26 May How to make a Multilingual Website
You have just decided that you want to create a multilingual website. This is a key step in reaching international markets.
If you are reading this article in another language than English, it has been automatically translated by our WordPress Multilingual Plugin.
In fact, according to a Common Sense Advisory study, most of these international consumers view obtaining information in their own language as more important than price. Hence, from a business perspective, presenting your website in English only means that you would be leaving “money on the table”.
As such, creating a multilingual website is about much more than just translating your content. If you want this content to be effective and reach the intended consumer, you have to have a well thought out localization strategy. However, creating an effective multilingual website does not have to be a daunting task. It is for this reason that we have decided to draw up a 10 step guide to making your website multilingual, from start to finish.
How to make a Multilingual Website: A 10 Step Guide
1. Get to know your Potential Markets
You need to ascertain where the potential market is and hence which languages you should be targeting. This requires some research into your potential consumers and their buying habits. It makes most sense to initially target languages where you expect to get the most return on your investment. These are typically the languages where you expect to have the greatest online reach.
If you are considering a comprehensive localization instead of a general translation, there are a few other things to bare in mind. Will the content be for a particular dialect or writing style? For example, if you have chosen to translate into Chinese, will you present your content in a traditional or simplified writing style? Will the dialect be Mandarin or Cantonese? The same can be said for the Spanish in Spain and the versions spoken in South and Central America.
Once you have chosen the languages and / or dialects that you would like to expand to, you can embark on the next step in the website translation process.
2. What type of Content are you Translating?
Once the target languages have been ironed out, you need to select the source content. This is not always as straightforward as it may seem. Many webmasters merely translate a store front and neglect to consider the entire user experience.
For example, will you only be translating the visual aspect of your website? What about the back-end and support functions of your site? It may be frustrating for a user who cannot access the support information they are looking for in their own language. Have you considered getting user reviews translated as well? Given that user reviews are an important tool to increase conversions, a review translated into the target language could be beneficial.
If you are attempting to localize the user experience then you may also want to consider the numerical information being presented. For example, have you thought about decimals, currencies, weight and length metrics etc.? These differ from country to country and could cause some confusion.
3. Create an International SEO Strategy
If you are implementing an international SEO strategy, then you would need to target the right keywords. Having done your research into the market, you would have a good indication of the right words to be embedding in your content. It is important to note that keywords that may work well in one language could be ineffective when translated into another language. For example, if you were targeting “Car Insurance” in the English market, the direct French translation of this would be “l’assurance automobile”. However, the most searched keyword for this category is “auto assurance”. Hence, doing keyword research on a region specific level would be best.
When it comes to automatic translation, using unedited machine translations could harm your international SEO efforts. We covered this in a previous blog post on Machine Translation and SEO. Hence, use these tools with caution.
4. Website Structure
When creating a Multilingual Website, the structure of the content is quite important. This is because it ties into the SEO optimization point that we raised above. Generally, Google’s preferred option is to use country code TLDs. For example, you would have your French language site on
www.example.fr, your German content on
This is usually quite an expensive option as it requires a completely separate site for your target language. The two other options that you may consider are sub-domains and sub-categories. In other words, your French content would be on fr.example.com using a sub-domain or it would on example.com/fr if using a sub-folder. For more detailed reading on the pros and cons of these options, we have previously covered this in a post on Country TLD, Sub-domain or Sub-folder for Multilingual Content.
If you were going to localize a particular language across more than one country, you could also use one of the above. Hence, you could target British consumers with your content tweaked from your US version. This can also be said for Spanish, Portuguese and French regions.
5. Get Content Translated
There are a number of ways to get your content translated. If you are using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, you can use the Scrybs WordPress Multilingual Plugin. This simple plugin allows you to easily push your source content to a platform allowing you to manage your translations all in one place. It also gives you the option to send content right to our community of professional translators.
If you are not using WordPress, you could always copy and paste your content and send it to a translation agency. This is, however, quite cumbersome and laborious. Some translators do accept HTML source code but there exists the risk for removing some of your code.
As mentioned in step 3, Machine translation is not a perfect tool. These Machine Translation Fails are prime examples of the implications of unchecked use.
6. Visual Adaption and Localization
Text itself is not the only thing to take into account when creating a Multilingual Website. When translating into some languages, text expansion / contraction can impact on the formatting of the page. For example, when translated into Russian, text expands at about 60% and when translated into Thai, text contracts by about 20%. You should also consider the impact of Right to Left (RTL) writing styles on the presentation of your content. These include languages such as Hebrew, Japanese and Arabic. Below is an example of visual formatting for the Reuters news site. On the left is the Arabic version where the entire page is structured from RTL. On the right is the Spanish version which is structured from Left to Right.
The above formatting considerations must also be taken into account when optimizing your site for mobile use in the target country.
When it comes to visual cues such as images and colors, these can also be interpreted differently on depending culture. For example, the color orange implies positivity and spiritual enlightenment in China while in countries such as the US it is usually the color of road hazards and traffic delays. Similarly, certain images that are used may offend particular cultural sensibilities and convey the wrong message. Hence, consulting a localization agent who understands the local nuances is essential.
7. Optimize your Multilingual Pages
As you have chosen the appropriate keywords for your international Search Engine Marketing strategy, you now have to consider other important on page SEO factors. These include Meta Data such as Title tags, meta descriptions and image tags. These will need to be honed for the local search conditions.
Another important Search Engine signal that is often glossed over is a translation of the page URL. Far too many sites will leave their foreign language pages on their English URLs. For example, the “about us” page in French will still be accessed on
example.com/fr/about-us instead of being on
example.com/fr/a-propos. Hence, best practices would be to use a translated URL in your target language.
You will also want to instruct Google as to the region the page is targeting with
hreflang tags at the top of your HTML code. If you are structuring your content to target a particular region as described in step 4, duplicate content may be a concern. In order to avoid this, you could use canonical tags to give Search Engines an overview of the page authority on your site.
8. Language Switching Options
You need to decide how you will determine what content to present to your international users. This could either be automatic or manual. The automatic option will detect what language the user’s browser is set to and send the user to his respective language page. However, there are many cases where a user may be directed to a language specific page even though he would prefer to access the content in another language. For example, an English user who is accessing your site on a PC in France. Hence, it would be helpful to include a language switcher on your site.
There are a number of things to consider when implementing a language switcher. Should you use flags or languages? Should it be a drop-down menu or individual links? We covered this topic as well as many others our blog on Language Switcher Best Practices.
9. Launch site and Monitor traffic
Finally, your Multilingual Website is ready to receive it’s very first international users. Before rolling out services in your new market, it is helpful to get a bearing of potential user experience. There are numerous websites which allow you to gauge how your pages will being received. They are also helpful for allowing you to adapt your website layout for the best user experience.
Once properly tested, you can officially launch your website in your target region. This launch should coincide with a certain amount of digital marketing. Once traffic starts being generated, you should monitor the trends and tweak pages based on user feedback.
10. Local Link Building
Apart from having an optimized site, in order to rank higher in local Search Engines, you need a certain amount of external links to your site. This helps Google determine which websites deserve a higher ranking. It also goes without saying that only high quality links should be pursued. Therefore, if you have informative content on your blogs for example, get these translated. This will allow you to reach out to influencers in your target region who could share your content and promote your site as well as link to it.
You could also leverage social media to reach your potential users. Perhaps you should post a translated tweet or Facebook update promoting your expansion.
Apart from the practical reasons for creating a Multilingual website, there is also the emotional aspect which is sometimes more powerful. Many people have a special attachment to their native tongue. Hence, from a user perspective, a website and brand that takes the effort to speak to them in their own language is to some degree, speaking to their heart.