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How to translate a website

Website translation is always a tough area for marketing departments. We are regularly asked what the best process is for website translation. If you maintain an English site with a large number of pages and content that continually changes, how do you manage the cost of translation?

There are a number of different best practices to address this challenge for any business.

Use a Content Management System (CMS)

If you don’t have a budget constraint then the most effective method is to use a Content Management System (CMS). Choose one that can handle multiple languages and can support regular updates. Remember, you don’t have to translate your entire site right away. You can spread your budget over a period of time. This way you can gradually deliver the right content to the right target market.

Translate only the key pages

You could just translate the most important pages only. It is worth getting your web designer to review and select the most popular pages on your site. Then just translate these! You may find your visitors focus on one particular area on your site, therefore, firstly, you can decide the most important pages to translate. This means you can manage your budget down to the page and maximise your ROI.

Be careful when looking at the numbers as you may find that your News pages are high on the list. However they will change very often and probably have a lot of content. This might be a section you do not need to translate. We also recommend using the word Blog instead or News, as the word news can be a little misleading to some users.

The result of this method is that you get a site where the key content is translated, very cost effective and delivers results. The only downside is that from a customer’s point-of-view they will see some English content. You need to decide if this is acceptable for your customers.

Develop a microsite

Another alternative is to develop a microsite in the target languages. In this scenario, you take the most important pages from your analytics and produce a new site with only this content. This is a much smaller site and links directly from your main site. When a user selects a new language, they are taken to this microsite in theirs.

The key advantage of this method is that the site is completely translated with the most relevant content. You do have an extra small amount of managing to do for this microsite, but the main advantage is that it doesn’t have to be updated as much as the main site.

Translate one language at a time

An area often overlooked is what languages to use on your website. Into which languages to translate?

From a marketing point of view, it makes sense to translate only one language at a time or possibly the more popular ones such as French, German, Spanish or Italian. The reason why is that it’s better to implement a marketing strategy one country at a time to check user-interaction and activity with that translated version.

When you roll out a new site, you want to make sure that:

  1. it works correctly for the target market
    • Is the website working for foreign characters?
  2. your internal systems can handle feedback or client communication
    • Can you handle your new French and German customers at the same time?
  3. the site is delivering what you expected
    • Are you looking for calls, emails or direct sales enquiries?

Should we use flags?

This is always an interesting one. It is generally not recommended to use flags to represent languages on a website.


When a site is in different languages, it’s best to use text saying French, German, English etc” to signify the language

This way a person choosing English in the US, Ireland or UK only selects English. Flags can be politically sensitive; for example, having a person in the south of Ireland clicking on a UK flag for English text, whereas a label stating English would be appropriate.

Sites by Country

For country specific sites it’s appropriate to use flags. If you have an office in the UK or the US, then it’s perfectly acceptable to have the US flag to signify the US site and a UK flag for its target country.