Translation Internal Review: To Do or Not to Do

By Kevin Cohn, SVP of Operations at Smartling (2014-2018)


When companies start translating their websites, apps, and other types of content into new languages, they typically contract with one or more translation agencies to perform the work. These agencies charge anywhere from $0.15 to $0.30 per word per language for a standard two-step process in which one professional creates the translation and a second edits it. The finished work then is returned to the customer.

The fees add up quickly: a 250-word web page can cost $150 or more to translate into four languages. What do most companies do immediately after receiving this expensive finished work that was performed by skilled professionals? They send it to an employee who speaks the language to make sure it passes muster—“internal review.”

In my more than four and a half years at Smartling, debate among customers about whether or not to conduct internal review has been constant. I decided to explore the correlation between time spent conducting internal review and changes resulting from internal review, using data to answer the question: Is internal review worth it?

Broadly speaking, the answer is no: internal review is an expensive insurance policy under which claims are rarely made. For one of our largest customers, internal review was more than doubling project completion time, yet only 4% of translations were being changed—at a cost of almost $35 per change! The data told a similar story for other customers.

There are situations in which internal review is worth it, but most companies lack a good framework for identifying them. The following questions can be considered individually and in aggregate to help make the decision on a project-by-project basis. Put another way, they can be used to buy less expensive, but equally effective, insurance policies. What’s the impact of an error? The impact of an error in an email sent to one million users is high: the reputational damage is irreversible the moment you click send. The impact of an error in the terms and conditions of purchase of an airline ticket—this is not a fictitious example—is also high, but for a different reason: it may cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in refunds. The higher the impact of a possible error, the more important it is to conduct internal review.

  • What’s the lifetime value of the content? Lifetime value is a function of how heavily trafficked is the content, and for how long the content will be accessible to customers. For example, content on website home pages tends to have a high lifetime value because it’s frequently viewed and infrequently changed. Conversely, the 1,000th most-visited page on a website is unlikely to be particularly valuable. A higher lifetime value suggests a greater need for internal review.

  • How comprehensive are your translator aids? Visual context, terminology bases, and style guides help translators to understand your content and create high-quality translations. The more comprehensive these aids, the less likely it is that internal review will create value. Conversely, a lack of visual context in particular is extremely detrimental to translation quality, making internal review important.

  • Are you adding a content type or language? It’s prudent to conduct some internal review the first time you translate a certain type of content; this way translators can adjust their work to fit the new use case. Similarly, the first time you translate into a new language, internal review gives regional teams an opportunity to confirm that the brand is being represented appropriately for the target market.

  • How familiar are your translators? Translators that have worked your company for months or years are more likely to create high-quality translations than translators that are new to your brand. If you’ve worked with the same translators for an extended period of time and still find it necessary to conduct internal review, the problem almost certainly lies with the translators themselves.

  • How much time does internal review take? No matter how sensible it may be to conduct internal review, there’s a limit to the time to market delay each company is willing to accept. If your internal reviewers are too slow to complete their task, or if they aren’t available at all (e.g., due to vacation or holiday), the step should be skipped.

Smartling makes it easy to manage internal review because it collects data on effectiveness (e.g., how many changes are being made during internal review compared with how long it’s taking) and allows you to use this data to automate whether or not internal review will take place. This automated, data-driven approach saves cost and time.

As you have seen, there is no one answer to the question: “to do or not to do.” Instead, companies must consider each project independently and make a decision based on the data.