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!


Since only 25.9% of the over 5 billion Internet users are English speakers, website translation has become an absolute necessity if you plan to target global markets. Although the process may look intimidating, with the proper strategy, tools, and partners, it’s straightforward and rewarding.

In this guide, we will walk you through the essential steps to translate a website, helping you unlock the power of website translation and take your online presence to the next level.

Why translate your website?

When given a choice between two similar products, nearly 75% of customers stated that they would be more likely to choose the one with product information in their native language. Additionally, half of these consumers stated that having information in their language is more important to them than the product's price.

There’s much to gain by translating your website or ecommerce store’s content. Doing so gives you more control over the user experience compared to relying on the built-in translation tools that web browsers like Google Chrome provide, which aren't always accurate.

In addition, translating your website leads to superior quality translations and a higher possibility of scaling your translation efforts as opposed to solely relying on multilingual in-house employees. Yes, these employees may speak the target language, but it’s not easy for non-translators to perform quality assurance on hundreds of pages or to translate websites in different dialects while considering market-specific nuances.

However, there are several ways to make website translation more approachable so you can enjoy these benefits.

What parts of your website should you translate?

After deciding to translate your website, you need to strategically outline what content to localize. Although it may be very tempting to translate every page, a more targeted approach usually produces a better outcome.

Here are the key areas to concentrate on:

  • High-traffic pages: Begin by looking at your website analytics to find the pages that attract the most visitors from your target markets. These will likely include your homepage, product or service pages, pricing information pages, and some essential landing pages. If you translate these high-priority pages, the vast majority of your international visitors will have access to localized content.
  • Navigation and user interface elements: Translate your website's navigation menus, buttons, forms, and other interactive elements to maintain a smooth user experience. This makes it easy for visitors to navigate your site and find the information they’re looking for in their own language.
  • Conversion-focused content: Concentrate on translating pages and elements that have a direct effect on conversions, like calls to action (CTAs), product descriptions, testimonials, blogs, and case studies. Localizing this content can increase engagement and boost sales in your markets.
  • SEO-relevant content: Translate your search engine optimized (SEO) content in order to increase your site’s visibility in local search results. This content includes page titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and body context that uses relevant keywords. When you localize your SEO activities, you can enjoy more organic traffic from your targeted markets.

3 different ways to translate websites

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

  • Human translation:Professional translators study for years to become fluent in multiple languages and learn to manually translate text from the source language into one or more target languages.
  • Machine translation (MT): Many companies use Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, or similar software to instantly translate content from the source language into a different language.
  • A mix of machine and human translation: The perfect blend of automated machine translation with a human reviewer enables you to maximize translation quality while also achieving significant time and cost savings.

It's up to you to choose which option will work best based on your localization strategy and goals for the web pages in question.

Machine translation vs. human translators

When translating your website, you’ll have to decide whether to go with machine or human translation. Each method has its pros and cons, so which one you choose will depend on your needs, objectives, and resources.

Let’s take a closer look at which type of translation will best suit your business:

Machine translation gives you fast, cost-effective translations

MT is a great first step for companies that are just beginning their localization efforts. Working with MT engines can accelerate your international expansion, especially if you focus on one or two markets with relatively straightforward translation needs.

MT offers several benefits:

  • Speed: Most MT tools deliver results in minutes or seconds—much faster than a professional translator ever could. If you're looking to publish something quickly, MT’s automated translation is best for real-time results.
  • Cost: Compared to professional human translation, translation costs for MT are much lower. This frees up some of your budget for more complex localization projects or other business initiatives.
  • Consistency: MT delivers the same results every time. This works great for phrases you use often on your website, such as those in navigation menus, slogans, and CTAs.

While MT certainly has its benefits, it's important to be aware of its limitations as well. Some of the most widely used MT engines still sometimes struggle to translate slang and figures of speech, understand localized nuances, and use the right brand voice. Many companies perform post-editing on machine-translated content using software like Smartling to incorporate brand voice, terminology, and translation memories into their content, which helps to address MT’s limitations.

Professional human translators offer detailed, thorough translations

You want high-quality translations, which is exactly what professional translators deliver. As native language speakers, linguists offer a specialized experience in one or two of your target languages. We recommend building a network of professional translators based on your target translation languages.

Professional translators offer several advantages:

  • Quality: While MT engines are improving all the time and are 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. Because of this, they can become an effective extension of your in-house team.
  • Specialization: Translators often specialize in a specific market, region, or dialect. If you want to target a specific market, or if you have a highly specialized audience, it's best to hire a professional translator who has expertise in that particular area. Translators may also specialize in specific types of content for add-on services—so if you need transcription and subtitling, voice-overs, or international SEO, human translation is the way to go.

However, the largest drawbacks of working with professional translators are high costs and limited scalability. Typical pricing ranges from $0.15 to $0.30 per word, depending on the translator's experience and offered services and your project scope. But the more complex your translation needs are, the larger the budget you'll need—particularly if you need to translate at scale.

Nevertheless, professional translators represent an investment into your website’s performance in the future. Hiring the best translators will ultimately be worthwhile as you expand into new markets.

Localization software blends human and machine translation

Localization takes the translation process a step further by completely tailoring your website for a new region and language, which gives your site a familiar feel to anyone who visits it—no matter their location or original language.

The localization process includes adapting everything from the content layout (such as right-to-left script for languages like Hebrew or Arabic) to color choices (for example, red represents good luck in China but mourning in South Africa). Since localization is so extensive and touches every aspect of your site experience, it's smart to use localization software to give you the best of MT and professional human translators.

Localization software provides numerous benefits:

  • Quality management: Localization platforms often include features like translation memory, glossaries, style guides, visual context, and automated quality checks. These tools give translators more information and context, enabling them to deliver high-quality translations more efficiently. And some localization software, such as Smartling, also incorporates AI-powered language services and MT capabilities that can significantly reduce the need for post-editing.
  • Scalability: Leveraging a combination of localization software and language services makes translating hundreds of web pages at a time possible with no additional developers or project managers. 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: Translation proxies, like Smartling’s Global Delivery Network (GDN), instantly translate customer-facing web-based content. These proxies automate the process of identifying, translating, and delivering content to website visitors in their preferred languages and eliminate the need to build a complex localization infrastructure. For example, the GDN has helped several customers translate entire websites in less than two weeks and increase their translation speed by nearly 60%.

Ultimately, localization software provides a centralized platform that acts as the single source of truth for all translations. In Smartling’s case, our platform also provides a common space for stakeholders to collaborate efficiently and effectively. At the same time, our suite of translation management technology, application programming interface integrations, computer-assisted translation tool features, and language services reduces much of the manual work involved in translation.

Where to prioritize time and resources for best website translation results

Translating your website can be a huge project, so it's important to allocate your time and resources wisely. Here are a few areas you’ll need to focus on for the best possible results:

Defining target languages and markets

Do your research and select the most suitable target languages and markets for your business prior to beginning your translation project. Take into account the population size, your audience’s spending power, and each market’s potential for growth. Defining your target audiences enables you to assign your resources more efficiently and make the most of your translations.

Preparing your website for localization

Once you know your preferred language and market, start preparing your website for localization by dedicating resources to optimize its technical and branding elements. This includes ensuring that your content layout is adjustable for both text expansion and contraction, selecting the right font sizes for various languages, and adjusting imagery and videos to meet cultural preferences.

Investing in this foundational work will prevent costly rework and assure a seamless user experience on every version of your site. Smartling's team of experts is ready to guide you through this process and address any technical or cultural issues that may affect your website's translation process.

Leveraging a combination of machine and human translation

Find a sweet spot between automation and human skill to get high-quality translations at scale. You can also invest in a translation management platform that provides a combination of AI-powered tools and professional human translators. This approach enables you to optimize your workflow, cut costs, and control quality while enjoying MT’s speed and efficiency. A translation management platform like Smartling seamlessly blends MT with human post-editing to provide you with accurate yet affordable translations. Additionally, Smartling's AI-powered human translation combines MT’s speed and cost-effectiveness with professional human translators’ expertise to deliver high-quality, localized content at scale.

Conducting thorough quality assurance and testing

Reserve time and resources for comprehensive quality assurance and testing for your translated website. This includes proofreading translations for correctness, uniformity, and cultural suitability, as well as checking your localized site’s functionality and user experience. Identifying and solving any issues early in the process will guarantee your translated website’s quality and performance.

Simplify website translation with Smartling's all-in-one platform

With Smartling, you don’t have to choose. All-in-one localization services like ours give you a comprehensive solution for all your translation needs. Smartling automates the process with localization software and fully integrated language services so you don’t have to manually copy and paste text or import and export documents.

Take the first step toward streamlining your website localization and reducing costs—book a meeting today to learn how our comprehensive solution can transform your translation workflow.