Top 12 Tips To Prepare Your Website For Translation.

While website translation plays its important traditional role of allowing internationals to access our content in a language they feel comfortable making purchasing decisions in. It also represents and solidifies your internet presence with the demonstrating your crucial capacity to take those international visitors and develop more meaningful customer relationships with them. This has a positive effect on your brand and reputation as an ‘international’ company, affecting both your local and foreign language performance.

Website Translation always helps us to know, to see and to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. It simply gives our business more options and opportunities when focused on growth. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative, a single language website, is unthinkable especially when considering how many non-English speakers occupy the internet these days, there really is a rapidly expanding international community using the internet.

Here are the top twelve ways to prepare your website for translation and thereby catch the attention of the Spanish, German, French, Italian (FIGS) or English markets.

1. Not everything can be translated

Write the English content for your site in an unambiguous fashion. Try to avoid cultural references whenever possible. Keep in mind that it is especially difficult to translate humour, colloquialisms, or ethnic and historical references. In most cases such sections will have to be rewritten (localized) for your target audiences.

Keep your terminology consistent throughout the text, especially when referring to the same concepts in different areas of your web site. Use industry-standard terminology instead of technical jargon, otherwise, it may be confusing for translators or foreign visitors. Consistency and uniformity of text are essential elements of an accurate and time-efficient localization process.

Most languages take up more page space than English. Therefore, provide an additional 20 to 30 percent additional space for future text expansion. This is especially important for small text blocks (such as cells in a table) and short phrases (such as company slogans). For example, in Asian, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern languages text may expand, and require more room, because of the necessary changes in font type, size, and even text direction (as with Arabic).

2. Sub-Domain, Directory, or New Domain?

Let’s start with a very brief description and examples of these three:

  • Sub-Domain: As the name implies a sub-domain is a domain that resides “under” the primary domain name… would be the primary and would become the sub-domain using “espanol”.
  • Directory: Sometimes called a “folder”, this is a basic tenet of website structure… indicates no directories and is the same site with the directory of “espanol”.
  • New Domain: This requires little explanation and even less of an example but it remains the most valuable option, and in some cases is the only one. China is the best example of where a new domain name with the “.cn” extension is required by China’s premier search engine Baidu to be included in its listings.

Which one is right for you?

If the primary reasoning you have for translating your website is to enter a new geographic region, a new domain is the most effective choice. In general, search engines put greater emphasis on the domain extension (.com, .es, .cn, etc.) when determining how a site should rank for a particular term in a particular country. As an example, if all other items are equal between two websites, Google will rank a Spanish site with an “.es” extension higher than a Spanish site with a “.net” extension. A new domain name gives you the opportunity to brand your translated site with your company name or use a domain name that includes your primary keyword. Search engines tend to rank sites very high when the domain name includes the searched upon keyword.

A sub-domain is almost as flexible and beneficial as a completely different domain name. You can use the two-letter abbreviation for the country being targeted or use the language as the name of the sub-domain ( or Both the new domain name and the sub-domain are free to be hosted anywhere and separately from the main domain. This is becomes very advantageous in creating the best experience for the end user because proximity of the server to the web surfer improves delivery speed. The physical location of a server also improves rankings with SE’s.

Higher rankings with SE’s also comes from using a correct country specific IP address when building links, which in turn builds a solid foundation, but more on that in a later article..

A new directory may be the easiest way to post your newly translated content but it is also the least effective from a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) point of view. The new directory option facilitates the transition of e-com sites and CMS (content management systems) or database driven sites.

3. Have localisable SEO-friendly URLs

SEO friendly URLs include strategic keywords in the directory structure or filename.  An example of an SEO-friendly URL is: .

As opposed to a non-SEO-friendly URL being:

The URLs are often forgotten in the localisation process.  There are two problems with this:

  • Firstly, the French user will see immediately that this is an English site.  This can be very detrimental, depending on the market.
  • Secondly, the keyword friendly URLs will not help the SEO effort in the foreign markets.

Therefore if SEO-friendly URLS are going to be used, make sure they are translatable along with every other piece of content.  Avoid stuffing keywords into the URL. If this is not possible, or is too complex for your development, stick with non-friendly URLs but always aim to use product/service names for better rankings.  This way, you will not put off users in other countries.

4.  Make sure you can split to local domains in the future if you want to

If the language sites do well, site owners will be demanding more.  This will mean setting up an office in France, getting French speakers on board, and will almost certainly mean presenting the site on a ‘.fr’ domain.

Make sure this does not cause a rewrite.  If you initially build the site so that the French pages are served up from a /fr directory (such as then this switch will probably be fairly easy.  Be ready for the switch!

5. Don’t build a user interface for translators

A mistake made by almost all CMS vendors when they embark on making their system multilingual is to build a set of screens to facilitate translation.  They allow the translators to see the English (or source language) page and provide a box, or set of boxes, to type in the translation of the page.  Don’t do it.  It is a waste of time.  Translators and translation companies can translate files, such as XML files, text files, HTML or similar, much more efficiently than they can work within any interface you can provide.

Translators use electronic glossaries and automatic translation memory tools when they translate.  These are systems that suggest certain words or phrases to use based on client-approvals or previous translations.  Translation memory ensures that if a sentence was translated in the past for this client in one way, that it will always be translated that way in future.  It is essential for quality control, speed of turnaround, and delivers major cost saving.  Translators cannot use these essential tools if they are translating through your interface and you will be adding cost to their work while degrading the quality.

The translation tools also protect any non translatable content, such as XML and HTML codes, and they expose only the translatable text to the translator.

Many translation companies have web-service based translation interfaces so you can automatically call out for profession human translation via an API.  Such interfaces make on-going updates easy.  However, consider the frequency of changes to the site before deciding whether to use such an interface.  It may make easier development and be just as effective to simply catch up with updates every month.

6. Avoid using a cookie-based language selector

We have been asked by many companies to optimise their sites for search engines in other languages, only to find that the language selector relies entirely on a cookie.  This seems like a good idea at the time:  the user comes to the site, sees a screen that allows them to set the language in which they would like to view the site, and then they proceed through the site with the cookie set to their preferred language.  Any time they revisit the site the pages are served in their chosen language.

This all works fine, as long as the URLs for the language pages are unique to that language.  For example, if the English product page is, and the French products URL is exactly the same (but serves up French content if the user has the language cookie set) then you will never get listed on Google France.  The Googlebot does not have a language cookie, so must be able to spider your language pages without selecting its language first using your cookie system.

Another problem is that even if Google could spider the pages any inbound links to the French pages (essential for SEO) will only serve to boost the English ranking because the URLs, when followed in the absence of the cookie, will serve up English pages.

7. Support language switching on every page

The most user-friendly multilingual sites have a language selector on every page.  This means that a user can arrive at the page, even if it is a page deep within the site, and will see a language selector.  If they choose to switch languages they will not be thrown back to the homepage of that language, but will instead be served the same page in the chosen language.

This element is not essential, but it provides excellent usability.  More importantly in my opinion, it is an excellent tip that will enforce disciplines that will help at every stage.  If the site is built like this from the ground up, most of the other elements will fall into place.

Note that not every page will have an equivalent in all other languages – see below.

8. Consider non-translated sections

There will be sections or pages of the site that will not have an equivalent section in every language.  These may be news pages where the English news is not relevant to other markets, or it may be that certain products or services are not sold in other markets.

The CMS needs to be able to deal with this situation.  If a user is viewing an English product page and then swaps to French, where no French page exists, the user needs to see a message in their language explaining the situation.

If browsing through the French product pages, the user should not see menu items or links to products that do not exist in their market.

This requires good planning and structure, listing all your pages and assigning a value to them. Your Analytics software will help you determine which pages are frequently visited and help you to determine which pages need to be given the most attention. By considering these pages up front will help avoid costly problems later.

9. Separation of Translatable Content from Business Logic

It is important that the translatable content should be separated from the business logic of the content management since this will enable a single set of code to be maintained.  This is desirable to aid version control and maintenance of the site.

All displayable text must appear in the database.  The programs (ASP, PHP, or other pages) should contain the business logic and display mechanism only.  If any text remains in pages, it must be extracted into either the database or into resource files.  Note that some text (certain error messages) may not require localisation.

10. Localised Formats

Items such as dates, currency, number separators have different formatting in different locales.  Note that Microsoft and other development system vendors provide facilities to handle the formatting of dates and numbers in the session variables.  It is important to get this right because credibility is a major factor affecting conversion rates on websites.  In the UK, the message:  ‘Buy Now Risk Free for only $/£7.999,00’ does not look right and so damages credibility.  Likewise the wrong formatting in other languages is equally likely to create the wrong impression and deter conversion.

11. Encode and serve your pages as Unicode

If you are planning on localizing your site into different languages, then the best encoding you should choose for your web pages is Unicode. Unicode is a kind of numeric presentation of characters that is two bytes and so can contain up to 65535 characters to show. There are no currently spoken languages that have more than 65,535 characters, so by using Unicode as your codepage you should not run into problems with characters not displaying. To represent your web page as a Unicode page, specify the character set as UTF-8 rather than the default add below line of code in the head part of your page:

<meta HTTP-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=utf-8″>

Another benefit of using unicode to author your pages is that it uniquely allows you to display multiple character sets on the one page. This is of most benefit for pages where you wish to display more than one type of language e.g. introductory splash pages, language content lists etc. You will also need to ensure your web server is setup to send the page as Unicode to the browser. If you are using the Apache webserver you can do this by editing the .htaccess file and making sure that the AddDefaultCharset Directive is set as:

AddDefaultCharset utf-8

12. Keep track of your efforts and measure success on a continual basis.

This applies to anything you do. Being data-driven is a critical part of making smart business decisions. Keep a good record of your efforts by documenting every step; monitor your web log on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and measure conversion rates to see how many sales inquiries turn into actual sales. Write up a monthly report detailing what is working and what is not. If you can prove how web localization is helping your organization to increase sales leads, and make a difference on the bottom line; if you notice a difference in  the plus side, increase your attention to more translation into more languages.

It’s clear that there is a lot to think about before you embark on translating your website. The New Frontier Digital is happy to share these top twelve tips to help you better prepare your website for translation and save you considerable time and money from the onset.

One Response to “Top 12 Tips To Prepare Your Website For Translation.”

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