The Future of Language Technology: The Benefits and Dangers of Translation Proxy

SPONSORED: A translation proxy can be an effective tool, but only in very specific cases 

If you’re a company that operates in one or very few markets, it’s vital to expand your offerings to consumers in other countries to boost your bottom line. To move forward with this transformative strategy and reach new buyers, you’ll need to figure out which languages they speak and identify how to best execute localization. Localization is the process of adapting your products or services to new markets.   

There are multiple localization strategies. You can integrate your content management system (CMS) with a localization service provider (LSP) that will carry out your localization. You can handle your content manually. Or you can utilize a technology called translation proxy.  

Translation proxy comes in like the Holy Grail of localization, promising great performance and hassle-free implementation. But does the technology live up to the hype? Before moving forward with a translation proxy, read on to learn more about its benefits and potential pitfalls. 

What is a translation proxy and how does it work?
A translation proxy is a set of technologies tightly knitted together to instantly serve localized webpages. Here’s how a translation proxy operates: 

  • A translation proxy positions itself between an end user’s requesting site and the server where the content in the original language lives. 
  • When the end user wants to access your site in a language it was not created in, the translation proxy system intercepts that request and routes it to another web server. 
  • This second web server usually recreates the structure of the site on the fly in another language and serves the content.  
  • The second web server replaces the text that is in the original language with a translation that is delivered in real time from either machine translation (MT) or pre-translated content leveraged from translation memory.  

To execute a translation proxy, you simply need to deploy a few lines of code on your home page to trigger a language selector and a geo-targeting script. These tools identify where the traffic is coming from. From that moment on, the translation proxy will direct traffic coming from other countries into the local versions of your global site, which are hosted and spontaneously created by the translation proxy.  

This approach to localization seems easy and there are benefits to it, but it also comes with important caveats. 

What are the benefits of a translation proxy?
Customers appreciate the following benefits of translation proxy:  

  • It works on legacy websites and eliminates the need for a CMS. 
  • It’s fast to deploy and does not require significant changes to existing website infrastructure.   
  • The initial investment is relatively small compared to a full-blown multilingual CMS or a translation management system deployment.
  • It’s an easy way to go multilingual for companies that are just starting to think about localization and global expansion. 

What are the pitfalls of a translation proxy?
Despite the benefits, there are drawbacks to using a translation proxy that companies should consider before committing to this technology:

  • The development of bleed-through occurrences — Translation proxy technology is prone to bleed-throughs, or occasional occurrences of unlocalized content. These incidents deliver an inadequate customer experience and may negatively influence a customer’s perception of the brand.
    Amazon experienced a negative outcome when it entered the Swedish market. Automatic translations utilizing real-time MT to translate original pieces of content on the fly caused numerous, embarrassing errors on its retail site.
  • The inability to localize non-text materials — A translation proxy is unable to localize non-text materials, such as videos, e-books, brochures and graphics. As with bleed-throughs, this shortcoming will diminish a customer’s experience with the website, product and brand.
  • Increased time to load your site — A translation proxy makes it take longer for your site to load. Even though the impact is usually relatively small, research conducted by HubSpot finds that each additional second of load time reduces conversion rates by 7%.  
  • The need to frequently troubleshoot — Bleed-throughs require frequent troubleshooting that may be easy to fix but will take time for your translation proxy vendor to resolve. Your conversion rates may be impacted as a result.
    Additional expenditures associated with these ad-hoc fixes may eventually make the technology cost-prohibitive.
  • Negative impact on your search engine optimization (SEO) — Search engines will likely detect that your content is automatically generated and penalize that content, making it harder to find. Using proxy as your localization strategy for some markets might, therefore, lead to disappointing search results and further erode its ROI.
  • More costly than you think — In addition to fixing bleed-throughs, you will need to run a separate localization workflow to translate the marketing collateral that lives on your website. These conditions make translation proxy costly to run and a highly unpredictable localization strategy in most setups.

When does a translation proxy make sense?
Translation proxy is an interesting technology that can be an effective solution in specific cases, including: 

  • When you need to have market presence fast—It can be a useful starting point for companies seeking to build their global and multilingual digital experiences within a week or two.
  • When you can’t make a full investment in a multilingual technology solution—The initial investment is relatively small, though you will be required to make additional outlays.  
  • When you need speed and your content is not highly visible—A translation proxy might be a good solution if parts of your website contain content that is low visibility and the prospect of bleed-throughs is not an issue. 
  • When you have simple, static websites—These sites have a central repository of content, there are no social media widgets and content is not pulled from multiple places. However, today, most brands have a complex global digital experience, which is not a good match for translation proxy technology.  

How can translation proxy technology inform your localization strategy?
Translation proxy technology is an interesting option that should be considered as part of your content and localization strategy. However, when evaluating your options, compare the total cost of ownership, not just the initial investment.  

A translation proxy can be enticing for companies that have not engaged in long-term localization strategy planning or who are just beginning to formulate their localization strategy. However, be aware that a translation proxy might become significantly more expensive to run in the long term and pose other challenges due to its lack of scalability. 

Translation proxy: what’s the final analysis?
A translation proxy is not the best choice for most businesses. In our experience, mid-market and large enterprises that are serious about capturing global digital sales typically forgo a translation proxy. The strategy is often short-lived by those businesses that do try it.  

What is the alternative to a translation proxy? We most frequently recommend the deployment of a CMS in conjunction with a strong LSP partner. That’s how many mid-market and large enterprises handle their global e-commerce initiatives and find success doing so.  

This may be an especially good option if you’ve already implemented a CMS that integrates with the LSP’s technology. Lionbridge’s commitment to integration allows retailers to streamline and speed up the translation process while working within their own CMS platform no matter what technology they use.     

If you do opt to partner with an LSP, you can choose to work with a single vendor or multiple vendors. If you decide on the latter, you may need to implement a translation management system to manage all the vendors. This avenue can be costly, and it is one reason why working with a single LSP can be more advantageous. 

Choosing to deploy a CMS and partnering with one LSP is a more mature solution to multilingual content management and localization than the implementation of a translation proxy.  Although it takes longer to execute a multilingual CMS, it will be worth the effort. End users will have better customer experiences, companies will have predictable costs and the result will likely be increased sales.   

Lionbridge partners with brands to break barriers and build bridges all over the world. For more than 20 years, we have helped companies connect with global customers by delivering marketing, testing and globalization services in more than 300 languages. Through our world-class platform, we orchestrate a network of 500,000 passionate experts in 5,000-plus cities, who partner with brands to create culturally rich experiences. Relentless in our love for linguistics, we use the best of human and machine intelligence to forge understanding that resonates with our customers’ customers.


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