Although almost 900 million internet users speak English, there are also hundreds of millions of internet users who don’t. Despite this, a great number of businesses don’t translate their websites; and are therefore ignoring valuable potential customers who don’t speak or read English.

Translating your website effectively (not relying on shoddy machine translation) can be vital to the success of your website, and therefore vital to the success of your business; whether you’re looking to expand into new markets or attract new clients.

Why is website translation important for startups?

Translating content can not only improve where your website ranks on Google, it can also help customer experience and build trust in your business.

As 73% of all internet traffic is from non-English speaking countries, any business, big or small, should think about whether the message they convey on their website is worth translating.

Greater advances in technology and marketing expectations mean that people expect companies to communicate with them in their own language – this applies both for business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) alike. So if you eventually want to expand into foreign markets, or have to deal with clients or business partners abroad, translating your website is of paramount importance.

Communicating in multiple languages is as relevant to startups as it is to multinationals: even if you have no intention of expanding abroad, you may be missing out on customers locally who do not speak English. According to the 2011 Census, over 1.7 million UK residents don’t speak English as a first language. That’s a huge market your business could be ignoring! With that in mind, here are the do’s and don’t of translating your website.

Do… Check what your competitors are doing

The first step you take should be to check what your competitors’ websites are doing. Is their website translated? If so, all the more reason to translate yours. Make note of what languages are they are targeting, and how you can do it better. If your competitors have not translated their website, then translating yours could give you an edge.

Do… localize your website

Although nations may share a language, the way that language is spoken, written and read can differ significantly. By localizing your website, you don’t just engage with speakers of a target language, but with a specific audience.

According to London Translations, a company who translate websites to and from over 170 languages, localization is not just confined to language; something as seemingly innocuous as the color of your site could represent vastly different things in different cultures.

For example, they state that “Whilst in Western society white has connotations of purity and innocence, it is the color associated with mourning and death in Asian culture. Something you’d definitely want to avoid if you were selling wedding dresses.”

Don’t… settle for a machine translation

Although many businesses appreciate the need to translate their website, many, deterred by cost, go for cheap machine translations. Google Translate does offer this service, and although machine translation has come a long way in the last few years, it still falls painfully short. Word for word machine translation makes your website sound like just that; a machine. This will not engage new audiences.

Interestingly, using Google Translate on your website can actually harm your website’s ranking on search engines. That’s because automated text published without human review or curation can actually be punished by Google, if Google deems that it has “no added value” to readers. So while Google Translate may help you order off a menu, if your business’ website is dependent on it, you might wind up losing out.

Don’t… just translate your website into one language

Depending on budget, startups should, if possible, translate their website into numerous languages. A survey by TechCrunch found that the websites of the most successful unicorns (startup companies valued at over $1 billion) were all multilingual. They found that four startups, Tinder, Uber, Jawbone and Pinterest all had websites that communicate in over 30 languages.

Don’t… target languages randomly

When translating their website, startups must think about usability and the market(s) they are looking to break into. The same TechCrunch survey mentioned above found that certain languages are more important to startups than others. They found that English was the most important, followed by French, German and Japanese. Of course, there’ll always be languages that are specific to each startup, so think about what will secure the best ROI for your business.