A Best Practice Guide for WordPress Multilingual Websites
There’s a longstanding assumption that enough people on the web feel comfortable using English for it to be the default language of any website, especially when buying high-tech or expensive products. The Can’t Read, Won’t Buy study proves otherwise.
75% of people prefer to buy products in their native language and in addition, 60% rarely or never buy from English-only websites.
The future of the web is undeniably multilingual. Fortunately, WordPress multilingual plugins such as Weglot, WPML, Polylang, Multilingualpress, and others make reaching global audiences easier and faster than ever before.
But there are some important “behind the scenes” considerations you should keep in mind when creating a multilingual WordPress website. Website translation involves more than just translating word for word. It’s important that you produce culturally appropriate website content, that you consider your design (and the consistency of your design), and avoid faux pas.
So make sure you check off these 11 important WordPress multilingual best practices before launching new languages on your site.
In choosing the solution that best suits your WordPress site, there are several things you’ll want to consider, including how much you’re willing to pay, whether you need automatic or professional translations, and the importance of quality and clarity for your translated content.
There are plenty of free version translation plugins available in the WordPress.org repository that offer basic automatic translations, such as you might get from using Google Translate. If quality is what you’re looking for, you can start with a first layer of machine translation, but then have a professional translator verify your content.
Features you’ll want to look out for in a quality solution for WordPress multilingual sites include:
Support for the languages you need — and languages you might need in the future.
Seamless integration with your website and the ability to automatically detect and translate written content.
Seamless integration with your plugins (such as SEO plugins like Yoast SEO), page builders (like Elementor, Gutenberg, and Divi), custom post types, and your WordPress theme.
Automatic translation and human translation compatibility.
Access to experienced and professionally-trained human translators.
Ability to manually edit translations.
Intuitive and customizable options for displaying language switching options to users.
SEO-friendly language content.
If you run a large website and you’re trying to expand internationally, providing high-quality translated content to consumers is always recommended.
To ensure that your WordPress translations are accurate and speak directly to your target audience, ensure you have your translations reviewed by an experienced and accredited language translator. While ordering professional translations may seem like an unnecessary cost, the return on investment from having a well-translated site will more than make up for it.
There are many quality translation tools available for WordPress multilingual sites, but the leading solution in terms of price, quality, clarity, and ease of use is Weglot. We’ll explore this solution in more detail later in this article.
2. Be Selective With Your Languages
Choosing which languages to translate your site into might seem like a fairly straightforward task. However, it’s important that you look to your data for firm evidence about who is accessing your site.
Your Google Analytics data will tell you the top 10 languages that your visitors browse in. You might discover there are WordPress users from countries and new markets you hadn’t previously considered. If they are currently accessing your content in English, they would probably appreciate being able to switch to a translated version in their native language. This helps drive trust, helping users feel confident about making a purchase on your WordPress multilingual site.
It’s also important to be selective with the languages you choose. While many WordPress multilingual solutions offer translations in dozens of different languages, it doesn’t mean you should enable every language available. Instead, choose only the languages you need for your target audience.
Lastly, keep in mind that in many countries, people speak multiple languages. For example, in India there are 23 official languages (and over 400 more unofficial ones), and in the U.S., there are over 50 million Spanish speakers (more than Spain itself!). So be sure to do your research before choosing languages for the countries you want to target.
3. Provide Simple Language Switching Options
Many modern websites detect the language of the browser and automatically set the language for users. This minimizes the amount of work on the user’s end, ensuring their preferred language is displayed when they visit your site and saving them from having to search for language-switching options.
While detecting browser language lets you automatically serve up translated content, it isn’t an exact science, so it’s important to consider users who land on the “wrong” language of your site.
So make sure you place language-switching options in a prominent location (such as a widget or a drop-down on the navigation menu or sidebar) on your homepage and every page of your site. Users who have grown accustomed to translating content typically look to the top of a page for language-switching options.
You’ll want visitors to your site to feel welcome and be able to access your WordPress multilingual content in their preferred way, so ensure your language-switching options are clear. It’s best to refer to a language in its own language. For example, use “Deutsch” instead of “German” and “日本語” instead of “Japanese.”
If you want to further improve the user experience for your non-English speaking visitors, remember their language preferences so the next time they visit your site, it will automatically load in their language.
A country can have more than one official language.
A language can be spoken in more than one country.
Visitors might not recognize a flag (because of the icon size), or they might be confused by similar flags.
(Weglot provides you a way to display or hide flags on your language switcher)
Ultimately, you want to provide language-switching options that are easy to understand in any language.
4. Use Dedicated URLs
One of the main concerns with multilingual WordPress sites is duplicate content and the impact on SEO. Identical content that appears within different domains can lead to duplicate content penalties, such as a hit to rankings and even deindexing.
The URL options Google sets out include the following:
Country-specific domain, e.g. www.example.de
Subdomain, e.g. de.example.com
Subdirectory, e.g. example.com/de/
While each of these options has its pros and cons, subdirectories are easy to set up and maintain. For example, Weglot uses subdirectories on WordPress, using rewrite rules to automatically create a unique URL for each language.
5. Consider Your SEO Strategy
With translated content, your WordPress multilingual site will be much more likely to appear in search results, helping to increase your online visibility. But in order to achieve this, it’s important that you carefully consider your multi-language SEO strategy.
With a WordPress multilingual site, together with translated keywords and metadata, you can target a broader range of keywords, boosting your chances of being ranked in SERPs, and not just for Google — for Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and other search engines.
While Google is the dominant search engine in the U.S. and many other English-speaking countries, Baidu is the most used search engine in China, while Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia.
You’ll need to build your SEO strategy around the most popular search engines for the countries you’re targeting. This means researching the various search habits of your target audience, finding out what search terms and keywords are popular for your niche, and optimizing your content accordingly. Your page should start appearing in the local SERP, and your organic traffic will increase dramatically.
What’s more, if you’re a Weglot user, you can rest assured that Weglot follows Google’s best practices in terms of multilingual SEO, so you can trust that your translated pages will be properly indexed.
6. Use Hreflang Tags
If you have multiple versions of a page for different languages, Google recommends using hreflang. Doing so ensures the most appropriate version of your page by language will appear in search results, depending on the user’s language or region, and it helps Google bots to easily know where to find the different versions of the same page.
Here’s a quick tutorial on the three ways to indicate multiple language versions of a page to Google:
Add the code below to the header of your pages for every language you use.
For each variation of a page, include a set of <link> elements in the <head> element, with one link for each page variant including itself. The set of links will be identical for every version of the page.
This method is useful if you don’t have a sitemap or the ability to specify HTTP response headers for your site.
You can return an HTTP header with your page’s GET response with information about all the language and region variants of the page. This is useful for non-HTML files, such as PDFs.
You can use a Sitemap to set out all of the language and region variants for each URL on your site. To do so, add a <loc> element specifying a single URL, with child <xhtml:link> entries listing every language of the page, including itself.
For example, if you have three versions of a page, your sitemap will have three entries, each with three identical child entries.
Hreflang tag implementation is difficult for beginners but if you use Weglot, hreflang attributes are automatically taken care of for you so you don’t have to worry about adding code to your site.
7. Ensure Translations are Comparable and Consistent
It’s important to ensure the user experience for the different language versions of your site is comparable, i.e., the information provided on your homepage is the same for every language.
It’s common for online businesses to start out with just one language, such as English, gradually expanding to provide more languages to meet the demand of new overseas markets. However over time, as the English version of the site is updated and changed, translated content may be neglected, creating a gap in understanding.
Put in place a plan for regular updates and maintenance of your translated content across your site. This means routinely reviewing and comparing everything from top-level page content to product descriptions to fix any differences and ensuring your translated content is comparable to the English version, save for cultural differences.
Neglecting to maintain comparable translations means users in certain languages will have a different, and even out-of-date, experience that will reflect poorly on your company. Weglot helps you to easily manage your translations on a daily basis with several tools, including automatic translations, notifications, and easy-to-use editing tools.
8. Design for Languages
Offering content in more than one language can introduce new challenges when it comes to the design of your site, so it’s important to keep in mind and be prepared for layout changes.
Translating content from one language to another can also dramatically impact how much space text will take up on a page.
For example, languages such as Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, will use one or two characters to convey a piece of information whereas in English you might need a full sentence.
Other languages, such as German and Hindi, are “wordy” and need more space, taking upwards of 30% more space than English.
Ultimately, it’s important that the user experience, functionality, and features are similar and comparable also all language versions of your WordPress multilingual site — and that your design doesn’t break or look awkward when a user switches languages.
With Weglot, you can easily customize the design of translated pages, have a specific font for each language, and so on.
9. Manage Users’ Expectations
If there are any pages on your WordPress multilingual site that haven’t been translated, or you don’t intend to translate, make sure you notify users before they navigate to these pages. You can do this using an icon or short text. This will help avoid any confusion and even frustration for the user.
Similarly, you may want to warn users who click an external link in a different language or download a file that isn’t available in their native tongue.
10. Consider Cultural Differences
Making a dedicated investment in a WordPress multilingual site that speaks to your target audience in their native language can help your business expand internationally and win new market share. But it involves a great deal more than simply translating your content word for word.
Every language has its own set of rules, expressions, and slang terms. In most cases, these idiosyncrasies don’t translate smoothly from one language to another. So consider carefully website localization so as not to confuse people from different countries who visit your site.
Localization involves adapting your site to the specific cultures that you want to target so that your content feels natural to people based in a particular region. Take into account culture, customs, and technical and other characteristics of the target region.
11. Other WordPress Multilingual Best Practice Considerations
There are several other things you’ll need to keep in mind when translating your WordPress multilingual site:
Video and Other Multimedia
With the huge increase in the use of video in marketing, it’s essential that you also provide translations for any videos and other multimedia on your site. This may involve providing subtitles, voice-overs, or dubbing for videos.
If you are using a captcha on your site, make sure that it’s in the same language as the content on the page. For example, a Japanese visitor may have difficulty solving a Russian captcha and vice versa.
Not every country uses the same date format. For example, in the U.S., dates are typically formatted month-date-year, whereas, in countries like Australia, the date is formatted date-month-year.
For ecommerce stores, it’s important to display prices in the local currency. Make it easy for people to buy from you with prices in local currencies.
Units of Measurement
You may also want to consider translating units of measure. While 90% of the world uses the metric system, the U.S., Liberia, and Myanmar still use the Imperial system of weights and measures.
Connecting With Your Website Visitors
Don’t forget to translate your live chat, contact forms and kickback emails so you stand the best chance of converting your website traffic into leads and customers. If your team can’t provide support in multiple languages, consider a free WordPress chat bot that answers your visitor’s most pressing questions in all the different languages you offer.
Which WordPress Translation Plugin is Right for You?
There are many quality translation tools available for WordPress, all of which cater to different needs and budgets. So before choosing a quality method of translation, it’s important to shop around and find a solution that provides the user-friendly features you need.
While some translation plugins simply provide auto-translation, there are full-service options that also provide the services of professional human translators who can ensure your translations are natural-sounding and optimized for quality and clarity.
For WordPress, the leading solution in terms of price, quality, clarity, and ease of use is Weglot. Weglot integrates seamlessly with any WordPress multilingual site, providing an all-in-one solution that automatically detects and translates your written content and adapts to your plugins and themes. Rather than just translating your posts, Weglot translates every aspect of your site, from custom fields and taxonomies to menu items and WooCommerce products, using its advanced translation API.
Weglot supports more than 110 languages, including custom languages, which you can manually edit in context on the front-end of your site using the plugin’s intuitive visual editor. You can also order professional language translations right from the Weglot dashboard.
What’s more, Weglot follows the best practices set out in this post, including:
Translation management: Making it easy to edit translations on the front end to suit your site’s design, and
Providing tools and other features to help you produce culturally relevant and appropriate content.
Setting up Quality Translations for Your WordPress Multilingual Site
Weglot allows you to first start with an initial time-saving layer of automatic translation and then edit your translations yourself or order professional translators to do the work for you. All this takes place directly inside your Weglot account. Let’s see how to do that.
After installing and activating the Weglot plugin through your WordPress admin and setting up your first translated language, head over to the Weglot site and log in to your account.
When you first set up Weglot on your site, automatic translations are provided by the best machine learning providers in the world — Microsoft, DeepL, and Google depending on the language. It’s a great way for you or your translator not to start from scratch and save a lot of time.
When you’re ready to take the quality of your translations to the next level, you can then order translations from vetted professional agencies directly from your Weglot account or add your own translation team.
Weglot’s professional translations give you the following benefits:
High quality. Order quality translations with a human translator. A native translator will start translating your order right away.
Flexible and affordable. Pricing from €0.08 per word, depending on the language.
Fast and easy integration. Professional translations will be automatically added to your Weglot account and displayed on your site within 24-48 hours.
Next Steps: Translate Your WordPress Website With Weglot’s Free Trial
Weglot is the fastest way to translate your WordPress website, with a multilingual website up and running in just minutes. Choose to keep your website 100% automatically translated, or adjust the text using your own translation team or by ordering pro translators directly inside the Weglot Dashboard.
There’s a free plugin version where you can translate 2,000 words per month into one other language, learn more about our pricing and which plan best fits your needs. All of our plans include automatic translation and manual translation, plus SEO-friendly features.