The cost of translation services: key factors and considerations

The cost of translation services: key factors and considerations

When a business is starting or expanding a translation program, one of the first questions is typically: how much does it cost? Controlling costs is important for a company’s bottom line, but businesses also need to spend in the right ways in order to grow revenue and increase market share. Investing in a program that strategically prioritizes translation and localization for different language markets, at different speeds for different types of content, is the best way to get the most value from your localization budget.  

Why invest in translation services?

A strategically focused localization program opens up significant opportunities for your business. It empowers your brand to more easily enter new global markets, without cultural and communication barriers that can hinder your success. A strategically focused program allows you to attract new audiences and customer bases.

To expand globally and scale faster, enterprises need to view localization as a revenue driver rather than a cost center. Worldwide, less than 400 million people speak English as a first language. At the same time, 76% of consumers prefer products with information in their own language, and 66% of business buyers are willing to pay more for a localized language experience. It’s not surprising to find that 65% of multinational enterprises view localization as very important for achieving higher revenues.

How are translation services priced?

The most common model for the pricing of translation services is per word. It’s generally considered the best option for all parties. Translators are fairly compensated for their time and effort. Clients can more readily compare pricing of translation services among different vendors and control costs. For example, if an English source document is 3,000 words and the price for translation into German is 20¢ per word, then the company knows the total cost of translation for the piece will be $300. 

Other factors that determine the cost of translation

In addition to the number of words, these factors can also affect what you will spend on translation:

Source and target languages: As with other products and services, the pricing of translation is affected by supply and demand. For example, a widespread language like Spanish has more translators available, which drives down the cost of translation. On the other hand, a language spoken by fewer people, such as Finnish or Turkish, would be priced higher.

Type of content: For some kinds of materials, such as product descriptions for an eCommerce marketplace, machine translation with human editing may be appropriate, which brings down the cost. Other kinds of content may benefit from human translation with additional editing by a second, native linguist, and this would be more expensive.

Subject matter expertise: Specialized work that requires subject matter expertise—such as medical, legal, or technical knowledge—in order to produce a high-quality translation may increase costs.

Urgency: Is the project a rush job? Your company will typically pay a premium for fast turnarounds on translations.

Transcreation: Marketing content that needs to resonate with local audiences may require a transcreation approach in order to preserve nuances that are important for reaching these customers. Transcreation requires additional expertise and a longer timeline, and this makes it more expensive.

Technology: There are a few ways your organization can help control prices. Using machine translation can bring down the overall costs of translation, whether or not a human linguist is involved in the process. Leveraging translation memory—a database of existing translation that can be applied to future work—can also help lower costs.

Types of translation pricing models

While per-word pricing is the industry standard, there are other models you may encounter depending on the type of content being translated and specific needs your company may have:

Per page: This model is typically used when it’s not possible to get a word count due to the formatting of the source material. This can include image files, such as scanned records, or handwritten documents.

Per hour: If you need to guarantee a linguist’s availability in order to meet specific turnaround times or you want to include technical or engineering support as part of the translation process, per-hour pricing may be the best option.

Fixed rate: While it’s not a common practice, some language providers may set a fixed rate for a project or for a certain number of pages. It’s typically only used for complex projects where various factors make other pricing models unsuitable.

Getting the job done right the first time is always cheaper than a do-over. So, whatever the pricing model, it’s important to ensure that your translations meet your quality requirements from the start. 

Budgeting for translation services: where should you invest?

When deciding how to spend your translation budget, start by focusing on what you want to accomplish with your program. What are your overall business goals? Which of these goals are your top priorities?

Some outcomes that translation clients may want to achieve include:

Gaining a competitive edge: Competing for customers with local companies that have a native understanding of the market can be a challenge. If your business comes across as an outsider, your offerings aren’t likely to inspire much trust or enthusiasm. Localization can help you bridge the gap. It also helps speed entry into new markets ahead of your global competitors and gives you a decided advantage over those companies that haven’t localized their products and marketing.

Increasing brand loyalty: Inspiring loyalty is good for business—it costs up to 5x more to win over new customers than to retain the ones you already have. What’s more, increasing customer retention by just 5% boosts profits by up to 95%.

Localization is the key to increasing brand loyalty across your global markets. People form stronger relationships with brands that communicate with them in their own language. They’re even willing to pay more for it. When surveyed, 64% of consumers said they would choose a higher priced product or service that offered a customer experience in their native language.

Improving customer satisfaction: Not only do people prefer to consume information in their own language, they also value experiences that feel personalized to their needs, cultural background, and world view. Localization allows you to deliver what customers are looking for at every stage of the customer journey—from learning about your products or services to paying for purchases to getting customer support.

Boosting sales and revenue: Localization helps you establish a strong presence in your target locales, with well-established market share and a loyal customer base. In turn, this results in more sales and higher revenues, giving you a sizable return on the investment in your localization program.

Business forecasting for localization: taking a strategic approach

Of course, creating your localization budget is more complicated than simply totaling the numbers of words in your content. To execute your localization strategy and accomplish the goals you’ve set out for your program, you’ll need to forecast your localization spend. Take into account both past and present market conditions to help predict the best moves. Consider such factors as the localization tools you’ll use and future innovations that may impact costs. 

Summary of key variables to consider

When evaluating the costs for translation, there are a few variables to consider.

Markets to prioritize: Which locales deliver the most value for your organization? Prioritize those markets and languages for localization.

Content to prioritize: Some kinds of content have higher visibility than others, and that can also help you prioritize your localization efforts. Marketing content, for example, is highly visible and helps to shape customer perceptions of your organization.

It makes sense to prioritize ad campaigns, your company’s website, product profiles, and other types of marketing materials. On the other hand, things like FAQs and technical manuals may be a lower priority, although these materials are also typically less expensive to translate and there is value to your business in localizing them when your budget allows.

Investment in process automation: There are many tools and automation options for translation—such as translation management systems (TMS), content management system integrations, and translation integrations for content handoffs, among others—and these technologies all have benefits and costs associated with them.

Translation cost isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach

There is no simple, universal formula that can tell you how to budget for translation. However, a well-defined localization strategy with clearly outlined priorities and desired outcomes will show you where to start. By factoring in the considerations discussed here, you’ll be able forecast the investment needed to reach your business goals.


A strategic localization program is an investment in the success of your organization, helping you expand into new markets, increase sales, and drive revenue. Partnering with a professional localization and translation company helps you maximize that investment. Whatever your desired outcomes, we’ll work with you to find the right approach for achieving—and exceeding—your goals. Contact us today to learn how we help you get the most value from your localization spend.

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