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Why you should never use Machine Translation on your website

Google’s Machine Translation is free but there are penalties for claiming it as your own content!

Google offers free machine translation. It’s often accurate and a fantastic tool for understanding texts in other languages. The only thing you are never supposed to do with it is publish it, as your own content, on your website.

Why? Because this messes with their algorithms.

Let me explain the logic:

Google indexes billions of web pages to acquire a database of knowledge. Part of that knowledge is how to translate texts. One of the things that Google likes best is multilingual websites — translated by real people (ideally by professional translators). With these multilingual websites, Google creates a huge translation dictionary, or translation memory database.

It looks at the same content in different languages and breaks it down into paragraphs and sentences. It can then match up translated sentences and use that information as reference for its machine translation engine.

This means that what you translate yourself has some tiny impact on what others get when they use machine translation — which is pretty cool! So in effect, when we translate, we all contribute a little bit of knowledge to the great global pool of ‘correct translation’ reference.

So, what happens when you inject machine translation into this?

Well, you skew the reference and make this entire system collapse. At least you would, if Google allowed it.

Google cannot use its own machine translation as reference for what’s ‘correct translation’. It must get real human translations for that. So, when you take the translation from Google and present it as your content, the immediate result is the Google drops that content from the search index. If you do it in just a few places, these pages will drop alone. If Google sees it’s own machine translation throughout your site, the entire site will drop. After that, good luck getting indexed again!

Google’s SEO team have explained this process and the reasoning on different occasions (and they are constantly improving their systems). If you’re brave enough and want proof, go ahead and experiment yourself!

Google Translation widget

Please note that it’s completely legitimate to offer machine translation on your sites. The way to do it is by adding a Google Translation widget. This passes your content via Google’s translation system, but doesn’t tell Google that it’s your translation. It’s legitimate and encouraged by Google. If you don’t have the need, or resources, to build true multilingual sites, you can instead offer free machine translation, done directly by Google. Just don’t store it in your database and offer it as your own content.


If you found this post interesting, you may also enjoy: Speaking Zoomer (Neural Machine Translation)

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