Erica Sunarjo February 5th, 2020

Best practices for building a multilingual website

With the globalization of web-based services and e-commerce shipping across the world, it’s important to attract as many consumers to your website as possible.

As such, building your website with localization in mind from scratch will ensure that you can easily modify your language selection without additional web development or adjustments to your CMS or plugins. 

According to Shutterstock, 60% of global consumers rarely or never buy items from English-only websites, while 80% of marketers across the US, UK, Germany and France agree that localization is an essential addition for positioning business on the local market. In addition, findings published by 90 Seconds indicate that 86% of localized advertisement outperforms English content in click-through and conversion rates, with content that is locally targeted gaining up to six times the engagement of content which was created universally in a single language.

Whether you already have an established audience and business model or are looking for ways to build your website with multilingual functionality from day one, the choice to do so will benefit your brand either way. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the best practices for building a multilingual website, as well as how you can benefit from doing so in the first place.

Many people delay or avoid localization altogether, fearing it is going to be an expensive affair. But many inexpensive design firms can get this done for you quite affordably. However, for this article, we will discuss the best practices if you were to do it yourself.

Benefits of Building a Multilingual Website

Let’s tackle the benefits of creating a multilingual website for your brand before we jump into the guidelines themselves. At its core, content localization represents the process of adding different languages to your website’s User Experience (UX) design. While you may have success on the local French market, for example, German, Italian or Greek consumers won’t be attracted by French-only content and use your services. 

By that logic, the better your selection of website languages, the better your odds will be at positioning your business on local markets across the globe. Utilizing specialized platforms such as The Word Point for your day-to-day content localization will also ensure that all of your followers have access to new content and product information regardless of which language among your featured ones is their native. 

Doing so will allow you to build public awareness of your brand and products, thus competing with local businesses and gaining revenue from multiple worldwide sources as a result. Creating a multilingual environment for your website is not merely a passing trend in today’s day and age – it is a competitive necessity which will give your business a fighting chance on the global market and ensure that you are noticed by promising B2C and B2B stakeholders respectively.

Best Multilingual Website Design Practices

1. Create a Universal Template

In terms of building a website with multilingual functionality in mind, it’s always best to start from scratch. Different languages have drastically different structures, word lengths and vocabularies, meaning that a single sentence can take up varying amounts of space on your layout. 

This can be especially problematic for your header/footer, navigation bar and subsequent internal pages as well as their individual posts or products. Simply put, you should leave abundant space for each language to be able to fit into your layout from the get-go. Don’t design your website with English in mind exclusively – leave white space available for subsequent modifications and additions to avoid overly complex web design changes down the line.

2. Emphasize your UX Features

Given the fact that your website will be multilingual, you should let your visitors know about that fact on multiple occasions. Make sure that language-switch options are clearly available and highlighted, whether on your header, footer or as a pop-up window which will greet each visitor on your landing page. Likewise, you should make a conscious choice between presenting your visitors with language titles vs. their flags as icons. This is an important accessibility decision given that some visitors are bound to be color-blind or of poor eyesight.

Don’t hide the fact that you have multiple languages available for use as many users are less than tech-savvy and will simply abandon your page if they are greeted by English by default. You can go an extra mile and ask your international consumers to rate and give feedback on your localized content, allowing for greater communication between you, as well as providing you with valuable information on what your audiences really want.

3. Multilingual SEO

In order to achieve global visibility via popular search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, you should optimize your site according to different SEO standards. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a system of algorithms managed by Google, used to rank the value and accessibility of different websites compared to individual search queries. 

Given the multilingual nature of your website, you should strive to implement as many local SEO trends as possible on a constant basis. Tools such as Google Keyword Planner and SEM Rush will enable you to stay in touch with what works and doesn’t work in relation to your niche and language choices – stay relevant and your audiences will have a much easier time finding you across the globe.

4. Take Font Compatibility into Consideration

As we’ve stated previously, languages with different roots will require different approaches to layout spacing in order to function properly. That same rule applies for the choice of fonts you utilize in your web design. While custom font choices can indeed make your site unique, there is a good reason for universal web design standards to exist as dictated by W3.

To avoid incompatibility and poor UX, you can refer to Google Fonts as a go-to platform for universal fonts which will be compatible with a plethora of languages and their alphabets. That way, all of your consumers will enjoy the same level of UX regardless of their location and language choice, ensuring your own business’ high professionalism and accessibility going forward.

5. Be Mindful of Content Inclusivity

Lastly, depending on the type of website you will run and the business model you intend to enforce, you should be mindful of inclusivity and social awareness of anything you post. Audiences from the US, China, Russia and Spain, for example, will have drastically different worldviews, lifestyles and opinions. 

As such, you should be careful of which statements you make and whether or not you affiliate with any global, political, religious or other organizations. When it comes to running a revenue-based online business, it’s best to stay neutral and respect everyone as equals without siding with anyone audience or language user base. Make your website all about professional product and service provision and advertise your business as such – this will help your odds on the global market considerably.

In Summary

Investing time and resources into building a multilingual website for your brand is always a good idea, regardless of how well your business is performing at the moment. Make sure not to overstretch yourself, however, and only focus on languages which you are sure of in terms of your existing audience.

When it comes to the right choice of languages, there is no secret method to do so without a hitch. However, building a stable framework and swapping languages in and out over time will allow you to strike the perfect combination for your business over time.

Featured image by JACQUELINE BRANDWAYN on Unsplash

Erica Sunarjo

Erica Sunarjo is a content creator with more than five years of experience. Currently, Erica is a contributor at and is proud of her an uncanny ability to explain the most complex subject in simple terms.

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