I’m often approached by translation clients who want a multilingual website. After all, website translation is a core service that Tomedes has been providing for over a decade. What I find particularly interesting is that clients often see the translation itself as the solution to their desire for a multilingual site.
In reality, the website translation is just one part of a broader process. That process also incorporates building and designing considerations, localization of imagery and content, multilingual SEO and more. I’ve explored all of this in detail below, so if your business is considering making its website multilingual, you should find plenty of useful guidance and tips here to help you get started.
What Is a Multilingual Website?
I always think it’s useful to start with some quick definitions. A multilingual website is just what it sounds like – a multi language website that enables people who speak different languages to connect with your content.
You may also hear the term bilingual website or dual language website. This is a multilingual site that is available in just two languages.
Whether you’re aiming to have a bilingual website or a site that’s available in 50 languages, the principles and guidance below still applies. So however big or small your multi language website goals are, read on to start turning your aims into solid reality.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the most translated website is, check out our article:
Why Should You Build a Multilingual Website?
Just before I dive into the detail of how to build a multilingual website, let’s consider why you might wish to do so.
A multi language website allows you to achieve a number of goals that a monolingual site does not. Here are a few examples:
Higher User Engagement
If you want to engage as much of the global marketplace as possible, you can’t expect to do so with an English-only website. A Common Sense Advisory survey of 3,000 global consumers spread across ten non-Anglophone countries found that 75% of people prefer to use their native language when buying products. Not only that, but 60% of consumers rarely or never buy from websites that are only available in English.
Plenty of other surveys have produced similar findings, emphasising the value of providing websites in different languages if you want to achieve higher levels of user engagement.
Having a multilingual site also means you have much better reach. With a monolingual site, you will only pop up in search engine results in that language. With your website available in different subdomains for SEO purposes in different languages, you can achieve far greater reach.
Delivering your website in multiple languages can also provide you with a distinct competitive advantage. Taking the time and trouble to translate a website shows customers who speak that language that you particularly care about connecting with them. This provides a clear advantage over competitors who haven’t made the effort to translate their sites.
While there are many websites out there that simply want to share information for the greater good, there are also more than a few that exist solely as a source of income – either direct income by selling products or services or indirect income through increased brand exposure.
If your site is in the business of making money, converting it into other languages can help you achieve this aim. After all, the more languages your site is available in, the more paying customers you have the potential to reach.
Building a Multilingual Website from Scratch
If you’re building a multilingual site from scratch, there’s plenty to consider. You’ll need to think about technical considerations as well as linguistic ones. Let’s take a look at some of these now.
Things to Consider when Building a Multilingual Website
I’ll walk you through the main considerations of building a multilingual website here, from code to structure to locales. Obviously, every site will come with its own specific requirements, but these considerations are broad enough to apply to any site that you wish to launch in multiple languages.
On the technical side, you’ll need to ensure that your code is ready for multiple languages. This is achieved through internationalization, which is a process of stripping out (so far as is possible) all the elements that relate to one particular language or location.
Internationalization code i18n indicates that the code is ready and has gone through a process including application framework review, dynamic UI expansion, coding for string localization, string extraction and resource file preparation.
I mentioned localization there too. This is represented by the code L10n. Localizing takes the code and gears it towards a specific country or language.
Unicode is very much your friend during this process, while UTF-8 and UTF-16 (for Asian languages) will also serve you well.
Building bilingual websites and multilingual websites from scratch also means thinking about structure. You can break this down by focusing on:
• CCTLD (country code top-level domain)
Subdomains are essentially a way to create multiple microsites under a single domain. WordPress is an easy example of this. Essentially, each microsite is considered to be a different website by search engines, meaning that there’s plenty of scope for you to shape your content in different ways for different languages. This is a great option if you plan to deliver a highly localized site for each audience.
Subdirectories provide a more typical approach to website structure and search engines tend to crawl them more often than subdomains. If you plan to keep your content the same across each of the languages that you provide, this is likely your best option.
The CCTLD is your top-level domain, which usually applies to a particular country, territory or sovereign state. This is a useful option if your multi language site is targeting several entire countries.
It’s important to focus on the specific locales that you intend to target, rather than just the languages. This could make the difference between, for example, opting for a .br domain if you’re reaching out to Portuguese audiences in Brazil or a .pt domain if you’re focusing on customers in Portugal. If your site is going to be in Spanish, you could opt for .es for Spain, .mx for Mexico and so forth.
The locales that you’re focusing on may also impact your coding considerations, so it’s important to be clear on this from the outset.
What do website users in the areas you’re targeting expect from their online experience? Are they used to particular layouts when it comes to ecommerce sites? Or to finding certain information in particular places?
Thinking through the user experience (UX) as part of your build strategy will allow you to factor in important UX considerations. These will ultimately determine how usable people find your site and, therefore, how likely they are to spend more time on it and to engage more with your products and services.
The steps that you take to build a website in different languages are incredibly important. They will form the base and foundation on which you can build your success. So I strongly advise spending as much time as you feel you need on the considerations above around things like subdomains versus subdirectories versus CCTLDS.
Once you’ve made those decisions, it’s time to take some practical steps towards creating your multilingual website.
No matter what you’re selling, don’t launch anywhere without undertaking detailed market research. From feasibility studies and competitor analysis to keyword research, obtaining a full understanding of market conditions, customer preferences and local nuances and expectations is invaluable.
Only through extensive market research can you truly gauge your likelihood of success in a new country or region.
When it comes to the design of your site, keep easy adaptability firmly in mind. As well as delivering your site in multiple languages, you’ll no doubt be wanting to update the content regularly, perhaps add new products and remove old ones and tweak the UX as your multilingual site evolves. Choosing a flexible design can make all of this easier.
I advise keeping several factors in mind when it comes to design:
• Language list placement
• Connection speeds
• Browsing methods
• Global templates
• Images, icons and colours
Let me expand on these a little to show why each is so important.
Language list placement refers to whereabouts on your site you give users the option to choose which language they use. If you get this wrong from a design perspective, you wipe out much of the point of having a multilingual site in the first place. A language list tucked away in the footer is no good at all – it needs to be in a prominent position that users can find almost instantly. The top right of your homepage or in with your main headings tend to be the best and most attention-grabbing places.
Another thing you need to bear in mind is your users’ connection speeds. The speed at which your pages load is incredibly important. If they take too long, you’ll lose potential customers to competitors with faster loading speeds. As such, ensure that your design is as slick and efficient as possible, avoiding any plug-ins which contribute to higher latency.
Likewise, you need to consider how your users will be accessing your multilingual website. Smartphone penetration varies considerably from country to country. In the UK, for example, it stands at 82.9%, while in Pakistan it is just 15.9%. Creating a mobile-friendly site is therefore a much more important factor in your design process if you plan to sell to customers in the UK, versus those in Pakistan.
Many modern global templates that have been created with websites in different languages in mind will provide mobile and desktop optimization, to handle things like text expansion across both devices and languages. Using a global template also means that you can maintain brand consistency across the multiple iterations of your site.
The final key design element to consider is the visual side of things – imagery, icons, colours and so forth. An image that is entirely appropriate in one country may not be in another, so you’ll need to factor this into the design process.
The same is true of icons. A thumbs up icon may be ideal in the US but use it for the version of your website that customers in Afghanistan or Iran are using and you’ve essentially just given your readers the middle finger.
Colours can also be tricky. Black symbolizes death in many countries, but did you know that purple has the same meaning to numerous nations around the world? Just something to bear in mind.
Core Content Creation
With your market research complete and your design sorted, it’s time to create your content. You’ll need:
• A content strategy
• Informative, well written articles
A content strategy will help to keep your focus on what you’re producing and why. Ensure that your articles are well researched, knowledgeable and engaging if you want them to rank, as well as SEO optimized.
Opinions vary as to how much content you need before launching a site. Personally, I find it’s much better to focus on quality rather than quantity if you want your articles to rank.
Localized Market Research
While I mentioned market research above in reference to tapping into markets in new countries, I should add that localized domestic market research is also important when it comes to building a successful multilingual website.
Consider the US, for example, where 13% of the population speaks Spanish natively. Localized market research can help you to build a site that appeals to both English and Spanish speakers equally, which will be essential to your multilingual success.
When it comes to localizing the design of your bilingual website or multilingual website, there are several steps to follow:
• Find the right software
• Find the right people
There is a whole host of options out there to help you localize and translate your website. Finding the right localization tools and translation management software will make a huge difference to how fast and cost effective your localization process is. They can also take a great deal of stress out of the process.
Working with the right website translation services can also do much to make producing websites in different languages less stressful. Having the support of a team of highly skilled and experienced translation and localization experts behind you, as well as an adept project manager with a keen focus on customer service can make a major difference.
With the right software and people in place, you can first internationalize your design, taking out any region-specific and language-specific elements, then carefully translate and localize it for each of your new audiences.
You’ll need to localize your content too, to ensure that it suits each specific audience. This includes localizing:
• Practical details
• Subject matter
• Available products
Localizing your bilingual or multilingual site content means taking care of a range of practical details that you can call upon website translation services to assist you with, such as date formats and currencies. These will need to conform to the standard format for each of your audiences.
The subject matter of your site also warrants consideration. Do you have blog posts that are particularly suited to the audience in one country? If so, are you going to leave them off other versions of your site or write new versions that are localized to each country?
Likewise, you’ll need to check that all of your products are suitable for each country. Are there any local restrictions about what you can and can’t sell, for example, that mean you will need to tweak your product range for your new audience(s)?
Once you’ve created your multilingual site, it’s time to test it. Localization testing includes looking at the:
• User interface
• User experience
• Local regulations
• Cultural considerations
Each of these plays an important role in ensuring that your site is a success, so you’ll need to include them all in your testing process. That process involves multiple steps:
• Build verification testing
• Initial testing phase
• Analysis and test planning
• Creating and executing test cases
• Regression testing
• Feedback and report
You can also add local user testing and key demographic testing into the mix if you want a true ‘belt and braces’ approach to localization testing. For more information on how to test if your website has been localized properly, read our guide on localization testing: https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/localization-testing
Making Your Existing Website Multilingual
I’ve focused above on how to build a multilingual website from scratch, but you can use many of the same steps if you have an existing site that you want to convert into other languages. Essentially, you just need to skip the initial design and content creation parts of the process and begin with the market research stage.
If you’re looking for the complete guide to website localization, kindly check out our article:
I hope you’ve found this article useful. To sum up, I’ve run through:
• What a multilingual website is
• Why you should build a website in different languages
• How to build a multilingual site from scratch
• How to turn your existing site into a multi language website
The rewards of getting this process right can be absolutely huge. Best of luck with building your multilingual empire.