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6 tips for building a multilingual website

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For organisations looking to expand their reach and achieve organisational growth, building a multilingual website is a great way to develop genuine connections with a target audience. The world is home to a range of diverse languages with many markets waiting to be discovered.

In this blog post, we’ll talk best practices and 6 tips for creating a multilingual website that will open doors to new markets and opportunities.

1. Define your goals 

Selecting which language to translate your website into depends on your goals and your organisational capacities. Here are a few questions you might like to ask yourself:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Which markets do I want to expand into?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I have the resources available to expand?

Creating a multilingual website can be daunting, but with an expert team on your side, the results will be well worth the effort.

2. Choose the right multilingual CMS for your website

Before you begin translating and localising your website content, you will need to assess the multilingual capabilities of your CMS (Content Management System). There are many CMS options out there and finding the one that is multilingual-friendly and works with your business needs is the most important. A few things to look out for are:

  • If the CMS supports different languages, including character encoding and reversed language direction: the CMS you choose should be able to support non-Latin script languages, should you need to translate into Hindi or Japanese, for example. Reversed language direction capabilities are equally important to support right to left (RTL) languages such as Arabic.
  • If the CMS can handle multiple website versions in different languages: Whether you decide to create separate multilingual websites, or websites under the same domain as the original website, the CMS you choose should be able to handle either configuration.

Some of the most popular CMSs on the market are WordPress, Shopify (eCommerce), Adobe Experience Manager, and Drupal. Once you've done your research and selected a CMS, have professionals configure your multilingual set-up, translate, and proofread the content to avoid any mistranslations or technical mishaps.

Translation proxy technology 

Using a translation proxy is another way to show website users your website content in their language. The translation proxy basically overlays a translated version of your website on top of the original page. In this case, the pages are not duplicated in different language versions in your CMS. Instead, the user is still looking at the original page but the translation proxy will display its translated counterpart on top.

Translation proxy technology is perfect when your website is custom-coded or your CMS cannot handle a multilingual setup. it allows you to deploy language versions of your site with minimal IT effort and is easily scalable.

ProsCons
No CMS requiredSome content may be left unlocalised ("bleed-through")
Quick to employUnable to translate non-text items
Ideal for companies just beginning to expandRequires frequent troubleshooting

3. Invest in a professional translation partner

A multilingual website will only attract new audiences if the content is credible. One way to ensure that your content is handled with care is by hiring a translation partner with experience in website localisation. At 2M, we translate websites for clients from a range of industries and varying target markets.

Our translators are professional native speakers and experience in website and apps localisation projects with the ability to carry over the tone of original website content into the target language and locale. For translation and localisation of a website or page, a translation partner can ensure the grammar, voice, and cultural nuances appeal to the target market. Transcreation is often required in website localisation projects, particularly for marketing type websites where the goal is to grow sales and/pr brand recognition in a target market. Check out our blog on translation VS transcreation to understand how transcreation works.

4. A picture is worth a thousand words

Culture plays a vital role in determining what is and what isn’t appropriate marketing for multilingual audiences. As images are the first thing website users see on a webpage, they are incredibly powerful elements in influencing an initial perception of your content.

Website visuals can either hook an audience or lose it entirely, which is why it is so important to localise your images, in addition to your text. Localising text, as well as images, will ultimately help to ensure your content appeals, and is appropriate, to the target market.

Ensure you opt for culturally appropriate images by doing your research on the target audience. Specific gestures, colours, and icons that may be appropriate in one language or culture may not translate well in another language or culture, or may even be viewed as offensive. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the target audience and their culture before attempting to localise. Your language service provider can provide deep insights to help you select visuals with the idea to add value to your organisation and stay relevant within the target market.

See how Canva localises its landing page background images from the Australian market to the Chinese market:

image localisation english

image localisation chinese

Note how the use in colour, image themes, and animation choices differ. In Chinese culture, colours like red symbolise luck, joy and happiness, which Canva clearly echos on the landing page. Animated characters are similarly prevalent in Chinese culture and Canva's landing page once again reflects this. See how there are virtually no animated characters on the Australian landing page? This is an example of how market research leads to thoughtful and effective localisation.

5. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Once your website content (text & visual) has been translated by your translation partner, it is important to make sure your website can be found in each language. This is known as multilingual SEO and it is an important part of attracting high-quality organic search traffic, which is what you want. Organic search traffic represents the people who know exactly what they are looking for and land on your website to find it. For an in-depth explanation, we recommend watching our International SEO webinar:

It's all in the research

To make your website searchable in other languages, it's critical that you do your research on the target market. Through this research, you will learn how your target market searches for the product or service you offer. The Google Ads Keyword Planner tool is the most popular way to conduct this research given that Google is the most popular search engine in many regions. However, keep in mind that Google may not be the dominant search engine for your target market (i.e. Baidu for China or Yandex in Russia) and you will need to conduct your research through an appropriate keyword tool to be able to rank on the market's search engine results page (SERPs).

Domain structure 

Domain structure is a vital aspect of your domain authority, and therefore your website traffic rates. The language and target market of your website will impact which international domain structure you opt for, though you have some options to choose from:

Country specific (ccTLDs): example.es/

Subdomains: es.example.com

Subdirectories with gTLDs: example.com/es/

The structure you decide on comes down to personal preference, but there are pros and cons to each that you can find out about here.

6. How to set up a language switcher 

Including a language menu on your website is one way to indicate to visitors that your website is available in multiple languages. We suggest locating the language menu in the primary header navigation so that all users can easily find it.

Displaying languages in the native language is typically best practice, as this simple step provides a familiarity that users react positively to. See how it’s displayed on the FIFA website:

language switcher

Alternatively, Microsoftdisplays each language with the appropriate nation before the language. For example, both Canada and Lebanon have differing website versions for English:

language switcher 2

Flags

There are some contextual aspects to consider with flag icons. Flags represent nations, not languages. For example, Portuguese is spoken in several countries other than Portugal, such as Brazil, Mozambique, Angola etcetera. There are many languages where this is the same case, so be wary of this if you are considering flag icons. They may incite some confusion.

Whichever way you decide to display your language list, make sure it is the same across each website version for a consistent user experience.

Conclusion

Building a successful multilingual website, and a superior user experience for that matter starts with research and truly understanding your target market. Bringing a team of linguistic experts on board means your website content won't only be translated and localised correctly but will allow your target audience to associate positively with your organisation. With research, trust, and a little patience, your website will be one to delight across all available languages.

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