Ever heard of proxy translation? This is a method of on-demand website localization where a proxy server sits between the actual website and any visitor who would request localized content. This proxy serves up the requested translations. This means the business that owns the website needs no additional infrastructure and the language service provider (LSP) handles the lion’s share of the work.
Sounds too good to be true? Moravia thinks so.
Moravia is a private equity owned LSP that generated over USD 100mn in annual revenue in 2014. In a blog post published October 15, 2015, the company addressed translation proxies, explaining why they as an LSP do not provide the service. Basically, they claim it often does not scale well, is not suited for enterprise clients, and should only be considered if the business can also invest time and resources into project management. Otherwise they say it is a messy albeit quick and easy, short-term localization method.
It is rare to see an established company come out against a technological solution in such unequivocal terms. Slator reached out to experts on other side of the fence to see what they had to say about proxy translations. Charles Whiteman, SVP of Client Services for MotionPoint, and Balázs Benedek, CTO of Easyling, shared their insights with us.
Translation Proxies “place project management in the client’s lap”
Moravia emphasizes that proxy translations are far from push-button, set-and-forget solutions. “Project management can’t be wished away. Someone has to do it,” they say in the blog post, pointing out that the project management work is usually relegated to the clients. According to Moravia, this means the clients have to closely participate in the process, making linguistic decisions, and even dabbling in more specialized work like Translation Memory management.
Balázs Benedek from Easyling clarified that “using a translation proxy does not define the TMS (translation memory system) / CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool to be used.” He explained that the clients can decide whether to rely on the LSP or their own project management expertise, just like any other translation project. “The proxy means only one thing: if your existing CMS system is not localization ready and can’t provide the content to be localised, the proxy can do it for you,” he said.
Benedek pointed out that Translation Memory has nothing to do with translation proxy as a technology, and their clients are free to choose which one they use and how to manage it. He noted that “should Moravia offer a proxy solution, their linguistic expertise could be made available for portals and clients where the proxy is a great match.”
Charles Whiteman from MotionPoint explains that in their case, they offer “a proxy-based solution that includes client-dedicated project managers, translators and editors” as well as “a suite of optimization tools, and marketing experts, to help ensure the success and ROI” of their clients. “Our clients are welcome, and encouraged, to discuss linguistic nuances with us. Their input is essential!” he said.
Regarding more technical concerns such as Translation Memory management, which Moravia puts as “a detail-oriented, tedious and necessary task,” Whiteman says that if a client with little or no experience in Translation Memory management was made to do so, “they’ll naturally experience a learning curve, and perhaps face ongoing challenges.“ He explains that MotionPoint takes a full-service approach regarding Translation Memory as well:
“Translation Memory is simply part of MotionPoint’s service, and is baked into our translation workflow.”
He also explained that in their full-service approach, they do not experience, as Moravia puts it, “buggy memory export.”
No Big Buyers
In their blog post, Moravia explains that translation proxies are not suited for large, mature buyers such as enterprise brands. They explain that businesses that are very experienced in sourcing and procuring localization solutions and services often have dedicated teams for localization but “would never trust their mountains of content to a proxy provider.”
Benedek and Whiteman disagree.
“Our experience on the market is different,” Benedek says. “Proxy translation is just a technology, part of the available translation tool ecosystem. Knowing it allows to make informed decisions on when the onboarding and operation is more cost effective than undergoing a full website re-engineering, including content connector development, implementation, and update costs.” He also pointed out that enterprise level businesses do use proxy solutions. One such brand is IT Service Management provider Cherwell.
Whiteman recounted a number of large brands that use MotionPoint’s proxy translation services to counter Moravia’s point. “Best Buy, ASOS and Urban Outfitters, or airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, or global manufacturing icons like Bosch,” Whiteman said, all use their proxy solution that was designed to support large, dynamic sites.
The larger the brand, the more localization it needs. Moravia’s blog post explained that in proxy translation, “original content creation isn’t possible on country sites,” saying that translation proxies will not be able to accommodate businesses that do not have centralized content authoring or would require original content for specific localized campaigns.
Easyling’s Benedek was quite clear: “Proxy does allow it.”
“Just keep using your original CMS system for content authoring; and the proxy workflow for translation, and to handle the presentation logic. (e.g hide the blog, etc),” he explained, suggesting tongue in cheek that Moravia should “book a session with us, we [will] show you how you can do it.”
Whiteman says MotionPoint employs “a team of international marketing and data” professionals who “speak the language, know the local cultures, and can shrewdly analyze a localized site’s performance” to find and maximize the value of localization opportunities.
And of course, when it comes to big brands that have international websites with localized content, search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. Multilingual SEO can be tricky, to say the least, and Moravia claims that proxy translations “can put a dent in … SEO.”
“There are no real URLs,” the blog post reads, “[the] translated proxy site is something like a ghost site — it really exists only as a set of string replacements… What implications does this have at the individual page level? These pages don’t get to have their own keyword-rich, localized URLs.”
Whiteman paints a different picture, however, with data from their own campaigns. He explains that clients who use MotionPoint’s URL localization and optimization option increase their organic traffic by an average of 64%, leading to organic traffic revenue increases of 104%. “One year after optimizing URLs for a sports apparel brand’s French-Canadian website, traffic increased by 92% and organic visits increased by 471%. Thanks to this lift, the site’s total visits grew by nearly 130%,” Whiteman explained. He claims their approach provides SEO benefits “both in localized on-site, user-facing content and content that’s “invisible” to users such as alt tags, metadata.”
Addressing the same concern that translation proxies can drag down SEO, Benedek offers a pointed “It’s simply not true.”
“The proxy pages are as real as any cloud based, data-based driven CMS. It is as SEO friendly as the original source site is,” he says.
To Proxy or Not to Proxy?
Moravia’s blog post was clear: in their experience, businesses should consider the pain points that translation proxy brings.
“We’d strongly advise any company that is serious about global marketing to think many times before choosing a proxy, if for no other reason than that the way out is messy,” Moravia concludes.
And Benedek and Whiteman were also clear about their stances based on their own experiences, without speaking for all translation proxy providers. Benedek highlighted the need to understand the separation of the technology from an entire localization service and that businesses can decide on everything else much the same way they would with any other localization and translation service. Whiteman expressed how a full-service approach can negate a lot of the potential problems that businesses can face using proxies.
Moravia’s claims perhaps stem from the more traditional side of the language services market, but translation proxies are gaining steam. Established companies like MotionPoint have been packaging their proxy solutions into a full-service offering for years now, while startups like Easyling are gaining more traction with theirs. Others still, like Smartling, are securing news-making funding rounds, the most recent of which was to the tune of $25 million. In the next couple of years, we will all find out who took the right side in the proxy translation debate.