We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again – there is nothing straightforward about translation. There are numerous website translation services available and each has its own pros and cons. The trick is ensuring you pick the right one for your requirements.

Everywhere you look you’ll find a different definition of translation. At Transcription Global, we consider there to be four basic types: machine, gist, for-information and for-publication.

Translation: a guide

A machine translation is what you can expect from programmes like Google Translate. It won’t be fluent and might not even make much sense, but if you just need a basic idea of what something is saying it could be the right option for you. Gist translation is done by a human, who will create a summary of the document in your chosen target language so you get the most important points in a way that makes sense.

Meanwhile, a for-information translation is more comprehensive and includes all of the details contained in the original. However, it is not by definition a “perfect” translation. This means that the translator has probably not considered the regional dialect, idioms, slang and culture of your target audience. Similarly, they may lack in-depth knowledge of your industry and so be unable to lend this expertise to a tricky technical translation. However, the resulting document will be a useful tool for internal reference purposes and could be used as the basis for you to make important business decisions.

The crème-de-la-crème of translations is a for-publication translation. If this is the service you choose you can expect your translator to take into account the cultures and customs of your audience, their particular vocabulary and any technical terminology you use. As a result, you should feel confident to publish the completed translation and know that while it has been specifically tailored for the target audience, your original message is still contained in it.

As you might expect, these different services come with a different price tag. Often machine translations are free, but by no means should you let this be the only deciding factor when it comes to choosing your translation service.

Choosing your translation service

Andre Bourque, a social media and marketing specialist, recently wrote a guide to selecting translation services for Technorati. He notes that to get as much success from your website as possible, it’s important to make the content available in at least two different languages. Keep in mind that as the overwhelming majority of websites are English, when you translate yours you will face less competition for Search Engine Results Page rankings in your target language.

So, which level of service should you choose? Of course, cost will be one deciding factor, as Bourque explains: “The results and accuracy of a translation service would ultimately depend on which type of translation service you choose and the cost goes incrementally higher as you move towards better accuracy. Your choice of […] translation service should depend on who your target market is; on whether they demand 100 per cent accuracy or not.”

He spoke to Rob Vandenberg, president and chief executive officer of Lingotek, who says the content you want translated should be what decides it. Vandenberg points to certain social media content such as forums as being the most suitable for machine translation, while your product and service descriptions could be covered by crowd sourced translation. Anything mission-critical or legal should always be handled by a professional translator and be of for-publication quality.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to you. We see your website as your image on the internet, and not getting the content correctly translated could reflect badly on you. Similarly, any direct or internet marketing materials should be subject to a for-publication translation. In fact, we would go as far as to say any customer-facing content you have should only ever be translated by a professional. Luckily, by choosing a language service agency to handle the project for you, the cost could be far more affordable than you imagined.

A professional finish

Any content you only require for internal use, such as to share with your departmental colleagues or keep on record, is more suitable for a machine or crowd sourced translation. However, in our opinion this should never be used for customer-facing content. In fact, it’s sometimes even better not to have the translation at all than to have one that is so poorly done it is unintelligible.

We’re not the only ones either. Online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe told the BBC last year that a single spelling mistake on a website had the potential to cut that company’s online sales in half. An error like that causes the reader to question the credibility of the company, which puts them off handing their money over to it. If you’re translating your web content, there is an even greater risk of making a spelling or grammatical mistake in the target language, which is why you should only have a professional translator handle it.

Our advice is not to abandon the idea of creating a multilingual website – there’s a huge market of potential customers out there waiting for you to tap into. However, if you do get your website translated, make sure as much time and effort goes into it as you put into creating the original content.