Should I translate my website into another language? No, probably not.

Why not? Well, it’s not a case of never say never. More like, if you can’t do it properly, don't bother doing it at all. And why wouldn't you be able to do it properly? Because translation is a complex, multi-faceted task that takes time, knowledge and possibly more money than you’re willing to shell out.

Here’s why I don’t think you should translate your website: 

  1. You probably don’t need it
  2. Your content might not translate
  3. You may not have the budget to translate it properly
  4. You may not have the support in place to localize and polish the translated content
  5. You possibly don't have the infrastructure in place to truly support multilingual business

How much do you really know about translation? Sure, it involves transcribing the meaning of text in one language into another language, but when it comes to actually using translation for business purposes, it gets much more complicated, to the point that people without real knowledge of translation, localization and transcreation quickly find themselves in very deep water. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume your website is in English, but most of this advice applies to anyone with content in any language (um, except the first point). 

You probably don't need it. I’m not going to patronize you. You know your business better than anyone else, but bear this in mind: much of the non-English speaking world can get by in English just fine. English is the language of the internet, and the lingua franca of a hell of a lot of people. Don’t get carried away with lofty ideas of the globalized world - find out where your visitors actually come from, or where you want them to come from, then find out what they speak and what they need. If you can get away without translating, it's the far easier option.

Your content might not translate. A client recently commented to me that he wasn't having much luck getting English-speakers in his organization to translate his blog posts into English. The problem, apart from the fact that these English speakers weren't actually translators, is that the posts simply didn't "work" in English. Translated, even professionally, they came out dry, humorless and completely unsuitable for the US market. They were boring. What he needed was his ideas, re-imagined in English. That, my friends, is transcreation, a type of translation that takes talent and experience. This is a. very hard to do properly, and b. like all things that are hard to do properly, bloody expensive. 

Yeah, it’s expensive. That’s the pretty much what threads together every point here. Translation is expensive. Transcreation and localization are even more expensive. If it’s not, be suspicious. The great thing here is that if you’re an unscrupulous translator, the translation of your website can be a pile of crap, but well, in Indonesian, or Croatian, or Irish, or whatever, you’re never going to know. Even if it’s (suspiciously) cheap, the translation of a small website is going to cost upwards of €100. And that’s just the basic text. Which leads us to our next point…

You don’t have the support in place to localize and polish the translated content. So, let’s say you decide you DO need the website translated, the content will work well in Indonesia, and you've got oodles of cash and have paid a highly-recommended translator to do the job (ha!). Wait! That Twitter feed you have linked, though, that’s not in Indonesian, is it? Do you have an Indonesian Twitter account? Do you have enough followers in Indonesia to warrant it? What about your SEO? Have you had an Indonesian SEO expert take a look and make sure all the text is optimized? Changed all the metadata in your images? Gotten rid of those images with the girl with the cleavage, because some Indonesians aren't so cool with that? Are your outbound links to sources your new Indonesian fans can read? I'm giving the Indonesians a hard time here, but it's just an example. If  your website truly needs translation to any language, you need to consider these things.

You don’t have the infrastructure in place to truly support multilingual business. So, again, let’s say "Project Jakarta" is GO, and your beautiful new Indonesian website is up and running. Then what? Your Indonesian orders start pouring in. Suddenly, you realize your e-commerce solution isn't available in Indonesian, or you suddenly have a lot of heartfelt mail from people who, Google Translate tell you, want urgent help with the transferring of their herring sprouts, or whatever (because that’s what Google Translate will tell you when you really, really need a translation). Every new feature, page or text you need to add suddenly needs to be done in duplicate, and things - multiple things - will undoubtedly break because of some obscure problem with UTF-8 - or something. Trust me, they just will.

In the right circumstances, translating your website could be key to opening your business to a brave new world. It's a hugely difficult job to do properly, however. Businesses that are fully multilingual often employ multiple people simply to oversee being multilingual. If you're able to give it 100%, lots of expertise and lots of money, go for it. But if you're not, just don't. 

Header image "3419 INDONESIA JAVA MONTE BROMO" thanks to/gracias a Jose Javier Martin Espartosa

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