It is common for companies to use Google to find a vendor for products or services, including document translation services. Google may be a good place to start your search, but a list of document translation services does not provide you with the insight you’ll need to discern the translation services on offer.

Here’s a look at a few different types of document translation services and what they offer.

Machine translation

Machine translation can be free (think Google Translate) or very low cost compared to other services. However, “you get what you pay for.”

Machine translation has a long way to go in terms of accuracy. Often a machine translation will contain many mistakes, and may even be incomprehensible. Unless the database being used has been “trained” for your specific content, it may be unable to differentiate different uses for the same word or whether it is to be used as a noun or a verb in a specific context. A good example is the word “belt”. A conveyor belt is very different from the belt that holds up your pants. That is why machine translation is really only acceptable for a casual translation (like a quick translation of an email) and should never be used for public-facing content or for any professional business use.

Cloud translations

Cloud-based translation companies draw from a translator “pool” and any translator—often qualified with only a brief test evaluated by a computer—may be assigned to your project. You don’t know the translator’s skill level or if he is a native speaker with subject-matter expertise. It’s doubtful that the same translator is assigned to your repeat projects. As a result, your projects may lack a consistent corporate style and message. Also, cloud databases may add your content to their ever-expanding translation management systems. Your propriety information may become a part of translation memory in the cloud.

As with machine translation providers, the focus of these services is on providing fast and cheap translations. The quality may be a step above machine translations because they are using previously translated content, but it will still not meet the level of translation accuracy or professional quality that businesses require.

Professional translation services

Professional document translation service providers use human translators and offer custom content translations. The quality of these providers is much higher than machine or cloud services, and the cost will reflect that fact.

However, unless you understand the processes employed and check out their client references, you cannot be certain of the quality of the translation you will receive. They might rely on round-the-clock translators to translate a document quickly, which means one document may have two or more translators working on it. While this doesn’t prohibit accuracy, it does make it harder to achieve, especially on long, complicated documents. Consistency is also harder to achieve when several translators are working on one document. These document translation services may (or may not) have additional quality control checks, such as an independent editorial review.

For short, uncomplicated translations or non-critical projects maybe you are willing to take a risk in exchange for low cost or a fast turnaround. But for longer and more complex documents, or critical documents it is important to understand what processes exist to ensure quality control.

Certified, professional translation services

Certification adds another level of quality control to the translation process. Certified translation companies are audited regularly by a third party to ensure they have the appropriate processes in place to guarantee a high level of accuracy and professionalism. These translation providers will use just one native translator for a given project, then have all documents reviewed by a separate editor, also a native speaker for that language. The translation service will also assign client project managers to ensure consistent and responsive client communication. Of course, costs may be higher than other services, but so will the value of the services provided.

Translation service specialists vs. generalists

In addition to the different levels of service provided by different types of translation vendors, you should also consider whether a service has any subject matter expertise. If your documents require knowledge in a certain field (such as medical devices, manufacturing, legal, etc.), industry expertise may be another critical factor to consider. Here again, accuracy will depend heavily on the translators’ knowledge of both the language and the industry-specific technical terms used within the document.

Choosing Your Translation Partner

Now that you know what to expect from the different types of document translation services, which one is right for you? Only you can truly answer that question. But, if you want a translation company that can partner with you across projects, remain flexible enough to fit all your translation needs, and provide the expertise required to ensure high-quality, professional translations, look for a certified professional translation service with experience in your industry. They’ll walk you through each step of the process and care just as much as you do about getting your translation right.