Multilingual websites are an indispensable tool for any company seeking to expand internationally. By allowing users to view your website in their language of choice, you’re making it that much easier for current and potential customers to interact and engage with your brand. With an optimized user experience (UX), you’ll see more conversions for greater sales and profitability in your new market.
The process of creating a multilingual website is not without its own unique set of challenges and demands. Due to their intended use in a variety of languages and locations, there are special factors to consider that wouldn’t necessarily apply when creating a more standard site. When built correctly, however, the potential benefits they provide will greatly outweigh any additional expenses and effort required to build them.
With multilingual websites, it’s always going to be easier and more cost-effective to build the website correctly the first time. The worst mistake one can make is to rush through the planning stages, only to find that extra revisions are needed later on down the line.
Consider these tips when planning your next multilingual website to ensure you get things right from the beginning.
Invest in your translation and transcreation.
Given the increased costs required for internationalization, it can be tempting to plug your content into an auto-translator and call it a day. We can’t emphasize enough how detrimental of a decision this will be to your ongoing success in your new market. If you take one thing away from this piece, let it be this—don’t rely on software to handle your translation.
The best option is to pass the responsibility to a professional transcreation team. When you transcreate, you rebuild your content from the ground up in your target language. It’s a more organic process than direct translation that will result in an intuitive experience for your users.
Whether you choose to outsource this responsibility to a third-party specialist, or handle it in-house, the key is to ensure the new content is created by a native speaker of your target language. They’ll be able to reimagine your website in a natural way that’s most conducive to helping your new readers convert.
Make language choices clear.
If you plan to allow users to select a language, make sure this option is clearly visible. Many sites opt for an easy-to-use drop-down menu somewhere in the header or footer. List the name of each language using its respective local name, as opposed to the name for it in your language.
While it’s common to see websites also using flags to denote languages, this is not always a recommended practice. Flags represent countries, not languages. While many countries do have official languages, there are often significant populations for whom that language is not their native tongue.
If possible, enable your website to auto-detect a user’s language of choice. It’s better to do this via browser language as opposed to location, however, as the former does not account for travel or other similar circumstances.
Ctrip has a convenient drop-down menu with local language names, but it also uses flags. Source: Ctrip.com
Plan your structure in advance.
Iron out every detail of your website in advance, so when it’s transcreation time, there are zero ambiguities or do-overs. Know how your multilingual functions will be implemented, and which parts of your website will be available in which target languages. Familiarize yourself with the cultural norms and expectations of your target group so as to ensure your site design takes them into account.
You’ll want to present an end-user experience that’s intuitive and familiar, while also adhering at all times to your overall brand aesthetic. It may not be feasible for you to create a brand-new website for each market, but do be aware of cultural differences when conceptualizing your page.
There are other factors you’ll want to account for. Those include local internet speeds, currencies, address formats, 12/24-hour time and cultural symbols and sensitivities. Make it as easy as possible for users to imagine themselves as users of your site by shaping your site to cater to their worldview and lifestyle.