Human or machine translator?

Do you hesitate when deciding on whether or not you should have your documents translated by a human translator because machine translation services offer more favorable rates?

Make an informed decision by adding the following factors to the equation:

Google itself clarified that when it comes to SEO, content run through a translation service such as Google Translate is a no-no.

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Translation quality is usually hard to assess. How do you determine whether your translations are best represented by an automated translation service or a human translator?

I could list the benefits of a 100% human-generated translation, but you would much better judge the machine translation of the leading translation service DeepL yourself in an A-B comparison to the showcase translation of BlacKKite.

view translation comparison


The fees for a machine translation service are charged as a fixed monthly rate (DeepL) or per translated character (Google & Microsoft). These rates obviously exclude the cost for editing. Compared to my rates, machine translations seem cheaper.

Free of charge translation is also available when you use a (limited) web service and are willing to surrender your data to help train and improve the translation algorithm. Your data is your currency.

Distinctive ability

The result of a machine translation service trained with a bilingual corpus continues to refer to that very corpus. One could say that the translation computer gives a cleverly formed stupid answer to a complicated question. For translators, the answer is not necessarily black or white. They know when to avoid or rather emphasize gray areas.

I use terminology very consistently, for example, when parts in a maintenance manual refer to a drawing. In contrast, in a blog post about the differences between the translations of translation engines and human translators, I use a variety of synonyms for the term machine translation to keep readers engaged.

Pie chart average word count: identical 42.8%, difference in format 11.7%, related meaning 11.3% and deviant 34.3%
  • Identical
  • Difference in format
  • Related meaning
  • Deviation

On average, 57.3% of the words in my showcase translation differ to a greater or lesser extent. Such an originality rate says little about the quality of the translation, of course, but it does show that there is something to choose for buyers of translation services. Do they want a translation with commonly used phrasing or rather a distinctive wording that contributes to a good SEO score?

Translation length

Purchasers of technical translations sometimes restrict the number of characters used for the translation relative to the original, e.g. when text becomes invisible if the character count exceeds a certain threshold. An English to Dutch translator needs to keep track of text expansion because the Dutch language often requires more characters for the same message than the English language.

Deleting is one of the translator's standard tools that is missing from the toolbox of the translation engine. Only a post-editor can truncate a computer translation. The word and character density of my showcase project are on average just a little below those of Philips' original manual. The automated translation tool uses on average ten plus characters more than the original manual.

Bar chart average character count: Philips 122.9, DeepL 133.9 and Black Kite 122.8 characters.

Turnaround time

Machine translations excel in speed. The Dutch translation of your documentation will appear on screen in no time. With an average daily output of 2,500 words, I cannot match that, not even with the assistance of the most advanced CAT tool. However, keep in mind that a computer translation still needs to be edited before the text is suitable for publication.

Moreover, speed is not necessarily something positive. A translation can benefit from the translator contemplating it for a while to further ponder the matter at hand. A fresh look can prevent mistakes and solve creative blockages!


For the time being, the translator remains the leading force in high-quality tailor-made translations with respect for privacy. When good is just good enough, the text needs to be translated quickly and cheaply, does not contain privacy-sensitive information, and the result will be edited, a machine translation could be a sound alternative.

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