Your Ultimate Guide to Multilingual WordPress – Everything You Need to Know
We live in a shrinking world. Multinational corporations have set themselves up in any number of countries. When you order Nike shoes, chances are you are ordering them from China; SnapDeal is India’s Amazon, and customers from all over the world order items from this site.
Add to this the fact that there are now non-indigenous populations in almost every country on the planet, and you have a major challenge, if you are a business attempting to expand your customer base.
Whether you are a business attempting to target foreign-speaking communities within your own country or planning an expansion into foreign markets, you have to get serious about a multilingual WordPress site. it’s just not an option any more. In fact, research suggests that when potential customers can access your website in their native languages, they stay longer. And, when they stay longer, the potential for sales is greater.
So, let’s take a look at exactly how you can create multilingual websites as easily and as cost-effectively as possible through your current WordPress site. You have lots of options but some preliminary work to do first.
The Preliminary Work- Identification of Target Languages
Within Your Own Country
If you have foreign-language populations within your own country/region, and they are significant, you will probably want to target those languages. In the U.S., for example, there is a large and growing Hispanic population. While the children will certainly be English-proficient by the time they reach “purchasing” age, adults and seniors still are most comfortable with their native language. And there are many Hispanics who are foreign students and/or on work visas.
If any of these demographics would be a part of your target audience, then it makes sense to provide a Spanish language site.
Outside of Your Country/Region
Before you jump into those languages that you “think” you need, you should have completed some preliminary research regarding where your target audience resides. Making a decision to target Vietnam, for example, simply because it has a large and growing middle class, does not mean that your product or service is valuable to that middle class.
There are tools – digital and human – that you can use to determine if there really is a market for you in almost any country in the world:
- Google Analytics is a good place to begin. On the main dashboard, you will find a section that will point you to those countries, cities, and languages that comprise your target audience.
- Natives of a Country/Region:You may already have customers native to specific countries or regions. They can be great resources as you are trying to determine the viability of a market in their homeland. Barring that, there are a number of translation agencies, such as The Word Point, that have natives of numerous countries on their staff. Using them on a consulting basis is a great option.
- SimilarWeb:You can scan in your website and get results that show websites offering similar products or services in other countries or regions. This information will give you important clues about the viability of your product/service in those potential places.
Your goal, of course, is to find those places where you have the largest demographic that is comparable to your current native customer base. There may be many, but you can then set about your plan for an organized method of going after those audiences, perhaps one or several at a time, depending upon your resources for expansion.
Developing Those Multilingual WordPress Sites
Upon determining the target languages for your site, your first decision will be to use human (i.e., manual) or machine (i.e., automatic) translation tools.
There are pros and cons to both options:
- Manual translations will give you far superior localization for your audiences, because you will have natives of those areas performing the work. The biggest “con” is that you will pay for those translations, and that can put a dent in your budget.
- Machine translations are fast and will be technically correct (not to mention free). However, they will provide only literal translations in most cases. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are improving such tools a Google Translate, but they are still just machines. They will not take into account the cultural nuances of localization or an analysis of the visuals that could be offensive to some populations.
That said, it’s time to consider how to create a multilingual website using both of these options.
Manual Multilingual Creation
There are some great WordPress tools that support manual translation of sites. While all of them cannot be covered, here are three of the most popular:
1.WPML (WordPress Multilingual)
This is by far the most popular plugin, probably because it has some 40 languages built in and is so easy to use and manage. Further, you can add variations to many of those languages (e.g., Latin American vs. Castilian Spanish).
All you have to do is open a page for your site, have it manually translated by the person or agency of your choice and mark it “completed.” You can then add “language switchers” to your menu or sidebar, and a visitor can “redirect” to that language.
The beauty of this plugin is that you can actually connect your site to the translator you are using and automatically send anything over to be completed – a site page or a blog post, for example.
And, if you are an e-commerce site? You can also run your translation through WooCommerce Multilingual.
This plugin is not free, but it won’t break your budget. You can buy it for US $29 and pay a $21 annual fee after that. (Some of the premium versions offer lifetime licensing).
The basic version is free – that’s a big plus – although premium versions will provide a lot more flexibility, such as all versions sharing the same URLs.
Polylang is actually similar to WPML. You can have any pages or pieces manually translated into as many languages as you have opted for – just select the language, have the content translated, and Polylang automatically integrates it in your administration interface.
With this plugin, you can operate each language translation as a separate site. You set up either a custom menu or widget, and users can switch to the site of their native languages.
You can connect an unlimited number of sites and move back and forth to have them translated. At this point, there are some 174 language choices.
The other feature that is quite popular is this: suppose you have written a blog post in English. You can add links in that post to other languages.
And even if you decide to disable this plugin at a future time, all of the current sites will still be operational.
Automatic Multilingual Creation
Remember this: machines are doing the translations here. But you can translate your website or your blog, using these tools right within WordPress. You don’t have to add them separately.
Here are a couple of automatic tools that users have found to be the best.
This has the reputation of being the easiest automatic plugin for WordPress – and for good reason. With a single command, this tool will translate anything – a site page, a blog post, etc. Here are the features that make it so popular:
- Easy to install, even for a beginner
- Easy to select any language
- The tool will be on your sidebar, so that visitors can immediately change to their preferred languages via a pull-down menu.
Transposh will automatically translate anything on your site into any language you wish. But, this plugin “understands” that a machine translation may not be the best. It therefore has a feature that lets users contribute to improvements in translations. Additional valuable features include the following:
- It will translate not just any content but also comments and feedback from readers
- Readers can “demand” a translation, or can get it on your server side
- There is an email feature that will let you know whenever readers/users have made contributions to improvements.
Summing it up
The beauty of WordPress multilingual site setup is that it is easy, whether you use manual or machine translation options. Many other content management systems require that you set up separate websites for each language, and this more complicated than it needs to be.
Whether you use manual or machine translation, your foreign language audience will be able to access content in their preferred languages, will stay longer, and appreciate the fact that you have honored their needs and desires.