3 Ways to Create a Multilingual WordPress Site
A growing business means more customers, and in the global market, that often means more customers from other countries. While you yourself may not be able to wax poetic with your customers in their native language, it’s important that your website effectively communicates your services or products.
What better way to do this than with a multilingual site? A multilingual site opens the door to new clientele and goes the extra step of developing a rapport.
WordPress has the versatility to support a multilingual site, whether you are starting scratch or translating an existing site. Selecting one of these 3 options below will help you avoid the most common faux-pas of poor translation and confusing domain mapping.
3 Approaches to Creating a Multilingual WordPress Site
Automatic Translation with TranslatePress
In the past, it was easy to test out a multilingual website with the Google Translate widget and offer automatic translation to various languages. Unfortunately, the Google Translate widget has been discontinued for commercial use. It is temporarily available for non-commercial use, according to a special allowance by Google in response to COVID-19, but it’s unclear how long this will go on.
For business sites, there are a few other resources that allow you to harness the power of Google Translate for automatic translation. TranslatePress is a paid WordPress plugin that can translate the site utilizing Google Translate’s technology. After activating the automatic translation, it provides a visual editor where you can review the translated text and fix any issues. You’ll then need to select the default language that is displayed to visitors and set up a language switcher tool for a visitor to select from. With Translate Press, you can edit the translated text, but you aren’t creating a new version of every post or page for the translated version.
The one downside with automatic translation is that it will never be as accurate as a manual translation. It’s typically best to make sure someone on your team or an expert who is fluent in the language also reviews the site. The same word can carry a different context and meaning in another language, and you could create a poor impression of your site by implementing an automatic translation without any review.
Even with an “automatic translation” approach, there’s quite a bit of work involved in setting up the site for each language, so most businesses will start with just 1 language, in addition to the default one.
WordPress Multilingual Plugin
If you are designing a custom site and looking for a high-quality translation for each language, then a manual process can be a better approach.
WordPress Multilingual plugin (WPML) is one of the most popular plugins for multilingual sites, as it offers a particularly robust interface in the WordPress dashboard for managing content in various languages. While this plugin is great for manual translation, it also integrates with paid translation services if you need automatic translation.
The paid WPML CMS license is typically the best option for most WordPress websites. You might be tempted to go for the WPML blog plugin license, but it’s only meant for blogs and doesn’t integrate with the page builders and widgets that are used in even informational sites. The WPML CMS plugin also includes WooCommerce multilingual, allowing you to translate the names of WooCommerce products and categories and all of the elements of the shopping cart.
When building a new website and utilizing WPML, your web design team will typically start by building out all of the pages in English and then set up user accounts for your team to manually translate each page into a 2nd language, or more if desired. Similar to TranslatePress, you can then set up a language switcher on the front-end of the site where visitors can select their preferred language. Next to each page in the WordPress dashboard, WPML adds status icons that help you keep track of which content has already been translated.
Lastly, with WPML, you can utilize a different page editor section for each language. This can be very useful for languages like Japanese or Chinese where the layout may need to be adjusted, so the characters and content conveys the proper meaning. If you are looking for more control over the page layout for each language, then consider the next multilingual approach below.
Multilingual sites require a bit of attention when it comes to the domain setup and URL structure, and domain configuration can play a big role in the visitor’s user experience.
With the WordPress Multilingual plugin (WPML), you can format your language URLs as either directories or different domains. If you select the directories options, this means that visitors will stay on your main website domain and see URLs with endings, such as “yoursite.com/fr” for French or “yoursite.com/ja” for Japanese.
With WPML, you can also select a different domain for each language. This can be a popular option if you’d like to use a country code domain, such as “yousite.eu” or “yoursite.au” Remember though that this set up is just related to domains and you aren’t creating a unique website for each language.
The topic of domains brings us to the 3rd approach to creating a multilingual WordPress website. The final approach is the most advanced and it requires a WordPress multisite configuration.
A WordPress multisite means that you create a network of WordPress sites which can share various resources, keeping the hosting and maintenance costs down for each of the sites in the network. One caveat of any translation plugin like Translate Press or WPML is that you are keeping the same design and same pages for each language. With a WordPress multisite, however, you can take a much more custom approach where each specific language has a unique site, and they are all set up as a mini-network.
If you have a large focus in another country or market, you’ll eventually want to invest in this configuration because it gives you the opportunity to tailor each site to a specific market. A WordPress multisite is also a great tactic for e-commerce or B2B websites where you are selling specific products to certain countries but not to others.
There is a lot more strategy, design and development work involved with a WordPress multisite setup, so you’ll typically only invest in this if it matches your business structure.
Manual vs Automatic Translation Services
When considering a multilingual website, one of your first decisions is whether you’ll use an automatic translation tool or take a manual approach with the help of a translation service.
While the automatic approach may sound easier, it typically isn’t the best approach for a business website. With any automated technology, there is always the risk that a phrase or word is translated and conveys a different meaning in the other language. If you miss these mistakes, the multilingual site can actually undermine the professional view of your company.
The messaging on your website can also play a pivotal role in converting visitors and in catering to the search engines. With a manual translation approach, you can make sure that the translated text is just as compelling to web visitors and optimized well for SEO in each specific language. If you aren’t able to budget for a translation service at the moment, then you could test out an automated option and monitor whether the multilingual add-on is helping with your site goals.
Creating a Quality (Translated) Experience
All 3 of these approaches are extremely popular in the WordPress community, so there are a lot of resources out there to help you navigate expanding your site to include more languages.
However, there’s a lot of work involved in providing a quality experience for even 2 languages. When it comes to multilingual websites, opt for quality over quantity, and start small. The great news is that you can also start with just 1 additional language and continue to build upon your multilingual site as your business grows.