Translate a website sounds like a purely linguistic affair; get those pages of yours translated and you’re done. Except there’s a lot more to building a website for multilingual audiences than providing content in a few different languages.
Before you translate a website you need to think about website performance, search optimisation, user experience and all kinds of other factors – all of which change when you add new languages to your site. So in this article we’re going to run through the key steps of how you translate a website the right way.
Step 1: Website structure when you translate a website
A multilingual website requires a completely different structure to single-language sites. First of all, your domain structure needs to accommodate for the different versions of your site. In fact, you might even decide to host entirely separate sites for each language.
Whichever approach you take to translate a website is going to have a significant impact on the structure of your pages (sitemap) and the way people navigate between them. The different versions of your site should be separate for search engines but linked for users who might need to switch between different languages.
Step 2: Technical aspects
One of the biggest mistakes brands make when translating their websites is overlooking the technical aspects. This starts with quality code and the correct markup for language support – something that’s important to search engines and users alike.
Performance is always important when you translate a website and multilingual sites have some unique challenges to think about. First you need quality hosting that’s capable of dealing with your visitor numbers from around the world and delivering content quickly. The further people are from your servers, the longer it will take for pages to load. So use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to speed up the process.
You also need to think about the end user in each country. Which devices are they most likely to be using, how much processing power does it have and what kind of connection or data plans do they have? Not everyone is sporting the latest iPhone X with 4G connections everywhere they go.
There are other technical aspects when you translate a website to think about, too, which we’ll be covering in the localisation section of this article.
Step 3: User experience
When you translate a website, user experience design also overlaps with web localisation. Aside from that, your main concerns are speed and navigation – two factors that are directly linked. We mentioned speed in the previous section but there’s more to this topic than page loading times.
Getting the right content to users as quickly as possible is vital and this means you need to know which language to deliver. There’s no guaranteed way to know a user’s mother tongue but location detection is a good place to start. People in Italy get the Italian version of your site, users in Japan get the Japanese version and those in Brazil get the Brazilian Portuguese version. Of course, this doesn’t help tourists or travellers who happen to be visiting your site from a foreign country or expats living in the country that want to view your site in their own language.
This is why when you translate a website it’s important you have an intuitive language selection system that makes it easy for people to choose their language of choice, if your best guess isn’t correct.
Step 4: Professional translation
Yes, of course, professional translation has to make an appearance on this list. Our aim with this article is to show you there’s far more to consider than website translation services alone but this does nothing to diminish the importance of quality translation for multilingual websites.
If you get this crucial part wrong, all of the hard work you put into the other steps is wasted.
Step 5: Web localisation
Web localisation is a huge topic but we’ll try our best to summarise here. Moving beyond the languages of your site, you also need to think about adapting other elements for different audiences:
- Times and dates
- Phone numbers
- Visual content
- Local and cultural references
All of the above can change for different regions of the world and getting the right format is important. In terms of visual content and local or cultural references when you translate a website, use local models or presenters for images and videos featuring people wherever possible to make your brand feel more homely.
Going back to the technical aspects we mentioned earlier, you need to make sure your font choices support each language – including special characters or different character sets.
One of the most important aspects of technical web localisation is formatting the code of your site to make it easier to optimise. For example, you don’t want to have to make changes to every page on every version of your site to edit the header or anything else universal. You want to be able to make these changes once and apply them across each version of your site as necessary.
Keep this in mind when you’re putting your code together. Use dynamic markup like PHP and store core components as variables so you can edit them and apply them wherever you need.
That covers the key five steps for when you translate a website but there is still more work to be done. To get the best results, you’ll also want to localise your content strategy and marketing efforts to build stronger relationships with each audience. Consumers in China might respond to very different advertising campaigns compared to those in the US, for example, and you want to make the right impact in each market.