If your business website needs to reach an audience that crosses different languages then you should seriously consider creating a multi-lingual translated website. While it’s tempting to just add a Google Translate bar to your site, for the love of all that’s good – don’t. It’s a very poor substitute for a manually translated website, and can actually do more harm than good. A machine-translated site can potentially offend visitors with its crude attempt at translating your content directly.
Setting up a WordPress website for multiple languages
We recently designed and built a website for a client that needed to support two languages (English and Japanese). It’s more complex than your average website since we had several requirements to meet, for both the UI and administration screens in the CMS.
UI front-end requirements
- Easily switch between languages from anywhere in the site but stay on the same (equivalent) page or post
- Be SEO friendly and built in line with Google’s recommendations for translated websites (i.e. example.com/en/page – example.com/ja/page)
- Include hreflang or lang tags
- All form controls, search and 404 pages be translated into each language
- Carousel sliders and images can have translated alt tags or captions
Back-end CMS admin requirements
- Easy to add or edit pages and posts in both languages
- Options to add more languages if required
- Update images and widgets for different languages
Since it was a smaller site we did consider just setting it up manually using WordPress templates rather than investigating available plugins. But we decided against that because we always like to future-proof our sites, and make them scalable and manageable to cover any eventuality. It’s also better for the client since it reduces the future management costs for them and makes the website asset more attractive to buyers if they sell the business.
WordPress plugin for multiple languages
After trialling a few different translate plugins we settled on Ceceppa Multilingua. It covered all our requirements listed above and allowed for new languages to be added, which was perfect for the travel company we were building the website for since there was a strong possibility they would want to market to new language groups in the future.
On the front end it had several options for how the language switcher was presented to the visitor, and allowed for switching between languages from anywhere in the site. Images and widgets were presented in the visitor’s language of choice, until they chose to switch back to a different language. Granted it’s not a common scenario to switch between languages but it was important to provide that navigation path no matter where the visitor was on the site.
Visually we opted for a simple flag system that stayed top left as well as in the right sidebar – we wanted to make it easy but not obtrusive.
Within the CMS it was easy adding content for either language without having to add a new post, page, image or widget – the plugin created new fields on each admin screen to populate it with each individual translation.
When editing pages or posts you first save it in the default or primary language and then proceed to add a translated version. You can use the same URL for each version and even though it will appear as though it appends it with a number the published version will use the permalink setup you chose in the plugin options.
For example, if you created a contact page the default language url may be example.com/contact – the translated version (with the same slug) will publish as example.com/ja/contact
Each version of the page allows for a separate template which is perfect if you have translated elements on the page template.
SEO and multiple languages
Google provides some guidance on the best way to structure a multi-language website. Webmaster tools allows you to target one specific country for each domain but other languages on the domain can be tagged using hreflang or lang specification (shown below).
< html lang="en-NZ" >
By default Google will assume your website is targeting the market your TLD applies to (for New Zealand this is .co.nz)
The hard part is deciding who you want to primarily target. As a local NZ business selling to Japanese tourists, would it be better to have a .co.jp website with English as a secondary language or a .co.nz site with Japanese language pages as an option. We went with a .co.nz site but it possibly bears further investigation.
WordPress grows with your business
Translating a website is not a simple exercise, in fact we’ve spent about three times as long building this translated site as other single language sites. Part of the issue relates to not being overly familiar with Japanese script but most of it is to do with the need to think through all scenarios to make sure you accommodate each language.
It does however highlight the flexibility and scalability of WordPress. WordPress websites continue to grow in popularity, and it’s not just small businesses that use it. Back in 2011, a list of over 50 large enterprises who use WordPress was published and it included websites of fame such as NY Times and Techcrunch.
This growth extends to multi-lingual websites and it’s reassuring to know that if that’s what you need, we can build it using WordPress.