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Back in 2014, we covered why using automatic machine translation (MT) tools for your international websites isn’t the answer, as doing so dramatically reduces your site’s visibility. Of course, Google’s guidelines change all the time, and while all the information we discussed previously is still true, there are some updates that your business needs to know about.
Automatic MT tools, such as Google Translate or Bing, may be free, but there are some huge downsides to relying on them for your international websites. Using automatic translation is actually against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, meaning you will likely be penalised by the search engine. This penalty will impact on your organic traffic, you’ll drop off the rankings – a problem that could persist for months, losing you a serious amount of business.
If you click-through to a website that in English, doesn’t make any sense because it has been badly translated you’d probably click the ‘back’ button pretty quickly. Chances are you will never return to that website again, as it’s lost your trust. If you use automatic MT tools for your site chances are, your international customers will probably leave your site pretty quickly.
It’s not a risk you want to take, as the business you’ll lose will cost more than the money you save from using a free translation tool.
Let’s take a look at what’s changed since 2014.
Not so long ago SEO experts were obsessed with keywords, as it was such a big driver of organic traffic. The more keywords you could squeeze on a page or in an article, the better, as it was more likely to appear at the top of Google search. This resulted in keyword spamming. Google fixed this by implementing the Panda update, which focused on lowering the rank and penalising sites with low quality content.
While keywords are still important for organic search, SEO is no longer focused around it. Instead, the focus is on topics. When using automatic MT tools the same keywords and phrases will likely be used over and over, which will make the text read poorly. This results in low-quality content, which Google frowns upon, and you could get penalised for it.
Of course, if a human was to translate the text themselves, they would use various keywords and phrases, and make the copy flow better. Google looks favourably upon varying keywords, and it could mean your website will start to appear for keywords it hasn’t ranked on before.
One problem with automatic MT tools that only work once the user is on site, is that meta descriptions will go untranslated. Meta descriptions are incredibly important, as when your page appears in the search results, it acts as a preview to what’s on it.
When a user sees something in a different language they’re likely to ignore it, either because they cannot read what it says or feel that the article/page is not relevant to them. As a result, your click-through rate (CTR) will suffer, and you won’t get the international business you’re after.
Here’s a good example of a website using automatic MT tools to their disadvantage – this search result was on Google.fr for ‘iPod Nano’:
You may not even get the visibility in the first place, as your title tags are also unlikely to be automatically translated. Title tags have a huge impact in your visibility: if a page has the title tag of ‘home’, for example, it is only likely to appear for searches of that word, nothing else. This is why your title tags must be translated, as well as your meta descriptions.
If your users land on your webpage and then have to click a button to get the automatically translated version, search engines can’t see this content. This means you will never rank for the translated content, so your site cannot achieve the visibility it truly deserves.
As you can see, automatic machine translation tools used without human intervention could seriously damage your SEO efforts. However, MT with human post-editing is incredibly effective at pushing new international customers to your site. A win-win cost-effective solution.