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Cost per word is a popular means of working out how much you should pay for translation services. But it doesn’t show you the full picture, often resulting in overpricing and poor quality. There’s a better way.

Often one of the first questions we hear in any conversation about translation is how much the cost per word will be. It’s understandable – after all, it’s seen as a simple way of quantifying translation costs.

But when it comes to assessing the actual value of a translation, cost per word can be misleading. There are wider factors that need to be taken into consideration to ensure the best quality end result – and cost per word cannot do this alone.


For starters, cost per word itself is not always the same even within a project. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s in your interests to be attentive to the factors that could influence the chargeable word count.

A Translation Memory (TM) is one such factor. It’s a powerful, cost-effective piece of software that should be instrumental to any translation strategy.

When a TM analyzes a file’s word count, it separates it out into four categories.

1) No Match – The number of words for which no match was found against the source language in the TM.

2) Exact Match – The number of words for which a match was found against the source language in the TM.

3) Fuzzy Match – The number of words for which a partial match was found against the source language in the TM. Fuzzy matches consist of recovered content whose similarity to previous text is identified as being within a certain range, for example between 75% and 94%. This helps to improve efficiency and consistency in the translation process. Matching is based on sentence-level segmentation.

4) Repetitions – The amount of new text that is repeated in the same translation request.

Exact matches, fuzzy matches and repetitions are priced at a reduced rate.

As a result, if TMs are implemented correctly and updated regularly, it is possible to achieve huge savings. For example, our client Mazda achieved cost savings of 37% for their brochures. This means that if their project was 100,000 words long and the cost per word (for argument’s sake) was 10p, instead of paying £10,000, the project would only cost £6,300.

So if your partner agency uses a flat cost per word rate and doesn’t take TMs into account, you should be asking why this is the case, as it’s likely costing you a lot of money.

If you want more information on how TMs work, we’ve written a thorough introduction to TM management and best practice in our blog post on the importance of maintenance.


Not all translation projects are created equal, so they shouldn’t be priced that way. Taking the following considerations into account will allow you to adopt a more flexible model that caters to your needs more effectively.

1) Type of content

A distinction must be made between different types of content, as product descriptions, legal documents, and your ‘About Us’ page will all require a different approach – they simply can’t be treated the same way, or the result will be a sub-par translation.

To simplify things, we use three different categories.

Marketing – Branded, stylized content with an emphasis on marketing messaging.
Simple – Purely informational content; no colloquialisms or specialized terminology.
Specialist – Technically detailed content with an emphasis on specialist terminology.

For highly creative pieces, we recommend copywriting, concept adaptation or transcreation services.

Once the nature of the content has been established, appropriate linguists can then be selected, and they can begin the work with a clearer idea of what is expected.

2) Number of quality stages

The second differentiating factor is the number of quality stages a translation undergoes. Typically, there can be up to four, depending on the value of the content. The fewer the quality stages, the lower the cost and the quicker the turnaround.

At Wordbank, we split our quality stages up as follows:

Two-stage (translation and edit/proofread) – This involves a combined edit/proofread step carried out by a professional editor – not a proofreader, as is often the case. Proofreaders are not typically skilled in catching translation issues, but are purely looking for typos and punctuation errors.

Three-stage (translation, edit and proofread) – This process includes a separate proofreader. A fresh pair of eyes is used to perform a final check for any issues with typos, punctuation and spacing, which is a good idea for higher volume or high profile copy.

Four-stage (translation, editing, quality assurance, proofreading) – Our four-stage process is fairly unique in our industry, and it allows for a separate internal QA step to take place midway through the process. This is to check that glossary terms are consistent, and that weights, measurements, number formats, and bullet points have been noted correctly and are represented consistently both in the source and across the target language versions. This is often a good idea for highly technical, specialized, or brand-critical content.

3) Client feedback and project management time

The anticipated number of rounds of client feedback should be included in the cost, as should project management time – someone has to orchestrate the translation and communicate with the various stakeholders. Not all agencies are upfront about this fee, so be sure to request that PM time is accounted for in the quote.

4) Translation Memory and glossary updates

Another key consideration is the updating of TMs and glossaries, should you have these tools in place. To be effective, they need to be updated with every project. This takes time to do properly, so it should be factored into the costs of each project.

These elements are all crucial for a high-quality translation – and cost per word provides no information about any of them. And of course, there’s one other question that cost per word cannot answer: how to select the right linguist for your brand.


This is a key question for any translation project – even simple, transactional content should be translated well. Poor language can have a negative impact on your company – inaccuracies can even have legal ramifications – and more often than not a poor job will need to be revised later on, costing time and money.

At Wordbank, we are proud to have received ISO 9001:2015 accreditation for the quality of our work. This is a high standard to follow, but it gives us the confidence that our network of linguists are the best in the business. Everyone we work with must meet the following criteria:

  • Full-time professional linguist
  • 5 years+ experience in delivering professional linguistic services
  • University educated in a language-related subject
  • Certified subject matter specialist

We also make sure to pay our linguists fairly. This is often overlooked, but not only is it morally the right thing to do, it also prevents linguists from rushing through work and producing poor quality. It also helps us to retain linguists – that’s why our average linguist has been with us for 7 years, allowing us to build strong working relationships and to assemble long-term dedicated linguist teams for the brands we work with.

When it comes to selecting linguists, it’s also important to select them according to their compatibility with your brand voice. Our ‘How to capture brand personality abroad’ blog provides some important insight on this matter.


Cost per word may seem like a simple solution to working out translation charges, but it’s anything but. If you want to receive a quality end result, you’ll need much more information than cost per word is able to give you. By having an honest conversation with your partner agency at the outset of your project, you can make sure that everyone is on the same page and your expectations are met.