Are you still relying on Google for website translation?

Are you still relying on Google for website translation?

Recently, we saw a press release about the launch of a bilingual English-Spanish website for a local company. The developers publicized it as a featured project on their blog. Of course, our first question was, “Who did the website translation?”

Surprisingly, the case study did not discuss language. The write-up focused on how the site was structured for global users. Our Spanish-fluent colleague confirmed that the images looked great, but the Spanish did not. Bad grammar, awkward wording, inconsistent tone and terminology: it was obviously a result of automated translation.

But maybe the quality of the translation did not matter:

  • The site targets Spanish speakers living in the US. They might be using a US-based search engine to find the flagship site, then clicking through to the Spanish version. Consistent Spanish-language keywords for search optimization may not be necessary.
  • The brand already has a following and would have to do a lot worse than write bad Spanish to alienate its fans. Even if Spanish speakers were offended, sales are unlikely to drop.
  • It’s a consumer (B2C) brand, not a B2B brand. Branding for this company does not hinge on precision, complexity, and technical expertise.

The site developers used a plugin to populate the site with Spanish translations “on the fly” using Google Translate. Pages translated in this way only exist temporarily. Search engines will not index them. However, if their client did not care about organic search traffic from outside the US, the lack of search authority did not matter.

If the following are true of your business, simply rely on the user’s browser for website translation:

  • You don’t care if searchers outside of your country can find your site.
  • Your customers don’t care about grammar or accuracy.
  • You don’t need consistency in the presentation of your global brand image.

But if these are not true, keep reading.

This copy was translated from Korean into English using “translate” through the browser. You can expect the same quality in the opposite direction.

International Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Automated translation has improved; a reader who speaks another language can right-click anywhere on a page, and the browser translation tool will present a serviceable version of the copy.

However, if you want to reach prospects in other countries who don’t already know the URL for your brand, don’t rely on Google Translate. Prospects won’t be able to find you through search. Free, automated browser-based translation tools will not optimize your site for international search. In France or Germany, where they use French or German Google ( or, French and German content gets priority. Your flagship site will not be found unless someone is specifically searching for you. Google won’t archive automatically translated pages, so foreign-language search engines cannot see them.

If you don’t care if prospective clients can find you via search, just let users click “translate” in their browser.

How bad is automatic website translation?

Language service partners have a professional obligation to warn of the dangers of unedited machine-translated content. More circumspect readers will admit, “it’s not THAT bad.”

If your prospects reach your site and click “translate,” what will they get? To illustrate the difference between clicking “translate” and going to a professionally translated site, I looked up the Japanese bank Nomura on  When I clicked “translate” (into English) I got this:

The Nomura Group has a global network that exceeds 30 countries and regions around the world as a “global financial services and group based on Asia.” Three divisions, sales, asset management and wholesale, cooperate cross-cuttingly to provide highly value-added products and services to domestic and overseas customers.

The punctuation is off, and “cross-cuttingly” is a ridiculous adverb.  But honestly, it’s NOT THAT BAD considering I don’t read Japanese! Still, compare it to the professionally translated, search-optimized page that can be reached through the language menu:

Nomura is an Asia-headquartered global investment bank with an integrated network spanning over 30 countries. By connecting markets East & West, we service the needs of individuals, institutions, corporations, and governments through our three business divisions: Retail, Asset Management, and Wholesale (Global Markets and Investment Banking.)

This makes better sense and reads more authoritatively for global investment banking clients.

Instead of asking how objectively bad automatic translation is, you should ask yourself if the quality meets your readers’ standards. Grammar is not essential to the B2C brand I described earlier. However, B2B marketing requires more care. Precision is essential to manufacturing, law, engineering, chemicals, pharma, finance, and any other good or service traded in a B2B context.  If your sentences look silly, how can a prospect trust you for a major purchase?

But my customers only deal with my distributors.

Trust and communication are essential to your relationship with your overseas distributors. Any number of arrangements can be reached with respect to marketing, sales, and advertising. You could retain complete control over marketing collateral or they could be handling print and online catalog translation. If you have a strong relationship with your distributor, and you are happy with your overseas revenues, perhaps you don’t need professional website translation.

But, what if your relationship with your distributor ends?  Will your branding be strong enough among buyers in that regional market to compete without their support? Without a dedicated foreign-language website, a brand can be present in a region for years without building any online authority.

Automatic website translation risks one more pitfall if your end customers seek out your website and click “translate.” What they see in their own language may conflict with your distributor’s information. When exporting medical devices, for example, claims made in marketing copy cannot diverge from the technical material provided to regulators. Your competitors will be happy to point out any discrepancies to the authorities.

What if we build a site, then paste in Google Translated text?

Please don’t do that!

Google’s quality guidelines for search optimization disapprove of automatically generated content. At the top of the “forbidden” list is “text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing.” Most localization firms will hammer this point home repeatedly. Industry news source Slater ran a story warning that “Google doesn’t want google translated content in its search results.”

If your web developer uses Google Translate to generate raw foreign-language copy, then publishes it on web pages without editing, forget about high search rankings.

Even if SEO penalties were not an issue, whatever you publish will still be a part of your brand identity. Will you offend your readers with the assumption that their language has lower standards than your own?

If none of this applies to you, relying on Google Translate is fine.

But if you want to make the most of your foreign-language market, partner with professional website translation experts to create a search-optimized website to protect your brand, grow your sales, and serve your customers.