So your business is making a splash at home. You’ve probably even got some interest and a few sales from abroad.
But, how much better could your business be doing if you had a multi-language website? How many more people could you reach simply by translating your content into another language?
There’s no question: having extra languages on your website, your product or service will reach more people. In fact, you will have opened up a whole new market.
Who is this guide for?
- Established businesses with a successful website looking to add extra languages to their website.
- Startups and new businesses who need to set up a multilingual website from scratch.
Important decisions to make before starting a multilingual website
Decide which languages want on your website?
The first thing to decide is which languages you want on your website. This will largely depend on your business expansion goals. But an important consideration is your human resources: to be successful online you will need to blog regularly and lease with customers. Will you have mother tongue speakers on your team who can do this?
Which countries will you target?
Do you want to target a specific country or do you just need to translate your website without specific regional targeting? This will influence your choice of domain, hosting and website structure.
For example English is spoken around the world, but if you are opening offices in Australia you will want a different website set-up to if you are opening in the UK.
Can you provide one dedicated member of staff per website language?
Blogging, marketing, orders and client requests - running a successful multi-lingual website is time consuming. We recommend the Golden Rule of Multilingual Marketing - try and dedicate at least one team member full time per website language.
Is there are market for your products abroad?
When opening up to international markets you are often dealing with unknowns. Is there actually a market for you product, and if so can you compete on price, quality of service and brand name? It is important you do sound market research before diving in - jump to the Market Analysis section below.
Elements of a successful multilingual website
Should I choose a .com domain or a country domain?
When creating a multilingual website choosing the right domain is one of the first major decisions you will be faced with - and getting it right from the start will pay you dividends. Do you go for a .COM or choose a country specific domain like .CO.UK or .FR?
How to choose a domain name and hosting for international SEO
If your website is new, here are tips for choosing a domain name:
- Short and memorable (1-2 words without hyphens).
- Internationally recognized - easy to write and understand by speakers of your second website langauge.
- Include a keyword if possible. This will help with help customers find you and have a positive effect on your SEO.
- Ensure all versions are available. So if you are targeting Italy and England make sure that .IT , .CO.UK and .COM are all available. Having all these domains pointing to your site helps people find you and enforces your branding.
Website hosting - you can generally keep your current web hosting. However, if you have 1 website per language, then there are some small benefits to hosting the website locally int he target country.
What is best - one big multilingual website or several local language websites in each country?
Individual language websites hosted locally in each country are undoubtedly the best option if you have the resources. They bring more website visits from search engines, and allow you to tailor your website and marketing to local tastes.
For smaller businesses without the resources, we recommend using one large multilingual website with sub-folders for language website. For example:
mysite.com (main website)
mysite.com/it/ (Italian website)
mysite.com/fr/ (French website)
Choose the right website software
Wordpress and Joomla are excellent choices for your multilingual website; Magento and Prestashop are the best opensource eCommerce options. Most major CMS cater for multi-language websites though these are harder to set up than a standard website, so seek specialist assistance with this.
Should You Hire a Web Designer & Web Developer?
It’s highly recommended to hire a professional web designer specialized in multilingual websites. Remember, first impressions count. If your site looks like it’s been created from a pre-made theme, you run the risk of looking like everyone else.
How to choose the right web designer
Some tips for hiring a designer or developer:
- Do they have experience in multilingual websites? Check out their portfolio. (Hint - here's our portfolio!)
- Do they understand your market and business?
- How about training for your site and support? If are unfamiliar with running a website, you will need training and support.
- Check out their testimonials.
- Don't be afraid to ASK DEMANDING QUESTIONS - a good web designer will have the answers!
Translate your content with mother tongue translators
Lets be honest, you have a massively better chance of success if your website content is translated by a mother tongue writer with a background in SEO and knowledge of the local market.
Include some location specific posts
Don't just rattle on monotonously about your company and products. Be interesting. Include some blog posts or a website section dedicated to country specific information/ gossip/ trends/ analysis. This will help you engage and relate to your local audience, as well as benefiting your positioning in search engines such as Google.
Optimize your website
Multi-language websites need extra attention when it comes to search engine optimization. Correct website structure, language tags, and Schema for Multiple Locations will all bring more website visits from search engines.
Create separate social network profiles for each language
Well I did say multi-language sites can be demanding. Here is why you need separate social network accounts for each language:
- It is hard to build up a following if you continually blog in 2 languages on the same profile. People get peeved off with foreign language posts filling their stream.
- It allows country specific promotions.
- You can optimize the profile name, header, address and URL for the country specific details.
This section is especially important for anyone looking to compete and sell their products and services abroad such as eCommerce websites.
Are your products and services competitive?
How do your prices compare to international competitors? What about the standard of service you provide? Compared to domestic competitors you are probably already have extra costs and delivery times due to shipping - so how you are going to have to go that extra mile to beat them in other ways.
Will there be a market for your products?
Just because your products sell like hot cakes at home - it doesn't mean that you will have it your own way abroad. Different cultures, different tastes and even lack of product awareness must be considered.
Check out the competition
Well established competitors with an army of followers can be hard to displace. Is there room for you in an already crowded market place? What can you bring along that is new or different?
FAQs - multilingual websites
What is a multilingual website?
A multilingual or multi-language website is any website in two or more languages. Typically they will have similar content in each language with a language switcher to choose your preferred language.
Can't I just use Google Translate?
No. If you are serious about creating a successful business abroad, you will need to engage and captivate your audience. For this you certainly need a creative mother tongue content writer who knows both your products and the local markets.
Can a tourism website such as a hotel get away with using Google Translate? Yes probably.
What are the main reasons a businesses needs a multi-language website?
- Domestically successful business aim to expand internationally with new shops, branches and offices abroad, or are simply testing the waters by offering their site in an extra language.
- Their country has two or more official languages - such as Switzerland and Canada.
- Their home market has become saturated or too competitive so they look for better growth opportunities in emerging markets.
- Websites targeting international audience by nature of their services - this is typical with tourism websites such as hotels.
There you have it! All the important considerations to help you create a successful multilingual website. Above all, take your time to assess the market you are entering - can you be competitive? Once you are ready to make the move, make sure you get professional help from a team of multilingual web experts.
Once your site is up and running, don't expect tonnes of new traffic immediately. Growth takes time, particularly in new international markets. So, let’s learn how you can market your website and start generating traffic and revenue.