In one of my last posts, a reader raised in his comment a really intriguing question: “I am wondering if having a Google powered ‘Translate this Site’ tool at the top of a blog is even useful in terms of SEO.”

Google translateLet’s first have a look at the mentioned application. Google Translate is a free statistical machine translation service provided by Google that can be added to your website so as to translate your pages into any of 59 languages (as of today). Contrary to traditional rule-based translators, it uses statistical translation, which means that it uses past translations to “guess” what the best translation is for the text.

I will not discuss now the goodness of the translation of this tool, as this merits a separate post, but it should be highlighted that Google has access to millions of documents, and has therefore an impressive volume of information for statistical translation. You can find more information in Google Translate Inside.

So how does this work? A Javascript from the page to be translated calls a script in Google, which translates the page and displays it in the browser. It is therefore created “on the fly”, on user request, and is not permanent. It does not create a page, so the translation will never appear in the search engines. It’s like an application that runs on your browser – as far as the search engines are concerned, it simply does not exist. Actually, when in your browser you try to view the source code of the translated page you actually get the page in the original browser!

So what does this mean? The translated page will never appear in a foreign language searches, as no permanent page is created. So no additional traffic can be gained from international searches. Absolutely none.

On the other hand, foreign language users that land on your page will have the opportunity of finding out what the page is about, and possibly even become customers. So if you cannot afford a proper translation, providing this possibility might be a good idea. It will not enhance your traffic, but might potentially bring in customers from visitors that would otherwise be lost. That’s the good thing about enhancing user experience.

But now let¡s speculate a little bit, because I’ve not been able to find anything worthwhile om this issue: Since Google is increasingly looking for quality and enhancement of the user experience, it will certainly not frown on you offering your users to see the page in their own language using Google Translate if you do not have localized pages. Is it a ranking factor? I would say no… but it might become one. Perhaps not with much weight, but everything adds up…

Instead of offering the individual translation, there is also  the possibility to translate the web pages with Google Translate. And I mean offering really translated pages that can be indexed by the search engines. For that purpose you could use  a web script that calls out the Google Language API. An example of using the API using PHP can be found in the PHP Implementation of the Google AJAX Language API. I would however not use this possibility. Why?  Barry Schwartz at SEO Roundtable indicates that this might be against Google’s Guidelines regarding auto-generated content. And check out my post about why website translation is impacted by the new Google algorithm.

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