Having a localized WordPress website (translated to the language of your end-user) might be your next step if you’re currently running an online business or in charge of managing the online window of a company. Sometimes it’s seen as an obligation due to the nature of your business, while it may also be for geographical reasons - your visitors might be hailing from various countries. But it can also be the result of a development strategy.
In this article, we at CollectiveRay will walk you through the journey of going through a WordPress localization exercise or creating a multilingual website: from identifying the right timing to go for it, to the practical technical approaches to make it happen.
1. When should you have a translated WordPress website?
So you’re running WordPress site or starting one from scratch and you’re considering having it translated. Before doing so, make sure it’s relevant for you and consider the following key elements.
When your audience and/or customers need it
If you already have a WP site, you should first have a look at your visitors' profile. One way to do that is to use your Google analytics (or any other traffic tracking tools), and dig into the 2 following aspects:
- Geographies: Check which areas of the world your come visitors from. If many are cross-border, you should probably think about getting your site translated. For example, if you own a French website and notice that more than 50% of your customers live in the UK, it means there is potential for you to increase your presence and activity in this region. And to take full advantage of it, translating your WP site is a great way.
Below is an example of users breakdown by country. You can see that in North America and Western Europe, the US and France are the most represented countries. That’s one of the reasons why the site whose Analytics are shown below should be available in English and French.
- Languages: You’re a French entrepreneur and noticed that part of your customers/audience traffic is coming from visitors with English and Chinese as their browser language. Again, that’s a great situation where there is a huge opportunity to grow your numbers by just adding new languages to your website. It will help you to increase your reach, while also potentially improve your conversion rates (we’ll get to this point later in the article).
Below is an example of the users' breakdown by language, as you can see English, French, Spanish and German are the top 4 languages. So that’s why this site's pages should be displayed in these languages.
Now, let’s say that you’re creating a brand new site from scratch. You cannot rely on traffic analysis since you don’t have anyone yet. You need to answer these two questions:
- Who are your customers or targeted audience?
- What’s their main location?
Let’s use the French entrepreneur example again :) You’re in the cheese business (cliché, I know) and you’re targeting UK and China. Then, obviously, having an online version of your business, a WordPress WooCommerce website for instance, available in English and Chinese seems required. On the other hand, you would also need to keep a French version, more dedicated to your suppliers and existing French customers. This is a typical use case where a translated WP site makes sense.
In addition to the customer/audience angle, you should consider your business area.
Your geographical business area
Geographically or industry speaking, your business area might require a WP translated website.
- Multi-languages countries: Some countries have more than one language, with people speaking one or all of these languages. If you take Canada for example, they speak English and French. In Switzerland, there are even more, 3 languages: French, German and Italian. If you have a website in one of the many multi-languages countries, getting it translated is a must!
- Multi-languages industries by nature: Think about the tourism industry for instance. It’s hard to imagine such a site only available in one language. Your potential customers (online or physical) are from all around the world, and most of them don’t speak your own language. The minimum viable for your site: your own language + English.
Last but not least, translating your presence online could also be the natural process to support your existing development strategy.
Translations to support your development strategy
Regardless if you’re running an e-commerce, corporate or blog WP, at some point you will look for growth actions. One way to do it is to increase your potential market.
- Online businesses: Growing an online business is generally done with the following 2 main patterns: (i) getting more conversions from your existing traffic and/or (ii) increase the incoming traffic. Translations can actually help you with both. Improve conversions from visitors with different languages and increase your traffic with a wider market.
- Offline businesses: A corporation who opens offices in new countries must also reflect that on their site by making it available in the different languages.
If you fit into one of the 3 use cases described above, having a translated site is probably a must-have and you should adopt a localization process.
2. What you need to focus on when Localizing your WordPress
The process of localization must be taken seriously. It’s not as easy as one might think and the following 3 key points should be taken into account before starting to translate your WordPress website.
It’s important to balance resources needed vs. your needs and expectations. There are 3 main sources of translations you can use:
- Machines: They are automatic translations based on a combination of neural/statistic algorithms, fueled with all the data available online. To date, the two best players of the market are Microsoft and Google. It’s generally a good start to avoid starting the whole translation process from scratch.
- Internal team: If you have in-house translators, or local country teams, or even teammates speaking several languages. It’s a great way to do it as you can make 100% sure that your marketing tone remains the same as in your original version. However, it might be time-consuming for your team and generate complicated processes when doing it with others.
- Professional translators: It’s now possible to find online professional translators, with specialized marketplaces, such as Textmaster or Gengo. One thing you need to check before placing your order is that they’re using native speakers and that they have industry-focused experts if you want to be 100% sure to get the right tone. The downside of this source, if we have to name one, is that you cannot know if the quality is as good as expected. Actually, you’ll know if one day a visitor reports mistakes. Otherwise, if you never hear about your translations, it means it’s working fine!
Which one of these resources should you use? Actually, you don’t have to only choose one, the best thing to do is a combination of all of them:
- Take full advantage of machines velocity with a first layer of translations
- Have in-house team or colleagues add translations rules on top of the machine translations and review some of your content
- And/or get in touch with online professional translations agencies at least for your most visited pages
- (Bonus) Hire a native speaker to read and review your top pages
Now that you have all the necessary resources, why you should pay extreme attention to your translations:
- Trust: For an e-commerce business trust is key and poor translations quality might be perceived as an untrustworthy place to buy products.
- Brand awareness: You put a lot of efforts and resources to build a strong image. It should be the same in your translated languages, so do not let bad translations destroy that
Not paying enough attention to your translations would ultimately result in lower revenues than expected, or even worse, a negative impact on your brand and existing sales.
As it’s commonly acknowledged on the internet, content is king and we could add “in any language”. So make sure to properly assess your needs and budget and pick the appropriate solution(s) for you. Once your translations are done, you surely want to be visible on and by search engines (Google being the most important to date).
The last thing you want after putting resources and time into your translations is not being found within search engine rankings. You need to make sure your translated versions are findable and indexed by Google, this is an essential condition of your successful localization process.
According to Google best practices guidelines, there are 3 key criteria you have to carefully look after (keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to help Google easily discover and find your translated versions):
- URL structure: Use dedicated and unique URLs. There are 3 recommended structures listed by Google:
- Different domains for each version: domain.fr and mydomain.it for French and Italian for example
- Different sub-domains for each version: fr.domain.com and it.domain.com for example
- Different sub-directories for each version: domain.com and domain.com/fr for the original and French versions
- Hreflang tag: it helps Google to know that your WP multilingual website has different versions. Alternatively, you can also use a sitemap.
Following and applying these “Google” rules will ensure that your pages (and their translations) are indexed and easily found on any of your translated languages. Let’s have a practical example with ‘Self Catered – Saint Martin’, a chalet company offering holiday rental accommodation in the French Alps (French again, I could not help :)). They originally built their site in English and added French as a translated version, following SEO multilingual best practices. As a result, they’re in the search results in French (see below).
Visitor experience (User Experience)
Visitors experience optimization (or UX optimization) is an essential part of any website. In your original language, you made sure to convert the maximum number of visitors into readers, followers, customers, newsletter subscribers, etc. You spent time optimizing your funnels, the translated versions should also reflect that:
- Visibility: Your foreigner visitors must within the first seconds identify the languages switch button. If they don’t see it, they will leave your site before the first minute. And if all of them do that, it will dramatically increase your bounce rate. Ideally, you should even consider using an automatic redirection function, based on your visitors’ preferred languages. This way they wouldn’t need to perform any actions themselves.
Getting back to the button, it should be clear, visible and immediately accessible, as in the following screenshot, at the top right. Do edit your theme as necessary to make sure it is visible.
- Comprehensive journey: You need to provide an A-to-Z experience in your visitors’ language. From the first page to the final step (email order, thank you page, etc.) the selected language has to remain the same. Otherwise, you might lose a lot of your visitors at each step of the funnel, or even worse, negatively impact your brand trust.
- Performance: Also make sure to not downgrade your WordPress website loading time. You put time and efforts to optimize it, your localization process should not negatively impact all the work you’ve done and your translated versions loading time should stick to your expectations. Also, if you’re using a cache solution in WordPress (like WP Rocket, WP Super cache or even WP Fastest cache) make sure it will work on your translated versions.
Now that you have all the key localization focus points in mind, it’s time to review what technical approach you should choose.
3. What are the basics of WordPress localization strategy?
How can you easily make localization on WordPress? There are two main strategies. The first one is to have independent sites for each language, and the second one is to have a multilingual WordPress website.
In this case, you will have a number of sites equal to the number of languages you want to support. For instance, if you’re running a hotel site in Switzerland, you would have a German, a French and an Italian version. You will handle all of the different versions of your WordPress websites separately. The visitors will have different and separate access to the independent sites. However, it’s possible to create custom connections (links) between websites to redirect visitors willing to switch the language.
- The main benefit of this strategy is that all your sites will match SEO and visitors experience optimization.
- Decentralized management: if you need to run inventory/products separately.
- Time-consuming: multiplying work required for each creation and maintenance by your number of languages (you will have to do all the work for each of your sites).
- More expensive: you need to pay for each service used for each.
- Above 2 or 3 languages/websites it can quickly become impossible.
You have one website built in your original language and you will use a WordPress multilingual plugin to add your translated languages. Your visitors will have the possibility to select the language on your website using a dedicated button.
- Efficient: easier to set it up and maintain than independent sites.
- Cheaper: you do not need to pay several times for the same service and it’s also less time-consuming.
- Centralized management: You gather all your activity in the same place, which is easier to track and update.
- Compatibility: Adding another plugin to your WordPress admin is always sensitive, as you need to make sure it’s compatible with all your existing website parts (Theme, Plugins, services, etc.). It’s even more important for multilingual plugins as they interact with all your content, which is generally connected to a lot of your different components.
- Performance: Adding new languages means adding content and it could easily overload your Database for example. So make sure to use the lightest solution.
4. What’s the most feasible solution for your website translation use case?
It really depends on the nature and the size of your business and website abroad.
Generally speaking, the multilingual website approach is more recommended, as it’s easier to set up and maintain overall.
However, there is one case where independent sites are more suitable: if you have decentralized and own managed operations. For example, if your foreign business is locally implemented with dedicated local team and shipping solutions, combined with their own inventory/warehouse, then having their own independent and separated website makes sense.
Otherwise, if you can centralize all your flow from one office/site and if you do not have country/language specific needs (differentiated offerings by country/language) you should prefer the multilingual approach.
WordPress Internationalization plugin
This is also called multilingual plugin will allow you to build a multilingual website by managing and displaying multiple languages.
With more than 50k+ plugins available on WordPress, it can be difficult to make the right choice, so keep in mind that it needs to match the “focus points” discussed below. I would also recommend you test several solutions to form your own opinion.
You can start with the highest 5-star rated plugin on the WordPress directory, Weglot (freemium), there is a free trial which pretty convenient to get a first opinion of the plugin.
WordPress Localization Plugin
This is somewhat different from the multilingual plugin. A WordPress localization plugin allows you to change the language of a WordPress plugin or a Theme and not to display multiple languages. It’s really helpful if you want to use a Theme available in English by default to build a website only available in French.
The plugin will allow you to easily access WordPress languages files (.po/.mo) and change the content of the Theme or the Plugin. Sometimes, the Theme or Plugin already have their own WordPress translation files, in that case, you can simply download them.
The most famous WP localization plugin is Loco Translate (free), it lets you create or edit WordPress translation files.
5. Wrapping-up on WordPress localization
If you’re thinking about translating your website or building a translated WordPress website? Great! It’s perfect for expansion or for serving specific markets requiring several languages. Here are the key topics you need to apply to successfully achieve your localization process:
- Make sure having a translated WordPress website is the right thing for you: If it’s not implicitly required by your business area or your development strategy, have a look at your audience and customer profile
- Follow the 3 key rules of a successful multilingual WP website: (i) Translations quality, (ii) Multilingual SEO and (iii) Optimized visitor experience
- Select the most suitable technical approach for your needs: Generally, the multilingual website is the most recommended (pick and test several WordPress plugins, starting with Weglot for example). For specific use cases, you might also choose the independent, separated approach.