Having a website is essential for businesses today, regardless of industry, size, or even country. It’s also become quite easy to provide services in several countries, especially if you’re a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, a translation or digital marketing agency, a financial technology (fintech) company, or any other business that offers an intangible product.
That said, many e-commerce businesses are now able to sell and ship their products to many countries too.
And while having an English-language website is highly recommended, it’s not always enough. Especially if your target audience’s native language isn’t English.
For example, US and UK brands that want to sell their products and services to other countries need to translate their site into the target audience’s native tongue.
To do so, they’d need a bilingual or multilingual website.
Companies from IKEA to Netflix to H&M to Nike and more are all great examples of multilingual websites. And what do they have in common? They follow the best practices for multilingual websites.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on when to consider a multi-language website and the most important multilingual website best practices.
When should you consider a multilingual website?
As a business owner, it’s important to consider the ‘when’ behind your major decisions.
When you decide to turn your single-language website into a multilingual one is important. By ‘when,’ we mean both timing and the situation that calls for translating or localizing your website.
Several situations or cases may prompt you to consider website translation. It’s worth mentioning that these situations may or may not overlap.
The primary reason businesses consider multilingual websites is to grow their business. This may include adding new target audiences, expanding your geographical reach, increasing your revenue, or all of those reasons together.
Targeting a new audience can include bilingual or multilingual audiences in the same country or in different countries.
For example, in many Arab countries today, there are bilingual natives as well as expatriates. So, creating a multi-language website is a good idea if you want to target expatriates in a certain country or region.
In the case of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for example, your first choices are English and Arabic. Both languages are used by natives.
However, with a large number of expatriates in each of the 6 GCC countries, you may consider Urdu as a second or third option.
The third reason is expanding your geographical reach. Let’s say you’re an e-commerce store selling fashion products in France. You want to expand your audience and geographical reach to include neighboring countries such as Switzerland, Germany, and Italy.
To target people in these countries, you’ll need to prioritize German language translation for your website, followed by Italian.
Multilingual website best practices
Now it’s time to explore 9 multilingual websites’ best practices.
The purpose of following these best practices for bilingual or multi-language websites is to ensure your website will perform better and you can get the most out of your investment.
1- Select the language(s) you want
It should be obvious but we have to mention this. The first recommendation in multilingual website best practices is to decide on the language or languages you want to translate your site into.
This decision will depend on one or more of the following criteria:
- Your market research
- Ease of international or cross-border shipping (for e-commerce websites, Shopify stores, and other businesses that sell physical products)
- Analytics of people coming to your website
- Your competition in that market
2- Decide on translation vs localization
One of the most important factors when deciding how you’ll create your multi-language website is to decide whether you’ll use translation or localization.
Put simply: Website translation is when you decide you want to use one language to cover a region. For example, if you decide your website will cover the Middle East without specifying which countries you’re targeting, you should opt for Modern Standard Arabic translation.
This is usually the case for SaaS, education, and e-learning sites.
However, if you have an e-commerce site and you want to expand to several countries, the best option is localization. In this case, agencies like TranslationPartner, use Modern Standard Arabic as the basis and then begin localizing the content to suit each country and target audience.
3- Decide on your SEO strategy
This step is super important for multilingual websites. Part of the success of any website today is its search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and strategy.
SEO translation is an important element when translating online content. That’s why creating a multilingual website calls for understanding multilingual SEO and using either local SEO or international SEO.
Related reading: How To Conduct An International SEO Strategy In 2023
4- Create a glossary
Some websites are larger and more niche than others. This calls for creating a glossary with the important terms in your project. Creating a glossary not only helps you speed up the website translation process.
5- Use transcreation when needed
Transcreation is a combination of translation and content creation. With website translation, you may have to use a degree of transcreation to ensure accuracy and clarity.
6- Use hreflang tags
“The hreflang attribute tells Google which language you are using on a specific page, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language,” explains SEO software website Moz.
Let’s say your website is available in 4 languages: English, Arabic, Japanese, and German. Having an hreflang tag tells Google which language to serve to which viewer coming from which country. It also tells Google which language to show based on users’ browsers.
7- Ensure graphics fit the target language
With translation and localization, there’s an important element that’s often overlooked, especially when translating a website or other forms of online content. It ensures that your translation and supporting graphics, design, and user experience fit your target audience.
Here’s a simple example: If you’re localizing your e-commerce website to Arabic for a Saudi audience, you’ll want to ensure that your designs aren’t revealing or inappropriate.
8- Include language-switching options
A best practice among multilingual websites is having your language icon appear as a dropdown menu for customers to choose the language they want to view your website in.
Multilingual website best practices dictate that you use the initials of a language or country instead of just the flag for that country.
An alternative would be to use both the initials and the flag. But using the flag alone for the language switching option isn’t recommended.
9- Test your multilingual website
Last but certainly not least, it’s important you know how to test your multilingual website before offering it to the public.
This step involves ensuring that your website is operational, links and buttons are working, and more.
As you can see, there’s more to having a multilingual website than just translation. Although translation – localization, whichever you choose – forms the main part of the work, there’s more to work with and build.
If you’re looking for a partner to help you implement as many of these best practices for multilingual websites as you can, and help you translate and localize your website, then get in touch with us at TranslationPartner.
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