages, and more. You can read up on what that involves in part two of our guide to preparing a site for translation. In any case, once you’re done, you can get to work on your translation project—either with the help of MT engines or human translators—ideally, both!

Which website translation option should you choose?

With Smartling, you don’t have to. All-in-one localization services like ours give you one comprehensive solution—software and fully integrated language services—for all of your translation needs. Rather than copying and pasting, and importing and exporting documents manually (and endlessly), Smartling automates the process.

Our average customer automates 90% of their content while maintaining high-quality standards and lowering translation costs substantially. If you’d like to do the same, book a meeting with us to discuss your needs.