How to Create a Multilingual Website

Building a world leading website in one language can be daunting enough, let alone building one to run in ten or twenty languages. It can seem like an insurmountable task but the benefits far outweigh the costs.  Here are some of the main points to be aware of:

As we are fairly vocal about in our articles, the largest cost and often the most critical factor in an effective multilingual online strategy is the cost of translations. Before you start looking at building a multilingual website that is larger than twenty or thirty pages, make sure you check out the full cost of translation. If you are paying more than $USD 0.05 cents per word for standard web content then you are paying too much.

With the translation cost under control the next step is to make the translation workflows as simple as possible, we have found the best way is to have editors / contributors working in their source language and triggering translation workflows when they add or change content. This way the system is as easy to work with in one language as it is in twenty; both our own Straker CMS and also our Multilingual WordPress Plugin work this way.  The trick is to simplify the user experience in terms of editing content and to automate the translation process as much as possible.

Often the technology that is being used to run your website will not be built to handle multilingual content, it may render multilingual characters (UFT-8) support but that is very different from running multiple language sites. To get around this companies often deploy multiple instances of the web site each running a different language, unfortunately this approach adds to the complexity (and therefore the cost).  It might work for a site launch but as more content is added to the system maintaining the connections and running multiple sites will become limited. The good news is you have a couple of options to resolve this, one is to use a system that does support languages in parallel (often not possible due to imbedded legacy systems and users etc.) or to use your current system as the primary language platform and to push out to a system that does support parallel languages. There is a third option which is to try and adjust your existing system to run languages in parallel but this would have major risks and costs associated with it.

The image below shows the number of elements on the average web page that need to be made multilingual, this highlights the reasons for running a parallel language architecture. Once a page is running languages correctly in parallel, then it becomes possible to have language selectors at the top of each page.

Without a doubt there are many tools that would allow you to create the elements on the page above. The real difference between creating a true multilingual site is what happens as new content is added, does the tool automatically allow for the elements to be created or do they have to be manually adjusted?

If you would like more information on building multilingual web sites or would like a free consultation please