Multi-language websites: all you need to know

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multilingual website

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are thinking about turning your website into a multilingual one. Perhaps you would like to branch out to different markets, or you are aware that many of your existing customers have a different native language than the one your content is written in.

In these cases, a multi-language website can be a great solution, but there are some things that you should think about first. In this article we have rounded up the pros and cons of having a multilingual website for your business, so you can make an informed decision. If you decide to go through with translating your website, we are also offering some helpful tips in regards to your domain and SEO.

Pros of a multi-language website

First and foremost, a multilingual website shows your foreign customers that you have considered their needs and are willing to accommodate them. According to statistics by InternetWorldStats, only 25% of internet users come from a region where English is an official language. 

Meanwhile, according to InternetWorldStats, over 50% of the content on the Internet is written in English. This means that a lot of people are dealing with content in their second or third language on a regular basis. Some people might feel very comfortable with this. For others, however, an English website might deter them from interacting with your content or making a purchase with you.

Translations done well will therefore make your website stand out in a positive way. You will be able to reach a larger audience, and therefore potentially reach a higher sales target, than companies that just focus on a single country or language. This is particularly the case if your target country is small. Meanwhile, foreign customers will feel more compelled to purchase with you when they can interact with you in their native language, as opposed to dealing with companies that only communicate in English. 

A multi-language site also shows your visitors that your company is a big player that can deal with complexity and a high workload. Compared to single-language ones, multi-language websites just communicate that extra bit of quality and professionalism to the customer.

Cons of a multilingual website

If you are going to go down the multi-language route, you need to do it well. Google Translate or similar tools are not going to cut it. You can actually do more harm than good that way. So, that means that you will need to work with a dedicated copywriter or translator. Besides being a skilled speaker and writer of your desired language, this person should also be comfortable writing about the field that your company operates in. It might be difficult to find the right people for this task. This is particularly the case if you work in a niche that requires background knowledge that an average copywriter might not have.

Turning your website multilingual also means that you will have to deal with extra work, every time you add a new page or feature to your website or publish a new article. Everything you create will need to be translated, and it will take some valuable time. This is something that you need to be aware of.

A multilingual website… and then what?

Deciding to “just” make your website multilingual is also not enough to offer a truly multilingual experience to your customers. Your entire customer journey should be adapted to the other language(s) that you are offering. This means that you might have to hire customer-facing employees who speak this language. A the very least, you should start working with an automated translation feature. At Openprovider, for example, our sales and support teams are able to help you in English, Dutch and Spanish. Moreover, our Knowledge Base features a translation tool that will automatically translate any article to your language of choice: from Albanian to Uzbek.

Becoming multilingual also means that you will have to create marketing campaigns and customer emails in all languages. You might even have to consider the creation of new, language-focused social media profiles, as not all social media apps cover multilanguage profiles by default. On top of that, you may find that you have to create specific content just for the new language. Not everything works well when it is translated literally. There might be particular linguistic or cultural sensitivities that mean you have to adapt your content. For example, if you want to sell tires in Egypt, it might not be necessary to translate your entire offer of winter tires.

Fun fact: customers are far more likely to buy a product if the price is also localized. If they see the price in their own currency, they don’t have to calculate it in their heads. This shortens their decision making process and makes it more likely that they will make a purchase with you. However, it is not always easy to localize prices. Currencies fluctuate often and might need to be updated regularly. But if you are serious about reaching out to a foreign market, it is worth the extra work.

What does a multi-language website mean for SEO?

If you work a marketing or content job, you likely already know a lot about SEO for your domestic market. You know that it can take quite a bit of work to get it right. If you want your multi-language site to be successful, you will need to optimize it just as well as your primary site. This can seem like a daunting task, but it is very much doable. There are just some important things that you should think about.

First and foremost, your website should be translated in its entirety in order for search engine bots to crawl it. Don’t just translate your content, but also your website URLs, metadata descriptions, hreflang tags, alt text for images, error page, checkout page and contact forms. It is important that you do not skip any of these parts. This has a high chance of influencing your search engine ranking in a negative way. If you are intimidated by these parts, working with a SEO agency might be a good choice for you to streamline the process of becoming multilingual.

Besides these steps, as you already know, search engines will also rank content that they consider to be “valuable” higher. This is once more a reason to hire an actual copywriter and not rely on translation tools to create your content. Make sure to create engaging and informative content that your customers will actually consider useful, and be sure to update outdated articles accordingly.

If you want to know more about SEO for multi-language websites, this article by Google is a good point to start.

What does a multilingual website mean for your domain?

As you may know, duplicate content can be detrimental for your ranking in search engines. However, it is obvious that you are going to need to “duplicate” a lot of content for your multi-language website. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that search engines will not actually see this content as “duplicate”. Using a dedicated URL for your translated content is the best way to avoid this from happening.

You can choose from three different structures for your dedicated URLs. Here, we are using an example in which you are creating a Dutch version of your website:

There is not really a right or wrong choice to make here, but subdirectories are the easiest to set up. Openprovider also uses subdirectories for our Dutch and Spanish content. This article from Hubspot explains all you need to know about subdomains and subdirectories and what would work best for your website. 

While it is more expensive than the other options a top-level domain does make your website stand out in a way that other structures don’t. A country-code specific domain extension (ccTLD) immediately tells your customers that you speak their language and cater to their market. If you want to go the top-level domain way, it is good to know that Openprovider offers all ccTLDs, as well as regional new gTLDs.

Conclusion

We hope this article has been helpful to you. Hopefully, you have learned more about the pros and cons of a multilingual website and the work that comes with it. If you run a small to medium-sized business, we have many other articles at Openprovider that might be useful for you: from picking the best domain name for your website to internet security and organizing a remote team (fun fact, did you know we are fully remote?). Check out the articles below:

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