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The ultimate guide to website translation

The ultimate guide to website translation
Home » Blog » Translation Services » The ultimate guide to website translation

At Brightlines, our philosophy is that a website encompasses diverse text, including technical, legal, creative, and medical content to name a few. Therefore, expecting a single individual to handle all types of translation is unrealistic.

In the realm of typical website translation, it’s not necessary to apply the same translation method to every page. When you approach us for a quotation, our focus will be on identifying the pages that are crucial for your business, such as the key product and sales pages, along with the Home and About Us pages.

These sections are the cornerstone of your online presence. Your marketing team has carefully crafted them to ensure the message and tone are right. It’s our job to ensure that this resonates with international audiences in their language, maintaining the integrity of your original content.

Other sections, like the Terms & Conditions, staff profiles or product pages, are often suitable for standard translation or in some cases, a combination of AI and human (Human in the Loop) translation. This hybrid approach involves an initial AI translation and a meticulous review and editing by our native-speaking professional translators in the respective regions. They are adept at identifying and correcting the occasional slip-ups that AI and machine translations might make, thereby safeguarding your brand from potential misunderstandings.

This strategy is cost-effective, enabling you to expand your translation efforts further, and it ensures that all your translated web pages authentically represent your brand, just like your original English website.

This method is a hallmark of the Brightlines Translation approach. We invite you to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our services.

Continue reading for more detailed insights into the various website translation techniques, including the crucial technical aspects required for effectively translating your website.

The Top Ten Most Spoken 
Languages In The World

Translation, transcreation, and localisation – whats the difference?

When adapting your website for different audiences, the approach to translation is critical. Direct, word-for-word translation might suffice for some content, but other pieces may benefit from a more nuanced adaptation, sensitive to cultural contexts and local markets. This tailored method, known as transcreation, involves a creative rewriting of the original message to resonate with the target audience, ensuring the intent and tone are maintained. Choosing between these methods hinges on the nature of your content and the specific needs of your audience. Each translation method has its place, and understanding when to employ each can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your communication.

What is standard translation?

Standard translation refers to the direct rendering of text from one language to another, ensuring the translated content mirrors the original accurately and precisely. This method doesn’t delve into cultural subtleties or linguistic idiosyncrasies; rather, it focuses on a clear, literal translation of the words as they are. It’s most suitable for straightforward content where the main goal is clarity—such as product descriptions, user manuals, and instructional materials. When cultural nuances and branding language aren’t a priority and cost-efficiency is desired, standard translation is often the preferred choice. It provides a clear, unembellished transfer of information from one language to the other without the need for creative linguistic finesse.

When NOT to use standard translation:

Avoid standard translation when your content’s effectiveness hinges on cultural relevance and contextual understanding. This approach can miss cultural cues and local idioms, leading to misunderstandings or unintended messages, as it does not account for the subtleties of language that resonate with the target audience. Marketing materials, like slogans or campaigns, are susceptible to such nuances. An example of the pitfalls of standard translation is the alteration of a well-intended slogan into something inappropriate or off-putting in another language, as famously happened with a Pepsi slogan when directly translated into Mandarin. Such errors can not only diminish a brand’s impact but can also cause embarrassment or offence, highlighting the need for more culturally attuned translation methods in these scenarios.

What is localisation?

Localisation transcends translation by incorporating cultural insights and consumer preferences into the translation process. Translators must understand local customs, traditions, and cultural nuances in depth. For a deeper dive into how localisation differs from standard translation, refer to our detailed blog post on the topic.

This adaptation also extends to visual elements—adjusting colours, imagery, typography, and layout to align with local tastes and cultural symbols. An illustrative case is the varied perceptions of numbers in China: while ‘8’ is seen as fortuitous, ‘4’ is avoided due to its phonetic similarity to the word for ‘death’. Effective localisation would mean tactfully using or avoiding these numbers in campaigns for the Chinese market. Imagery can also impact how the content connects with the local audience. A recent project completed at Brightlines had to have images of green trees and fields changed for the Dubai market for obvious reasons.

When to use localisation

Localisation is crucial When you aim to tailor your website for a new market. It’s not just about language—it’s about creating a culturally relevant experience that resonates with the local audience. Engaging in localisation early in your expansion process can save time, avoid internal issues, and reduce costs. Ultimately, it positions your brand for international success. For expert guidance, consider consulting with a translation agency with a strong background in global marketing communications, such as Brightlines Translation, to support your efforts.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation goes beyond mere translation; it’s the art of culturally adapting a message from one language to another, ensuring the original intent, style, tone, and context remain intact. It’s about capturing the essence of your brand message and ensuring it thrives within a new cultural landscape. For content rich in humour, abstract taglines, or a unique tone of voice, transcreation is the method of choice.

For an in-depth understanding of transcreation and its pivotal role in international branding, delve into our detailed blog post, the complete guide to transcreation.

When to use transcreation

Transcreation becomes essential when you aim to tailor your brand’s communication to resonate with a local audience authentically. It’s often argued that for effective marketing and advertising materials — think brochures, flyers, and banners — transcreation isn’t just beneficial, it’s necessary.

Especially in the realm of global marketing, where the cultural impact of product names, slogans, and ad copy is paramount, transcreation is key. Ordinary or technical translations might fall short. Transcreation is the strategic choice to ensure your brand’s essence and message are translated and culturally tailored for your target audience.

For a more granular look into the ‘when’ and ‘why’ of transcreation, our blog post “Transcreation: when exactly do you need it?”  offers further insights.

Technical translation – what is it?

Technical translation stands apart from other translation forms, demanding linguistic expertise, a comprehensive grasp of the subject matter, and industry-specific jargon.

This type of translation transcends mere word-for-word conversion of specialist terms and phrases. Echoing the sentiments of a publication by the American Translators Association, technical documentation mandates a strictly neutral voice devoid of personal nuances or any hint of subjectivity. Mastering such an impersonal tone in the translated content necessitates unique expertise.

So, what are the core responsibilities of a technical translator?

  • Possess a detailed and nuanced knowledge of the complex topics involved, ideally bolstered by hands-on experience within the relevant industry.
  • Grasp the company’s unique linguistic preferences and technical lexicon.
  • Hold a deep cultural insight into the target language.
  • Tailor the content to be culturally resonant and comprehensible to the intended readership.

When to use technical translation:

Technical translation becomes indispensable when your original document has intricate, sector-specific terms and notions. In such instances, engaging with a language service provider specialising in technical translation is imperative. The gamut of technical documents necessitating such precision might include exhaustive manuals, technical marketing collateral, or detailed safety audits. These documents can cover extensive subjects from scientific research, software development, engineering, in-depth pharmaceutical literature, and more.

Here are some examples of common technical documents:

  1. Patent translation

Patents are subject to stringent legal standards and practical stipulations. Their translation is a task of high complexity, necessitating translators who not only have deep knowledge in the relevant technical fields, such as medical, chemical, mechanical, or pharmaceutical, but also possess the finesse in crafting legal documents. It’s crucial for the translator to fully comprehend the patent’s context, whether it’s related to claims, detailed descriptions, or usage in judicial proceedings.

  1. User manual translation

User manuals represent another category frequently requiring technical translation. Similar to patent documents, these texts call for translators who are not just experts in the related technical field and have had direct industry exposure but also specialists in translating instructional content. They must adeptly adopt the appropriate tone and style that user manuals demand.

Understanding Translation Technologies: Machine or Human Expertise?

Firstly, what is the difference between AI or MT Translation?

  • Machine Translation (MT): This refers to any computer-based method of translating text from one language to another. Traditional MT may use basic rules or statistical methods and often results in less natural translations.
  • AI Translation: A more advanced form of machine translation that uses artificial intelligence, specifically neural networks, to produce translations. It tends to be more fluent and accurate, better capturing the nuances of language.

Raw Machine Translation (AI) vs Human-in-the-Loop AI Translation

Machine Translation has come a long way, now utilising advanced algorithms to process text rapidly. It’s a powerhouse for translating large volumes of content, particularly where the context is straightforward or technical. MT’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness are its main advantages for businesses looking to translate substantial amounts of text quickly.

The Advantages and Limitations of MT or AI Translation:

  • Pros:
    • Unmatched speed, capable of translating extensive content without needing rest or downtime.
    • Particularly useful for documents with repetitive phrasing, such as technical manuals, where it can serve as a springboard for further human refinement.
  • Cons:
    • Despite improvements, AI or MT cannot fully grasp nuances, often missing the mark on tone and cultural relevance.
    • Search engines like Google penalise automatically generated translations, adversely affecting website SEO.

The Essential Role of Human Expertise:

  • For high-stakes content, such as legal documents or creative copy, starting with a human translator is critical. The intricacies of language and cultural nuances in such texts make them unsuitable for initial machine translation.
  • Editing machine-translated creative content can be more time-consuming and complex than translating from scratch, negating the speed advantage of AI translation.
  • Human translators bring an irreplaceable level of creativity, empathy, and cultural insight, especially in transcreation, where the goal is to evoke the same emotions and reactions in the target audience as the source does.

For Creative Copy: Human from the Start

  • Creative copy demands human translation from the outset. The subtleties of persuasive, engaging content—such as marketing slogans, narrative storytelling, and branded messaging—require the human touch.
  • Human translators ensure that the original intent, humour, and cultural references are preserved and adapted to resonate with the target audience.

In conclusion, while MT has its place for preliminary drafts and straightforward texts, the value of human translators cannot be overstated. They are essential for delivering content that engages, persuades, and connects with the audience on a human level. For content that needs to make an impact, entrust it to the nuanced skills of professional translators.

While MT/AI can provide a foundation in some cases, the discerning touch of a human translator is irreplaceable for ensuring content resonates on a personal and cultural level. Human expertise is indispensable when the content requires more than just understanding but deep engagement.

Effective website translation often demands a nuanced approach rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. Different pages may require different levels of translation intervention based on their content, purpose, and audience engagement levels.

Human-in-the-Loop AI Translation for Websites: Cost-Effective and Compliant

  • High-Traffic Pages: For pages like the homepage, product pages, and main category pages that drive the most visitor engagement, a fully human translation is essential to capture the subtleties of language and brand voice.
  • Legal and Compliance Pages: For sections like terms of service, privacy policies, and disclaimers, which have lower visitor engagement but are critical for legal reasons, human-in-the-loop AI translation can be a cost-effective method. MT can provide the initial draft, which is then carefully reviewed and adjusted by human translators to ensure legal accuracy and compliance.
  • Support and Help Sections: FAQs and support articles, where clarity is important but the language is more standardised, can benefit from AI translation with human oversight to fine-tune the nuances and technical terms.
  • Low-Traffic Articles and Blogs: Content that is less frequently visited but still represents the brand, such as niche blog posts or news updates, can be initially translated with AI and then reviewed by humans to maintain quality while controlling costs.

Integrating human-in-the-loop AI translation into the equation significantly stretches the budget. This approach allocates funds to high-quality creative translation, where it’s absolutely essential. It guarantees a judicious allocation of resources, ensuring every segment of the website is translated to balance expense with the demand for quality and adherence to standards.

WordPress Translation Plugins

Translation plugins are essential tools for WordPress sites, allowing you to offer your content in multiple languages. For instance, a Spanish speaker can easily switch to their preferred language on a site, primarily in English.

There are two primary kinds of WordPress translation plugins:

  1. Automatic Translation Plugins:

These plugins offer immediate machine translation of your site’s content. While they provide a swift solution, the translations often lack the quality a professional can offer. These are commonly known as automatic or auto-translating WordPress plugins.

  1. Multilingual Content Management Plugins:

Such plugins let you handle and display translations sourced externally. WPML is a leading example, offering robust management of multilingual content.

Both types aim to deliver content in the user’s language, enhancing the experience for international visitors. You can learn more by reading our detailed blog on WordPress translation plugins.

Appropriate Use of Automatic Translation Plugins

Automatic translation plugins are cost-effective for those on a tight budget. They’re also efficient for translating large text volumes swiftly. If you have a considerable amount of content that requires quick, albeit temporary, translation, these plugins offer a practical solution.

We’ve delved into the optimal scenarios for using WordPress automatic translation plugins on our blog.

When to Avoid Automatic Translation Plugins

Despite their speed, these plugins often fail to provide publication-ready content. Professional review is still necessary because they may not deliver grammatically or structurally sound translations.

For more complex or specialised content, these plugins may struggle with accuracy. Our technical translation blog post offers more insight into this issue. Thus, a professional translation service remains indispensable, even when using these plugins.

Engaging a translator or agency to revise auto-translated content will streamline the process. Including post-editing and proofreading in your timeline ensures the rapid provision of quality content.

The WPML Edge

WPML, a highly favoured plugin, simplifies creating a multilingual site and managing translations. It supports translating all content types and integrates smoothly with WooCommerce for multilingual e-commerce sites. It’s compatible with most WordPress themes and backed by reliable developer support.

WPML is not only cost-effective but also user-friendly. For a quick introduction to its capabilities, view the WPML demo video.

Partnering with a WPML Translation Partner, like Brightlines, ensures a fluid translation process. Simply select the content to translate in the backend, and the rest is handled smoothly, delivering professional-grade translations directly to your site.

For further details on how Brightlines enhances the translation process with WPML, visit our blog.

Adapting Layout and Navigation for Multilingual Websites

Website layouts need to adapt for international audiences. Take, for instance, languages like Arabic and Urdu, which are read right-to-left, affecting the visual flow and placement of key content and navigation buttons.

The visual presentation of language and its cultural resonance should influence your site’s design. Text expansion is another consideration; English to French translations, for instance, may increase text length by 15-20%. Japanese characters may occupy more horizontal space, and some languages may require additional vertical space.

Such variations can necessitate significant layout changes, not solely for cultural compatibility but also to accommodate the physical space text occupies. For example, longer German words, like button labels, can disrupt designs with limited space.

Proper formatting is crucial to prevent overcrowded content and maintain the aesthetics of your multilingual websites.


Using identical images across various cultural markets is a common pitfall. Imagery must be culturally sensitive, as colours and gestures carry different meanings across cultures. For instance, while a thumbs-up signals positivity in Britain, it can represent a number in countries like Germany and Japan.

The choice of images must be thoughtful, particularly for markets with strong cultural taboos. For websites targeting Arabic-speaking regions, images depicting alcohol or gambling should be avoided to prevent causing offence.

The significance of imagery in website translation is often underestimated, yet it’s crucial for international business success. Properly adapted imagery not only avoids cultural missteps but can also be a key factor in a business’s success or failure abroad.

For deeper insights on optimising your website’s visual elements for a global audience, consider exploring our blog on managing space on multilingual websites.

Selecting the Right Multilingual URL/Domain Structure:

What exactly is a multilingual URL/domain structure?

At Brightlines, a frequent query we encounter from businesses aiming to translate their websites revolves around domain structures:

“How should I structure the domains for different language versions of my website?”

This question often arises because businesses seek an SEO-optimized solution that avoids the complexities of managing several sites. Since many web developers are not specialists in this area, clients often search for answers themselves.

Let’s explore some domain setup options you can consider.

Option 1: Country-specific domain

Example: www.yourbrand.fr

The adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” aptly applies here. It suggests adapting to local norms, a principle that can be extended to websites. You’re embracing hyper-localisation by opting for a country-specific domain, like .de for Germany or .fr for France.

Advantages of this method include:

  • Direct geo-targeting
  • Enhanced trust among local users
  • Optimal SEO visibility
  • Clear distinction between different regional markets
  • Benefits from inter-domain linking
  • Commitment to specific markets
  • Facilitates website customisation per region (localisation)

Consider DFS’s approach with their domain dfs-banken.nl:

Major corporations like Google and Coca-Cola adopt this method, with a unique domain for each country. However, this approach has its challenges:

  • More complex management
  • Difficulties in synchronising updates across regions
  • Country domains don’t have the same prestige as a .com
  • Building domain authority from scratch
  • The best domain names might be unavailable

Option 2: Subdomain

Example: www.fr.yourbrand.com

If you’ve already established a strong domain presence and prefer not to customise extensively for each country, subdomains, like www.france.yourbrand.com, are an effective solution.

Wikipedia, for instance, uses this approach, likely due to its immense content volume, making it easier to manage with country-specific subdomains.

Pros of subdomains:

  • Simplified content organisation
  • Easier to manage than country-specific domains
  • Search Console geo-targeting capabilities

However, the downsides are noteworthy:

  • Potentially confusing user experience
  • Challenges in Building Domain Authority
  • Suboptimal for SEO

Option 3: Sub-folders

Example: www.yourbrand.com/fr/

For smaller companies with limited resources, sub-folders are often the preferred choice. This involves a main .com domain with country-specific subfolders, as exemplified by Dr Martens.

This method is also a default in CMS platforms like Shopify, designed based on user expectations.

Additional options to consider:

  • URL parameters: These are generally used for tracking and appear as code in the URL. While they can display a country-specific domain, they are often seen as a workaround and may not inspire user confidence.
  • Translation plugins: Tools like WPML or Google Translate can offer language variations for your website. However, they are less suitable for commercial sites, may lead to inconsistent messaging, and are not ideal for SEO.

For more comprehensive insights, check out our guide on domain structures.

Implement a multilingual SEO program.

Launching a multilingual SEO strategy is essential for expanding your brand internationally. To become a global entity, reaching out to non-native English speakers is crucial. Consider London, where over 300 languages are spoken, illustrating the diversity of language usage worldwide. A monolingual SEO approach in English limits your reach, as only about 5% of the global population speaks English as their first language. Embracing multilingual SEO and collaborating with expert translation agencies broadens your reach to the remaining 95%.

When integrating keywords, it’s vital to account for regional dialects and ensure they feel natural. People search in a way that reflects their speech patterns, not like robots. Therefore, it’s preferable to rely on human translators over automated tools, utilizing their knowledge to compile an extensive list of relevant search terms. Additionally, HTML elements need careful attention to avoid poor automatic translations, which can be off-putting and contravene major search engines’ guidelines.

How do I use multilingual SEO?

Begin by identifying the specific regions you want to target, as each has its own linguistic subtleties and dialects. Choosing to focus on a particular region, like North Mexico, might be more effective than targeting the entire Spanish-speaking population.

Once you’ve selected a region, consider whether you need a translation agency, like Brightlines, to conduct research and develop appropriate search terms, depending on your fluency and cultural understanding. These terms should be woven seamlessly into your website content, requiring minimal adjustments but yielding significant impacts on your site’s performance.


Geotargeting enhances your website’s appeal on international search engines. This involves creating URLs with region-specific endings (e.g., .fr for France), as opposed to generic ones like .com or .net, which don’t favor any region. Using a specific country code or creating a fully translated site, such as example.de, can effectively break into international markets.

Advantages of geotargeting?

Geotargeted URLs are more effective in penetrating international markets. The closer the URL is to the format native to your target region, the better. Variations like ‘/language?=german’ are less impactful compared to a straightforward ‘.de’ for Germany. Combine these URLs with precision keywords that take into account regional dialects and slang for maximum effectiveness.

Hreflang, whats that?

Hreflang tags are crucial for defining your web pages’ target audience based on language or country. They prevent search engines from viewing different versions of your site as duplicates and direct users to the most appropriate language version of your site.

For instance, if a German-speaking user searches for your site, Google will show your German page. Hreflang tags help search engines understand your page’s intended audience and language, providing alternative versions for different countries and languages and specifying a default language and country.

Implementing Hreflang can be done via HTTP headers, an XML sitemap, or an HTML link element in the header. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that aligns best with your website’s needs.

Using a Professional Translation Agency in the Age of AI

In today’s interconnected business world, effective communication across global markets is vital. How your brand’s message is translated and perceived in foreign markets can profoundly influence your reputation. The choice isn’t just between standing out or fading into obscurity; it’s also about showcasing your commitment and respect towards a new market. While AI has made remarkable strides in translation technology, it remains a supplementary tool rather than a standalone solution.

The integration of AI in translation offers efficiency and speed, but it lacks the nuanced understanding and cultural sensitivity that only human translators can provide. This is where the value of a professional translation agency like Brightlines becomes indispensable. Such agencies blend AI’s technological advancements with the irreplaceable expertise of human translators. This combination ensures that your website isn’t just accurately translated but also culturally resonant and appealing to your target audience. Professional translators bring a wealth of industry-specific knowledge and cultural insights essential for preserving and enhancing your brand image in new and diverse markets.

Why Brightlines?

Brightlines is grounded in the philosophy that every brand should maintain its clarity and effectiveness across all languages, not solely in English. Our focus is on serving brands that prioritize excellence in communication. Whether it’s marketing materials or general translation needs, partnering with Brightlines ensures your brand’s message is conveyed accurately and effectively.

We invite you to contact us to learn more about the services Brightlines offers. Our team is eager to assist, offering free advice to guide you in your translation journey. What do you have to lose by reaching out?

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Would you like to talk to an expert now about your project? Let us show you how Brightlines can elevate your brand’s global presence.