ergophobe - 5:38 pm on Dec 16, 2011 (gmt 0)
Similarly, the way I've seen it done is where the user selects the language, rather than being fed a given language based on IP or some such, and it clearly states that it's an automatic translation by Google translate. And though I know a smattering of German and though the translation was occasionally incomprehensible, it was better than what I would do myself with a dictionary and my old college German textbooks.
At least for me, that mitigates more than enough the issues mentioned by robzilla and Lucy24 with respect to hurting your brand. Of course, you do not want to try to pass of machine-translated content as "primary". You may want to exclude the foreign-language text in your robots.text for the reasons robzilla mentions.
But my experience and Mr Bo Jangle's suggest that as long as it is clear where the translation is coming from, people will be grateful.
Meanwhile, I've published seven books in French, but I'm not a native speaker. I have therefore hired people to read over my texts and correct them. The really good ones have done it for free, because they support my project. They aren't for hire and I could never afford them if they were.
The ones I have hired to edit my writing - native speakers all, one a doctoral candidate in French literature to boot - have generally been mediocre at best. In the case of the native-speaker, doctoral candidate in literature (you would expect the best, right?) the text was completely mangled. She ended up with sentences that in English would read "The accused was convicted and hit with a 500 franc almond.", confusing the French words "amende" (a fine) and "amande" (an almond).
My point being that top-quality editing and translation cost a lot of money and hiring some random native-speaker off elance is not close to good enough if the translation must be excellent. If I want to be sure a translation is going to pass muster with discerning native speakers, I need to pay a small fortune to get a true professional to take on the task.
Sure, if you have a four-page site and you want bad to mediocre translations, you could have it done for $100-$150 per language (so only $1000 for ten target languages), but
1. Who has a four page site?
2. Since the result is going to be crappy anyway, why not do it for free?
If you have a site that is 100 pages and have ten target languages, a serious translation effort is going to set you back over $100,000. I can lose a LOT of customers before I make back that investment.