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Multilingual website best practices

Multilingual websites are a basic necessity when you want to target foreign speaking markets with your brand. Sadly, there’s nothing simple about expanding your online presence into new languages and locations. Not only do you end up with multiple websites to maintain and extra search, marketing and content strategies to think about – but the setup process of your multilingual site is a challenge in itself.

Multilingual content

Your first task is to think about your approach to multilingual content and translation as just the starting point. The size of your project depends on how much existing content you have and which formats it is in. If you have an archive of articles, blog posts and white papers, you’ll need a systematic approach to translating the lot – and then you have other formats, like video, to think about.

Domains and URLs

Things start to get a bit more complicated when you have to consider the domain and URL structure of your multilingual website. Ideally you want to make it very clear to users which version of your site they are on, but you also need to maintain your search presence with Google and other search engines – so take a look at the guidelines from Google itself.

Multilingual SEO

Which brings us on to multilingual SEO – a constantly evolving art – as online business becomes an increasingly global game. With your domain and URL structure in place, you’re off to a good start but we need to go back and talk about content for a moment.

Duplicate content is high on the list of SEO no-nos, and Google advises website owners to create original content for every page. Which means simply translating content word-for-word could be an issue – although the search giant tries to avoid this. The only way you can guarantee this yourself, though, is by using the rel=canonical and rel-alternate-hreflang tags on pages with duplicate or similar content.

That said, accurate translation should in fact change your content enough that it counts as original in the eyes of Google and other search engines – another win for quality translation!

Localisation and user experience

As soon as you decide to take the leap into multilingual websites your absolute priority becomes the new audiences you intend to target. Localisation and user experience are paramount here, and you may need to go right back to the design stage to ensure each version of your site meets user expectations.

New languages often come with different cultural backgrounds which influence buyer decision and their view of your brand. Which means every word, design element and service you offer needs to be carefully scrutinised. Take a look at these three examples of website localisation to get an idea of how deeply you need to consider each audience – and always aim to create the best user experience for each given market.