By Stephen Pritchard

If you’re looking for a way to instantly increase your potential customer base there are few things that are more effective than translating your website into a different language. But translating a website isn’t straightforward – these are just a few things you’ll have to consider before offering your site in a different language.

Does it make financial sense?

Assuming that translating a site will automatically result in greater profits without doing any prior research is a big mistake. That’s because if you’re not going to use a free service such as Google Translate (which you shouldn’t for reasons that will be obvious by the time you’ve finished reading this article) translating your site will come at a cost.

Start by estimating how much it will cost to translate your site and any other associated costs – funding a marketing campaign or providing foreign language customer support for example. If you’re not already shipping items overseas have you calculated the impact this could have on your profit margins? Will you want to spend some money on SEO to ensure your foreign language pages rank well in search engines?

Now consider how much extra you’re likely to sell. Are you entering a crowded marketplace with fierce competition or will your business stand out and appeal to lots of people? If you’re not confident translating your site will increase revenue you shouldn’t bother.

Which language talks sense?

If you’re going to dip your toe in the water and only choose one language to translate your site into, which should you choose? The language with the most internet users seems obvious, but there are other factors you should consider. Use Google Analytics to find out if you’re getting visits from foreign users that are leaving your site without making a purchase – is it likely they aren’t buying from you because of the language barrier? Then translating your site into the country’s native language would make sense.

You should also look at the number of businesses already catering to those foreign languages. While there are a lot more Spanish speakers than French speakers in North America, if there are barely any businesses targeting those French speakers translating your site into that language could make more sense.

The value of second language English speakers

The USA has a large number of people that speak English as a second language. So is it worth translating your website into Spanish, for example, even though they can already navigate your site perfectly well?

Even ignoring the fact that there will be always be those Spanish speakers unable to understand English, there are other reasons why translating the site may be worthwhile.

For a start, many people feel more comfortable operating in their first language – unless you have absolutely no competition, these customers will turn somewhere else.  Being seen to make an effort to connect with your customers in their first language is a sign of respect that can get you noticed.

Google Translate and other free services

Remember how translating your site can be seen as a sign of respect? There is no respect in butchering someone’s language, and that is the risk you run by using free translations.  At best, Google Translate will offer a lifeless translation that sounds unnatural (you’ll be lucky if there aren’t a few misleading product descriptions throughout your site). At worst, however, the machine translation can offend your customers with inappropriate copy and could even land you in legal trouble if you don’t fulfil your obligations and responsibilities.

Stephen Pritchard is a writer for 7Brands, a one-stop translation agency with expertise in over 200 languages. @7Brands.