4 things to consider when designing a multilingual website

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The world-wide web gives any organisation the opportunity to reach markets anywhere around the globe. Having information available in multiple languages will help you reach an international and culturally and linguistically diverse audience. Once you have determined your target audience and what languages they speak, you’ll need to work out how to present information in multiple languages. Here are some tips to get the most out of your multilingual website.

The basics

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is essential for any website in any language. Choose your keywords in English and include those in the content for translation. Once translated, a good translator will help you identify keywords in that language and include them in your content.

If you’re serious about capturing a new market, translate all your content. If you have a full website in English then only extracts in other languages, non-English speaking potential clients won’t feel valued. It would be easier for them to switch to another provider who has made all the information they need available in their language. It will also detract from the legitimacy of your translated content if one language version looks significantly different to the other.

Also, make sure people can switch from the same page in one language to the other. This should be available for the main page content and all navigation. It’s confusing and annoying to find the page again if the link to another language redirects you to the homepage. Always have an English version of your content available, regardless of your target audiences. This will ensure you understand what content you’ve got out there as well!

Don’t have multiple languages on one page. Big companies like Coca-Cola have separate social media pages for each language they market in. It’s easier for the user if they don’t have to scroll through to find information in their language.

Keep in mind not all languages are read left-to-right (like English). Arabic, for example, is read right-to-left. Ideographic languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean are traditionally written vertically, but are commonly written left-to-right nowadays. This is particularly important if you’re using plugins. Some plugins do not work well with certain languages, especially when it comes to a completely different text structures such as ideographic languages.

Get your content right

Good web content is engaging, accurate and actionable. Make it easy for the reader to find what they want and understand why they should get it from you.

Starting with well-written content will make it better to translate too. These are some simple rules you can follow:

  • Keep sentences and words short – aim for around 15 words per sentence and words with no more than two syllables. It’s easier to read. You don’t want to bore or exhaust your audience before you’ve got your message across. When writing, pretend you’re explaining things to an 8-year-old.

  • Avoid slang, technical jargon or acronyms. If you must use them, add a written explanation that can be translated.

  • Limit written content. Nobody, in any language, wants to spend hours reading through your content to get the information they need. Keep it succinct, high level and include a call to action!

Be inclusive

The more inclusive your content is, the bigger audience you will reach. Obviously, translating your content will avoid excluding linguistically diverse markets, but there’s more to consider.

Ensure it’s easy to access the different language versions of your website. Have links to the other language versions on every page of your website. Make the links easy to find by having them at the top of your page or in a drop-down menu.

Write the name of each language in that language. Don’t alienate people by using flags of certain countries to indicate the language – not all English speakers are English, not all Spanish speakers are Spanish, and so on. Also specify if you’re using a particular dialect of a language.

You might also like to consider geolocation site redirection. Tools are available to automatically redirect your website visitors to the relevant language version of your website based on their IP location. This will save them a couple of clicks.

Any images should include a text description for people with vision impairment. Don’t forget to get your descriptive text translated too.

Also remember your overseas audience might not use your local currency. If you’re selling products or services, add your target audiences’ local currency and the exchange rate to make it easy for your customers.

Quality assurance protects your reputation

Ensuring your translated content is accurate is key to protecting your organisation’s reputation. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of examples of the mockery inaccurate translation ensues.

There are a number of ways to ensure your translated content is accurate. Before launching your website, test it on people who speak the translation languages and are also familiar with the topic of your content. This will ensure any nuances, particularly for complicated subject matter such as government regulations, are met. It’s easy to find the right people to review your content – you might be surprised how many bilingual people there are in your office. If not, ask the translation company to set up a test group for you, or provide back translations of your content (when the translated content is translated back to the original language).

Doing a good quality check of your website before you launch is also a great opportunity to check for broken links. When it comes to multilingual websites, the chances of broken links doubles with every new language.

Also take the time to brief your translation service provider well. Explain key terms, the tone you are trying to achieve and the purpose of your website. Help them get it right for you.

Providing information online in multiple languages can help your organisation reach a much broader audience, if done well. Digital information is also much easier to update than printed information, so it’s a great way to keep your customers or clients in the know. Putting in the extra effort to set up your website and content well and get the most out of your translation service provider will maximise the benefits of a multilingual website for your organisation.

Learn more

Want to Take Your e-Commerce Site Global? Think Like a Local: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6157-e-commerce-global-marketing.html

Top 10 best practices for multilingual websites: https://digital.gov/resources/top-10-best-practices-for-multilingual-websites/

Script direction and languages: https://www.w3.org/International/questions/qa-scripts

Technical advice provided by Jordan Day, lead developer at Brainfed studio.


Written by Sophia Dickinson, Lexigo:Sophia Dickinson has 10 years’ experience in public service for both federal and state governments. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish). Read more about her experiences at sophiadickinson.com.au