If you want to effectively reach a broad international audience, then you should consider making a multilingual WordPress site. Did you know that 61.1% of the websites out there are in English, but only 25.9% of global users can actually use this language online?
Multilingual functionally means creating two or more language instances of your site which, in most cases, are linked together via a switcher on the front-end.
This helps create a centralized website structure where each instance is basically a copy of the default language. Moreover, it allows each team of editors to easily access and share resources, and seamlessly edit the content.
A multilingual site can offer many benefits for your business and can be a powerful asset to your international marketing strategy. By opening your website to diverse nationalities and cultures, you can reach larger audiences, improve on-site accessibility and provide a more personalized and enjoyable user experience.
There are many ways to achieve multilingual functionality for your web page. These can range from using a third-party plugin, a multisite network, subsites, separate installations, and more.
The approach you choose strongly depends on the individual case of the project. Whether you’re a business with a global site, an eCommerce shop located in a country with more than one official language, or you simply want to support more than one language, there are different ways to make this happen.
In this article, we will break down several methods to help you build a multilingual site that will help you enhance your competitive advantage.
How to Make Your WordPress Website Multilingual
- URL format options
- Use a third-party plugin
- Create a multisite network
- Setup several sub-sites
- Go for Google Translate
- Be creative with your own content
- Have separate installations
URL Format Options
Taking your website internationally is a big step for any business owner. While there are so many business factors to consider like understanding your target market, choosing languages for translation, and determining the range of content types to translate; you also have some very important technical decisions to make – the first of which being how are you going to set up your international URLs.
There are three most commonly used approaches to developing multilingual URL structures: separate domains, directories, or language parameters. Each of these can allow you to create pages in multiple languages regardless of whether you will be using a third-party plugin, a multisite network, or a different solution to achieve multilingual functionality.
Let’s take a look at these URL format options:
There are generally two ways to separate your languages, based on domain.
You can place different languages in completely different domains like so:
Or, you can place the languages in different subdomains:
The two options are not mutually exclusive – meaning that you can only pick one of them. The choice is entirely up to you.
On the one hand, if you decide to use separate domains (for example .com, .fr, .de) you have to buy them each, just make sure that they are all available for consistency purposes.
On the other hand, if you go for the subdomain option, you would have to buy only the main domain (for example .com, or .org).
This way, you basically divide each language into its own directory.
Each homepage for each language would have the following URL:
And the internal pages would look like this:
This is generally a cheaper option, which is also easy to set up, as most of the translation plugins provide it by default. However, it can be a bit harder to geolocate the site because, for example, users may not recognize which language they are from the URL alone.
This is probably the most basic way to separate your languages. This simply adds a language parameter to the end of each URL.
With this approach, the homepage for each language would have a URL such as:
And the internal pages would look like this:
Using a Third-Party Plugin
This is the most common way to achieve multilingual functionality on your website. There are a lot of plugins available out there, but here we will take a look at three of the most widely used ones that have proved themselves over time, Polylang, WPML, and Weglot.
They are pretty straightforward in terms of main functionality. Polylang and WPML work under the same general idea – they “divide” the site into each language and manage each multilingual post into separate posts – one for each of the languages. While Weglot does not create a mirror version of your content, rather it translates the page on the fly on their servers.
For example: If we have a site supporting both English and French. Once you create a post in English, Polylang and WPML will automatically create a mirror post in French.
However, the content will not be automatically translated, so you will need to write your post twice, once in English and once in French. This, of course, applies to Posts, Pages, and Custom Post Types as well.
Now, let’s compare these plugins and see what they have in common and what are the differences.
This is probably the most popular free translation plugin out there. It offers a free version with basic functionalities and a few Pro versions that can adapt to your website’s needs.
Polylang comes with a bunch of functionalities, but there are some limitations. For example, although it’s compatible with many themes and plugins, you can’t translate strings that are hardcoded in them out of the box. Meaning that you have control only over the content you input from the editor.
However, there is a solution for that. You can install Loco Translate and use both plugins together. While Polylang provides the option to make your blog post multilingual, Loco Translate allows you to edit the hard-coded strings in your theme. When working simultaneously, these two make a good pair to use for your multilingual WordPress site.
This is a payware plugin and as such, it does come with more features. It has a very easy-to-do setup and great customer support. Also, it’s great for eCommerce sites, as it has very good compatibility with WooCommerce.
WPML provides a huge number of add-on extensions, which make it compatible with a bunch of the more popular plugins out there such as Contact Form 7, Advanced Custom Fields, and more.
It also features an additional paid option to auto-translate pages and posts, using either Google Translate, Microsoft Azure, or DeepL. This can save time and costs on the translation job, however, it can harm the accuracy of the content.
Here at DevriX, we have good experience with Polylang and WPML. Having worked on international eCommerce multilingual multisite we can strongly suggest using them as they are a couple of the best solutions for large-scale websites and online retailers.
This also is a paid plugin, but it’s geared a lot more towards automatic translation. It packs most of the tools you will ever need for a multilingual WordPress site without bloating it with unnecessary settings, and it also offers great technical support.
As mentioned, the main idea of Weglot is automatic machine translation, and it works quite differently compared to the other plugins. While WPML creates duplicate versions of your Posts, Pages, etc., Weglot translates the page right before it’s served to the user.
Meaning, there are no extra steps to translating a page, and all you need to do is just open the page, and it’s going to be automatically translated.
However, don’t expect the automatic translations to be accurate. Weglot uses DeepL, Google Translate, Microsoft Translate, and Yandex Translate as their translation engines and according to them, you shouldn’t rely on the initial translation as it’s only meant to give you a head start for your translators.
To reduce translation inconsistencies, Weglot offers a visual editor that will make translating your content a breeze. Moreover, the translation itself happens on Weglot’s servers which makes it a pretty lightweight plugin with no additional load on your servers.
If you are not aiming at automatically translating your content, then maybe Weglot is not the choice for you. The pricing is based on translated word count, and it can easily get expensive if you have a lot of content.
Also, since the translation happens on someone else’s server and, unlike the other plugins, there are no extensions, you are limited to what Weglot has to offer.
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Another way to make your multilingual WordPress site is to create a multisite network. This means that each language will be on a totally different site from the network. With this approach, you can make use of the default WordPress Multisite feature to achieve your multilingual goals.
The approach is especially useful for sites that are meant to serve different countries. For example, an English site is specified for UK-based users only, and the French version is specified for users based in France.
A multisite network has quite a few benefits, which include:
- Ability to control the two sites separately, without them relating to one another. Meaning that you will be able to post individual blog posts and pages, and you can even have different themes and functionalities across the sites.
- Better management of teams of editors for the separate languages across the sites.
- It is generally more lightweight, thanks to using separate sites instead of having the whole functionality being managed on one single website.
- It presents the opportunity to easily target different audiences across several countries.
We have used this approach for one of our clients. You can see what we did and what we achieved in this case study: WordPress Multisite as a Multilingual blog solution.
The main disadvantage of this method is that the different languages cannot be easily linked to each other via a language switcher. However, there are some solutions that can help you easily link the sites in a multilingual network.
One of them is Multisite Language Switcher, with which you can connect the separate sites so that you can have a language switcher enabled.
Another good plugin that relies on a multisite network is Multilingual Press. It works similarly to “Multisite Language Switcher”, however, its PRO version comes with a lot of nice features, like good support, Advanced Custom Fields Compatibility, Custom Post Types translations, and many more.
If you need to have the same look and feel, and similar functionality across the languages, but you need to keep them separate and not linked to one another for the end-user, this is a good way to go. Alternatively, if you would like to have the languages linked via a language switcher, you can simply make use of one of the three plugins that we listed above.
A different case would be having several sub-sites, with each one being multilingual on its own. This pretty much combines the two approaches – with Multisite and the one with using a plugin and lets you build a whole multilingual network.
This is an appropriate solution for companies or franchises that spread across the world and need to support numerous languages for each site.
With sub-sites, you can divide your website by country and each country by language. Here is an example:
You can see that the main site https://example.com is divided into two countries and each country site is therefore divided into two languages. The same applies if you decide to go with a different URL format option, for example:
Our experience shows that in some business cases and especially worldwide franchises, these multisite networks can extend quite a bit. Quite often they contain over 50 sub-sites with each having from two to four-five languages.
Using Google Translate
You can use Google Translate as well. Here is one of the most famous WordPress plugins that provide this functionality: Translate WordPress with GTranslate.
GTranslate may be the easiest way to make a multilingual WordPress site. However, it is not really accurate in terms of automatically translating posts and pages.
Also, it translates public text only. Sections from the site that cannot be reached by Google Translate, including email templates, will remain untranslated.
Moreover, in the freemium version of the plugin, you are not able to edit the transitions. So however Google translates the content, that’s how you are prompted to have it on the site.
Also, in case you purchase the monthly subscription and decide to opt out at some point, you will lose all the auto-translated content.
With all that said, we do not suggest going for this approach. Instead, invest more time and set up other solutions that will provide greater accuracy and scalability.
Being Creative with Your Own Content
Depending on where your business operations branch out to, you may need to have only a few pages translated into a different language. This is what we here would like to refer to as being creative with your content.
Let’s say you’re an SME located in one country. However, you may be working with businesses that operate in a different country or even continent. If that’s the case, you may need to have certain parts of your site written in the local language. This could be done due to legal reasons or local campaigns and initiatives.
For example, if you’re planning to carry out a campaign that is specifically related to a local holiday it would be better to have the copy in the local language. The same thing can apply if you wish to host a workshop or an event for supporting the local community.
To create these dedicated pages you can still use one of the methods mentioned above. The difference is that you would have to apply them to a few sections, compared to the whole site.
Another way to structure your multilingual WordPress site is to have several installations. This lets you manage your different languages completely independently of one another.
You can even build your different sites on completely different platforms. One can be built with WordPress, while the other language can be on another platform. It can even be custom-built, instead of using a CMS.
Brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, DHL, etc. use this approach, but we don’t usually recommend it for companies that are just starting to scale up.
The management of different sites, with possible different structures, can be very complex. This is because the maintenance is multiplied by the number of languages (installations).
Hence, separate installations are useful for bigger corporations that spread across the world and have separate teams managing the different content.
However, for small to medium businesses looking to add another language to their site, this would be an acceptable approach if your business case implies it.
All in all, there are several ways to make a multilingual WordPress site. What you choose will strongly depend on your business case. If you run a small to medium blog probably the best way to go is a third-party plugin.
If you are a large-scaled corporation, a custom-build solution linking many WordPress installations or even different sites is better.
We hope this article gave you a better idea of how you can make your WordPress site multilingual. If you need help learning more about the different options mentioned and how to implement them, feel free to contact our experts.
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