9 Best Practices for Multilingual Websites

best practices for multilingual websites

Multilingual websites unlock the world for your business. Research shows that most people prefer to peruse and purchase products in their own language. That’s true even if they speak English. For example, CSA Research found that 75% of online shoppers would rather buy products in their native language. Done well, offering multilingual content is like rolling out the welcome mat for visitors from around the world. Done poorly, multilingual sites can leave your visitors feeling patronised or insulted, and in no mood to buy.

Here are 7 best practices for multilingual websites to give your site global appeal.

Choose a flexible website template.

Designing a multilingual website is like walking a tightrope- you must balance maintaining a consistent global brand with the need to customise for regional differences in aesthetics.

As a result, one of the most important steps in building a multilingual website happens without translating a single word. Your website layout and design is like an artist’s canvas.  Selecting the right canvas makes everything else easier.

Choose a design that’s easy to customise whilst keeping core elements the same across different versions of the site. Using a template can make the process faster and more efficient. Ensure your design can accommodate text expansion and contraction, as well as right-to-left and bidirectional scripts.

Cater to different browsing habits.

Depending on where you’re marketing your products, you’ll need to take factors like Internet speed, mobile data cost and browser type into account.

Want your site to be accessible in countries where most web browsing is mobile? Use responsive design accordingly.  Are unlimited data plans and WiFi readily available in your target market? If not, you need to find a way to deliver information to your users as efficiently as possible, without using a tonne of data. Lastly, check the average Internet speed in your target country. It doesn’t matter how attractive your site is – nobody will see it if it takes too long to load!

Determine what to translate.

If the content is necessary for people to use your website and/or the products you’re selling in their target market, it needs to be translated. Full stop.

But that doesn’t mean that the entire site necessarily needs to be translated.  Items like press releases and employment offerings may not be relevant outside of your home market.

You should, however, consider translating multimedia content that makes it easier for people to understand or use your product, like product demonstrations and how to videos. 

Keep your message and voice consistent.

Consistency matters. Ideally, your brand communications should have a recognisable voice, style and tone. You want your customers to see your brand as a trusted friend. But how can they do that if it sounds like your brand has multiple personality disorder?

You’ve worked hard at developing a brand voice and style. Don’t let it get lost in translation. Spend some time creating a style guide and a glossary for your language partners to work from. Translation glossaries and style guides ensure your site has a consistent tone and style throughout, even with multiple translators.

Use transcreation when necessary.

Successful marketing relies on emotional impact. It’s not always enough to ensure that messaging remains consistent from one market to another. The emotional impact on  your audience must remain consistent, too.

Sometimes, that means recreating a campaign from scratch rather than translating it faithfully. Transcreation is the process of recreating content for a new target audience, changing elements of the material and messaging as needed to keep the same overall emotional impact.

Your LSP should be able to help you determine which parts of your site need to be transcreated.

Learn more about why transcreation is important for international businesses here. 

Customise graphics and images on multilingual websites

A picture is worth a thousand words . . . but if your images contain text in another language, they’ll detract from your site’s multilingual user experience.

Avoiding images with embedded text will make the translation  process more efficient, as you won’t have to redesign the graphics from scratch just to ensure the image text is available in the appropriate language.

That said, you may need to redesign or swap out images that don’t translate well from one culture to another. (That’s one reason why we have an amazing team of graphic designers on hand to assist our clients!)

Images that are innocuous in one country might be scandalous or even criminal in another. Additionally, using people who are representative of your target audience can increase audience engagement. (Warning: Avoid shortcuts like trying to Photoshop people into or out of existing images. People will notice- as they did with Microsoft some time ago– and it won’t end well!)

Machine translation:  a best practice for multilingual websites?

There’s a time and a place for automatic translation plug-ins, but they aren’t a substitute for a team of linguists, multilingual marketers and other experts.  Use an LSP you can trust to incorporate machine translation with human post-editing and quality control whenever it makes sense to do so.

But know that without human supervision, machine translation tools can be inaccurate.  And even when they aren’t inaccurate, the output may sound stilted or awkward.

As a result, we do not recommend using machine translation by itself for your core content. But don’t take our word for it- Google doesn’t, either! You may consider automatic translation plugins for user-generated content, like product reviews or website comments.

Assemble an A-Team of experts

Your multilingual website needs to create trust and loyalty amongst users whilst convincing them to purchase your products and services. That takes effort and skill in just one language.  To meet these goals across more than one language or culture, you need a multidisciplinary team of experts.

Get help implementing best practices for multilingual websites

K International’s team includes skilled linguists in 250 languages, plus designers, multilingual marketers, international SEO experts and more, all at your service. To discuss your next website translation project, contact us today!