Adding multilingual/multi-regional support to a website can be particularly challenging. Since you may have multiple versions of your site, any issues will be multiplied. Offering content in several languages can add many layers of complexity to web development. Translating articles is only one of them. To structure a multilingual website properly you have to follow several best practices for multilingual websites. But what is a multilingual website anyway?
A multilingual website is a website that offers content in more than one language. Examples of multilingual websites might include a Latin American business with an Spanish and Portuguese version of its website, or a Swiss blog available in Italian, German, and French. A multi-regional website, on the other hand, is a website that targets users in different countries or regions. Some sites are both multi-regional and multilingual. For example, a site might have different versions for the United States and Latin America, and both Spanish and Portuguese versions of the Latin American content. But how do you implement a multilingual website? Adopting the following best practices for multilingual websites is a good start to achieve the results you expect.
Best Practices for Multilingual Websites
- Design for multiple languages in mind. If you are redesigning your website, you are one step ahead of the game. In fact, you will be able to follow best practices for multilingual websites from the very beginning. If you are not interested in a total redesign, you can still adapt your already existing website. First of all, you should make sure your website is responsive. In fact, in some regions of the world people use smartphones as the main way to browse the web. Second, you should get a pre-translation cultural assessment. For example, you should make sure other cultures do not deem offensive any images or text on your website. Last but not least, you should choose the content you are going to translate carefully. Do you need to translate your entire website? Or maybe only portions of your website are meaningful to a foreign audience?
- Use a language menu. Once you are done translating your website into multiple languages, you will want to link these pages through a language menu. This allows the user to choose the language they prefer. It’s always better to use the language name in its own language. For example, use Español rather than Spanish. Do not use country flags to identify a language. In fact, people can speak the same language in multiple countries! If you are only going to have 2 or 3 different languages, a simple dropdown will work just fine. However, if you are going to have more than a dozen different languages, then you may even have a separate page just for this.
- Plan for international SEO. Once your multilingual website is online, you will want to make sure your foreign customers are able to find it on local search engines. You should choose your URL structure carefully. You can structure your multilingual website as subdirectories, subdomains or separate urls. Then, you should do an in-depth multilingual keyword analysis. The worst thing you can do here is use a standard online translator to translate your keywords into different languages. In fact, a translated keyword may not be that meaningful to a foreign customer. Last but not least, you should do some link building by getting backlinks from other sites in the same language.
Translating your website or e-commerce application into multiple languages can be a big undertaking. There are so many variables involved! However, when you follow best practices for multilingual websites, the results are well worth the cost and effort.