How To Make Your WordPress Site Multilingual


According to WordPress’ own statistics, more than 30% of all sites across the web are now powered by their Open Source content management system (CMS). The simplicity of installation and management makes WordPress a natural choice starting place for virtually every type of website, from very small start-ups, to large multinational organisations who need a cheap, reliable web platform on which to build.

As a business grows, WordPress can be extended to meet changing needs. There are over 55,000 plugins in the WordPress extensions library that add features and functionality including ecommerce, community forums and CRM lead management.

But technical infrastructure is just one part of the equation. What happens when you want to expand web operations to foreign-language markets, or need to cater for several different languages in your own home marketplace?

Decision time – one site or multi-sites?

Before beginning any kind of technical consideration, you must first decide your multi-language strategy. Ultimately, the question becomes; how many languages are you going to target?

For a small number of languages – three or four maximum – you could use the WordPress Multisite feature to create localised versions of the main site. This approach allows you to take advantage of high quality manual translation services that ensure maximum accuracy of translated text.

Just remember that changes to text will need to replicated across each site manually to keep content consistent. Alternatively, you could use a multilingual plugin to adjust the display of manually translated content depending on the visitor’s language choice.

Where you plan to target more languages (now or in the future), you will need to implement a Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tool. These automated tools are also a good choice for huge websites, or for pages that are created on-the-fly to help contain overall translation costs.

Usually in the form of a WordPress plugin, your CAT tool automatically translates text as it is requested by your international visitors. CAT plugins do not require a WordPress Multisite set-up either.

For the highest quality translated text, choose a professional plugin – not one based around the inferior Google Translate service. The best CAT plugins are not free, but you get what you pay for – a service that is constantly updated to increase the accuracy of auto-translated text.

One final considerationCAT tools can be used for a WordPress Multisite deployment, offering additional options on how to grow and develop your site in future.

Preparing for a WordPress Multisite deployment

The basic process for a WordPress Multisite website is as follows:

– 1. Install WordPress on your webserver as usual. Apply any other configurations as required.
– 2. Enable Multisite by editing your wp-config.php file to include the following code:
define(‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true);
– 3. Complete configuration of your Multisite network using the WordPress control panel – you will find the options under the Administration -> Tools -> Network Setup menu option.

Obviously, this process can be quite involved and no two organisations have exactly the same requirements. Please refer to the WordPress Codex for full instructions in building a Multisite network.

With the technical infrastructure in place, you must next address the text to be displayed. First, optimise the copy on your “home” site, for both website visitors and search engine spiders. Next, arrange to have the copy translated by an expert for each of your target languages.

Once complete, it is then a simple case of uploading the new text to the relevant network site using the standard WordPress page editor.

Preparing for a CAT translated WordPress website

In theory, the use of CAT tools on your website should make it much easier to implement localisation. And much of the initial setup is quite similar:

– 1. Install WordPress on your webserver as usual. Apply any other customisations or configurations as required.
– 2. Install the CAT plugin of choice –at TRAVOD we recommend SDL Trados Studio or memoq. Alternatively, configure the necessary API connection to your hosted CAT service like Memsource.
– 3. Configure the plugin according to the supplied instructions. Usually you will find the necessary options under the Settings menu – or occasionally under their own grouping on the main admin sidebar.

With the technical infrastructure in place, complete the normal content creation process for your “home” website, using the WordPress admin interface. You can then test the CAT tool to ensure translated content is of sufficiently high quality to “go live”.

Although there are only two steps involved in deploying a CAT plugin for WordPress, do not underestimate the complexity of the task. An effective multilingual WordPress deployment must be carefully planned to ensure that not only is text properly translated correctly, but that content is properly optimised for search engines in each of the target markets.

Copy is king

The key to effective multilingual WordPress deployments is the text used on your “home” website. If that copy is poor quality, the translated content will be no better – it will underperform with your target markets, leading to far fewer sales than you hope.

Here in the UK, 59% of shoppers would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material. 82 per cent would not use a company that had not correctly translated its material into English.

These may be UK based statistics, but there is no reason to think that other international markets have the same suspicions towards low-quality copy. In fact, these statistics should serve as a serious reminder that the quality of your translated text is of the utmost importance.

Although a new, localised WordPress website may be expensive, you must ensure that sufficient funds are set aside for the translation portion of the project. Failing to invest in high quality professional translation services or WordPress CAT tools will result in failure; the localised websites will never deliver the visitors, conversions or sales that you expect.

To learn more about your options for building a multilingual WordPress website – including manual translation and CAT tools – please give the TRAVOD sales team a call on +44 207 193 0080, or send us a message.