It may sound silly, but even translation companies often have to go through long, tenuous processes to translate their own websites.
Especially before translation tech (i.e. apps like Weglot) existed—or, at least, before they were available and scalable on the mass market—the only real advantage a translation company had over other businesses was financial, in that they didn’t necessarily have to contract all the translation work out to another company.
Human translators can only work so fast while still providing quality results, even if they’re working on a project for their own company. So a translation agency using its own staff to translate its website won’t have any advantage in terms of time efficiency over other types of businesses; no matter what the nature of the content in need of translation, a translator needs time to perform their task.
It’s almost 2020. Why isn’t translation more efficient yet?
Actually, despite the limits of human translator efficiency, website translation can be hundreds of times more efficient today than it was even 5 years ago, thanks to the introduction of translation tech tools into the big picture.
The stats behind automated translation speed are staggering: while an average human translator, using no automatic tools to help, can feasibly translate about 2000 words per day (assuming a typical 8-hour workday)—so about 250 words per hour.
Google Translate, the world’s widest-used automatic translation service, can process upwards of 100 billion words per day, or around 4,2 billion words per hour.
The switch from pure human to pure automatic translation represents an exponential expansion in efficiency. Of course, the question remains: what about the quality of this new kind of translation?
Man vs. Machine
Even with the continual improvement of automatic translation’s capacities, in large part due to the implementation of AI-based “neural nets” that allow automatic translation systems to auto-improve over time, many people have trouble believing that automatic translation is a truly viable alternative to good old-fashioned professional, human translation.
Confiding your entire translation project to a machine is not an inherently bad idea, but, especially if you’re representing a brand, might not align perfectly with your brand image and voice.
If you’re at all into translation culture (or just spend a lot of time on the Internet), you may remember 2018’s TranslateGate episode, where Google Translate went a little haywire—and demonstrated the weaknesses that unfortunately still occasionally pop their heads up in automatic translation.
But we shouldn’t consider all faith in automatic translation lost.
Weglot’s own translation story: expanding to Spanish
That’s right, we used our own translation technology to translate our website into Spanish.
A few months ago, we released a new version of our website with a brand new design. Getting rid of our old site’s dated color scheme and layout, upgrading our graphics…the launch felt like turning over a new leaf.
But we realized that, as a SaaS offering a translation solution, we could go a step further on our own website, using our own tool.
Originally, our site was only available in English and French (the two primary languages in which we do business, as we’re based in 🇫🇷but speak “global English” 🌎with most of our customers); since all of us at Weglot speak one or both of these languages fluently, we didn’t have any particular concerns about our ability to go through the first round of automatic translations and edit them ourselves, where necessary.
We decided it was time to introduce a third language into our repertoire, and picked Spanish for a few reasons:
- We’ve got a great client base and community in the Hispanic world. From Mexico to Spain, Weglot is a go-to tool for Spanish-speaking devs, designers, and independent site-owners. We wanted our own site to offer an even better experience to our hispanophone clients.
- Spanish is the fourth-most-used language on the Web, behind English, Russian, and German—beating out French. The number and share of Spanish-language sites is on the rise, and the owners of these millions of sites should be just as able as a franco- or anglophone site-owner to disseminate their content in other languages.
- While we had already used Weglot to translate our site from English to French, we wanted to try the whole process, from start to finish, in a language with which we were generally less familiar.
- We have a few Spanish-speaking staff members, and wanted to put them on the spot. (Just kidding. But having them around did encourage us to pursue Spanish as a third language, and we knew it couldn’t hurt to have them help us edit the translations 😉).
What does the translation process look like…inside a translation tech company?
We had a few primary objectives in undertaking this mission:
- Test: We believe in constant testing. That means getting every team member’s hands on the product and using our experiences to make it better.
- Evaluate: We wanted to get a better sense of where the best balance lies between automated, human, and professional translations (since Weglot allows you to choose any of these types).
- Understand: And, finally, we were looking for a chance to take a step back and put ourselves in the client’s shoes, to understand exactly how long—and how much effort—a big translation project really takes with Weglot.
Here’s how we accomplished each of these tasks—and the conclusions we came to after using our own product on our own site.
Step 1: Test
We knew the best way to see how well our product actually performs was to launch ourselves right into the thick of it. So that’s what we did.
Add a new language – 1 minute
Just like any other Weglot customer, we went into our own Weglot dashboard and found our existing Weglot site project (why did we already have a project for the site if we hadn’t already translated it yet, you may ask? We had actually already translated the site using Weglot—to French, from its original English. But since most of us speak French as a native language, we took care of the editing ourselves on that version.).
We headed over to our project settings and added our new target language, Spanish.
And like that, the entire site was translated.
Getting ready for the next step
In a literal minute, we had gone from bilingual to trilingual on our entire site.
Of course, having entrusted our local Spanish-speakers with some of the page-crawling, we had immediate feedback on how well the automatic translation worked.
The verdict? Pretty well, but there were some translations we wanted to fine tune to make it match our brand voice.
Step 2: Evaluate
With our team’s collective first impression of the Spanish-language site in mind, we were ready to move on to our next step: figuring out the ideal balance between automatic translations, translations edited by us, and professional translations.
Which pages should we professionalize? – 10 minutes
After our first round of human-checking to bookmark any big layout/paragraph-length issues on the new translated version, it was time to do a more global runthrough of our pages and figure out which ones should definitely be looked at by a pro translator.
Of course, maintaining our faith in the power of automated translation, we knew that we wouldn’t have to get all of our pages looked at by a pro.
Plus, we remembered from our experience with French site translation that our site has a lot of phrases that appear on several different pages—and that Weglot automatically updates all the repetitions of a translated phrase, no matter what page it’s on.
This would considerably reduce the number of pages we’d want to assign to pro translators, and the amount of time that the pros would eventually have to spend on their assigned pages. That’s efficiency.
Our criteria for assigning a page to a pro translator were wide enough that they allowed us to do so without going through every page again with a fine-toothed comb: we could pretty much determine based on the subject matter of the page whether we would be best off outsourcing it. If the page…
- Contained a lot of technical terminology, like some of our documentation—specifically, setup guides for more developer-style technologies,
- Had direct quotes from clients or partners on it,
- Or had a particular tone that differed from the rest of our site, such as the descriptions of our partners on our partner page—which naturally take on a more “salesy” tone than the rest of our content,
…then we checked it onto our translation order.
Preparing our pages for the pros – 20 minutes
1. The glossary – 10 minutes
SaaS companies, like actors in any other industry, tend to have their own jargon. The software industry is still, as human history goes, incredibly new—which means that new tech jargon is constantly being created.
Perhaps due to the influence of Global English, perhaps due to something else…it’s nearly always created by appropriating existing English words and giving them new meanings.
Take the word “app”, short for “application:” 20 years ago, an “application” was pretty much only used to refer to the act of applying something to something else…whereas in 2019, it not only has a universal abbreviated form, but also evokes a totally contemporary object—the mobile or web application—rather than a dictionary definition.
So…what’s the issue for translation? Shouldn’t this make it easier to move from language to language, if everyone in an industry is using the same word rather than translating it?
You’d think so, but that’s not always the case. Since an automatic translator may not pick up the entire context of industry-specific jargon, the automatic translation of these kinds of words might be suboptimal.
The best way to counter this possible source of problems is to round up any of your recurring industry-, site-, or company-specific terms, that may not translate literally in your particular context, and enter them into your Weglot glossary—with the correct context-specific translations.
For example, when we had translated our site from English to French, we noticed that we often used the words “language button” and “language switcher” interchangeably to refer to this thing:
The French automatic translation round produced the translations “bouton de langue,” “bouton de changement de langue,” and “commutateur de langue.” The good news is that none of these terms is fundamentally incorrect; they’re all legitimate translations. The machine wasn’t wrong.
However, we did feel that the French words “bouton” and “commutateur” simply didn’t match our brand voice—so we opted to replace all instances of the English terms “language button” and “language switcher” by a single, homogenous term: sélecteur de langue.
And it was really easy to define this rule: all we did was go into our “Translation Tools” and set up a rule for French, stipulating that “language switcher” should always be translated as “sélecteur de langue,” and “language button” should also always be translated as “sélecteur de langue.”
We also had defined some site- and industry-specific words—particularly technology names, like “Squarespace” and “Webflow”—that we never wanted to be translated, since they refer to brands or other proprietary material.
After a 10-minute brainstorm of our main jargon and industry-specific terms, including names, we had filled out a pretty complete glossary of terms that we wanted the Spanish pro translators to pay special attention to—to either translate a certain way or not translate at all.
The pro translators would then have access to this glossary so they’d know what their guidelines would be for these particular words and phrases.
2. Defining a brand voice – 10 minutes
No matter what sector or industry you’re in, you know that a company’s— or even an individual’s— online communication is a major facet of their brand.
This goes for every international market you’re present on—which means that you have to ensure your brand voice is coherent from country to country, language to language.
You’ll want to make sure your pro translators have access to your brand guidelines if they need them. There are quite a few resources out there on how to draw up brand guidelines specifically for translation: what essential elements of your company or site’s tone of voice and style a translator will want to keep in mind.
Ordering pro translations – 1 minute
This part was mind-bogglingly easy: having already selected the pages we wanted to translate, we were able to simply proceed to our checkout, enter our payment info, and boom—our order was on its way across the language barrier.
Waiting for our pro translations – 2-3 days
Even with a high volume of words to translate (we sent over 30,000 to the Spanish-speaking pro translators), our pro translation partners sent us back top-notch human translations in only 2 days.
But wait a second, you may be asking: earlier on, we saw that a human translator is pretty much limited to 2,000 words per day at max efficiency. How’s it possible that these guys got through 30,000 in under 48 hours?
It’s 100% possible in 2019, because these translators aren’t working from nothing: their job is to take the results of Weglot’s first layer of automatic translation—as well as any manual edits that the user may already have made to this layer— and edit and adapt them to sound more natural and human.
All we have to say about this process is that it was fast compared to full-on human translation jobs, which statistically take at least 10 times as long as this one did. Plus, the quality of the translations was excellent—we even had our in-house Spanish brains verify ✅
Step 3: Understand
Now that we had gone through the language-migrating process from A to Z, it was time for us to sum up our experience and make sure that it was something we’d willingly do again—essentially, put ourselves in a client’s—or potential client’s—shoes.
The Weglot approach is special, and it definitely stands out from traditional translation methods—either limiting oneself to automatic translation or sticking to a pure-human method.
We found that the automatic + human + professional approach was…
- Fast: the entire process, human perfection-izing included, took less than 2 full business days.
- Simple: since Weglot allows you to order professional translators directly from your dashboard, we didn’t have to go searching on freelance sites or gig marketplaces for a translator. We just had to click “order.”
- Reassuring: even while waiting for our pro translations to come through, we didn’t have to worry about Spanish-speaking visitors to our site being totally lost. Since the automatic translation round only took 5 minutes, we knew we’d have a browsable site ready for our hispanophone community ASAP. The rest was only a question of perfecting.
- Effective: Our in-house Spanish-speakers confirmed it: the quality of the translations we got for our Spanish site is high.
Of course, we also were able to live our own product’s customer journey, which also opened our eyes to what the best practices for big translation projects are, including checking your pages after a first round of automatic translations, preparing a glossary for pro translators, and double-checking your translated pages for brand voice coherence.
Conversion rate arriba, bounce rate abajo
The charts did the talking only a few weeks into having our Spanish site live.
In plain English, this chart indicates a 43% increase in conversion rate among Spanish-speaking visitors to the site from the time we translated it. This is in part due to a confluence of other factors—notably, a redesign of our site and some other strategical changes—but there’s no denying that translating the site to Spanish played a big role in this.
That increase was complemented by a 17% decrease in bounce rate from Spanish-speaking visitors—another metric moving in the right direction.
All in all, we saved a lot of time—and money—using the pro translation services available through Weglot, as opposed to having hired a traditional translation agency to look at our site.
The verdict is, therefore, positive. Like most things, automatic translation and human/pro translation complement each other best when used in moderation. Finding the right balance is key, and will make your entire localization process faster, simpler, safer, and more effective.