Why should you create a multi-language website?
Times, when you could compete only with local businesses are far gone. Industries without any global competition are almost non-existing. To stay on the competitive edge, you have to reach beyond borders.
Every great business is putting effort into localization. This means adapting your whole brand to a new market. This includes messaging, brand image, design, and your offerings.
More than 70% of internet users spend most or all their time on websites in their local language. More than 40% of EU citizens don't trust and have trouble conveying information in a foreign language. More than 75% of purchasers see customer care in the local language as a big reason to buy again. Even 65% of English proficient speakers would rather look up content in their native language, even of lesser quality.
1. Adjust your messaging
When it comes to localization you're adjusting your whole brand image to a new language and culture. This means you will have to adjust your design in two ways.
First, the length of text will change when you translate from the source language. If you are entering a distinct market, translation won't be enough. You will also have to adjust the messaging. If one nation is more laid back and reacts positively to slang, the other values politeness and formality. You will have to adjust the layout and placeholders for your texts and adjust the website design.
Different cultures will perceive your visual branding differently. Some cultures are more feminine than others, and will negatively react to more "aggressive" designs. Some are traditional, and the other are very modern and minimalistic.
2. Make switching the language easy
When creating a website for a global audience, you want them to find their preferred language effortlessly. Place your language switching icon in a prominent location. It should be visible and accessible on every single page of your website. The most convenient way is to place it either in the navigation bar or the page footer.
Another tip to remember is to refer to a new language in its native language. You should use Deutsch instead of German or Svenska instead of Swedish. Here is a great example of how About.you showcase what languages are available to choose from.
3. Avoid setting up preferred language
There is a big trend among corporations that pre-set your language and country based on your geo-location when you enter their website. Those sites force users to switch regions or even IP addresses to be able to change the language.
A very bad practice since not everyone in some regions will speak the local language. Let's take an example of businessman being on a business trip. If he is on a business trip in Poland, but otherwise lives in the UK, he doesn't want to enter the Polish version of the website. How will he buy something if he can't access his preferred site?
This put a limit on your website accessibility and ruins the customer experience. Allow the users to access your content from the region and language they prefer.
4. Keep the branding consistent
You want to stay true to your brand no matter what audience you are addressing. The user experience must be consistent, no matter the language verison of your site.
As discussed in the first chapter, it is natural to adjust your design to different cultures. Yet this does not mean you should change your brand identity. The logo, color palette, vision, layout, and basic design principles should stay the same.
Tools like Weglot or Linguana can be life savers in creating a consistent branding in different languages. While Weglot is a perfect solution for WordPress, Linguana is focused on Webflow. Both tools integrate with your CMS and automatically translate your content. Both tools enable the functionality and branding of your website to stay the same.
Here is an example of how Notion branding stays consistent in different languages. English on top, Korean at the bottom.
5. Customize your URL
A bit more technical part of creating a multi-lingual website is the website URL. When the language change of your website changes so should the URL. You should change the Country code top-level domain (ccTLD). CcTLDs are two letter domains assigned to specific countries. For example, .fr is France, .si is Slovenia, .hr is Croatia, .de Germany, etc.
Customizing your URL will help search engines to parse your content and make it easier for you to be discovered by the local audience. The best practice is to create a unique ccTLD for each country or language where you will build your online presence.
6. Update your design for the right-to-left languages
Not every language is written from left to right. There is plenty of languages that use the complete opposite structure when writing. Meaning you write them right to left. Some of those languages are: Arabic, Arabic, Azeri, Dhivehi, Hebrew, Kurdish, Persian, and Urdu.
Optimizing your design for those languages means flipping the page interface. If you ever plan to enter a market that uses right-to-left language, a good practice is to prepare from the beginning. This means creating a design that can flipped easily.
Another group of languages can be read and written from top to bottom. Those languages are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. They are pretty flexible, and can also be written horizontally, so no need to adjust the design for them.
Here is an example of how the design changes when you adjust it to right-to-left languages.
7. Use visuals that fit with the culture
No one wants to read huge chunks of bland text. At least not on the internet. Visual elements such as images and graphics are crucial in creating a good website. Appropriate visual elements will enhance the user experience by making the website fun and engaging.
Keep in mind that visuals are often perceived as very subjective. Users from different cultures will understand visuals in differently. If some visuals create a positive reaction in progressive nations, this is not the case for more conservative cultures. The same goes the other way around. Let's take the example of visual showcasing gender equality. While completely normal in some countries, some cultures still don't recognize their rights.
In some cases, your visuals can even present something that is illegal in another culture. A great example is the visual presenting a local dispensary. Completely normal in California when marihuana is legal, but not allowed almost anywhere in Europe.
8. Use appropriate color
Did you know that in Buddhist cultures, orange symbolizes peace, humility, and love? Or that orange symbolizes bravery and camaraderie in Ukraine?
Red symbolizes love in Europe and America, luck and fertility in China, and death or violence in African cultures. Blue symbolize immortality in Asia, femininity in China, and masculinity in North America.
As you can see, colors have a different meaning in different cultures. This doesn't mean you should change your entire brand image for different culture. It means you communicate your brand message with clarity. This will help your audience understand your message behind the brand and the color palette.
9. Adjust dates and other formats
You have probably seen countless jokes about US citizens go out of their way to use the imperial system. Truth be told they are not alone. Both Liberia and Myanmar use the imperial system as well. Albeit the majority of the world uses the metric system, you should not just expect those cultures to start using it as well. The system should adapt depending on the visitor's preference.
The same goes for date formatting. In Europe is common to format the date as dd/mm/yyyy whereas in the US is formatted as mm/dd/yyyy.
If you are building an eCommerce platform or want to sell services on your page you need to take currency into an account as well. Visitors should always have the choice to see prices in their local currency. This will improve their understanding of the cost if they decide to buy or order services from your site.
10. Use fonts compatible with non-English languages
Our last tip would be to always check font compatibility with every language you use on your website. If all your available languages use the Latin alphabet you are unlikely to have any issues. The problem appears when you use Cyrillic or right-to-left (RTL) languages on your site.
Not every font supports every alphabet meaning you will have to do some tweaks. First thing is to add support for RTL languages in your CSS code. This leads for the font to change when a visitor changes LTR language to RTL languages.
A good practice is to use a family of fonts instead of one single font for every website. Using a family of fonts will enable you to have a fallback in cases where the first font doesn't fit with a specific language. The second thing is creativity. Using more fonts will allow a lot more creativity and will help you create a better user experience.
Explore this list of 11 multilingual fonts to make your website stand out no matter what language the user select.
If you want to reach new audiences and go beyond your border, a good practice is to create a multi-language website. As you have seen in the article this will help you build trust, and credibility and will enhance user experience.
A bit over half of the most viewed homepages on the world wide web is in English. Those websites are still available in other languages, and why wouldn't they be? There are more than 1.4bn Chinese people in the world. Translating your website to Chinese increases your global audience by almost 20%!
Knowing that more than 50% of all queries on Google are in languages other than English makes localization an obvious step in globalization.
It is important to mention that simply translating your website will not make you stand out in every new market. The translation is only one part of your localization strategy. You will have to adapt your whole user experience to a new culture and audience. You can always do the full localization process manually, but you can also use tools like Linguana. Linguana will help you reach a global audience without needing to outsource translation agencies.
Frequently asked questions
What language should I translate for my website?
You should translate your website into all languages your audience is speaking. Some of the most used languages on the internet are English, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.
How do I add multiple languages to my website?
To add multiple languages to your website you can use many different tools. Some of the most popular ones are Google Translate, Linguana for Webflow, or Weglot for WordPress.
What fonts are the best for a multi-language website?
The best fonts for a multi-language website are those that will work well with both LTR and RTL languages, as well as with every alphabet. Some of those fonts are: Katislen, Okta Neue Font, Suisse, Dominiacle, Grotte, etc.