9 Things To Consider When Building Multi Language websites

In this post I want to list the 9 things you should consider when developing your multi language

Why Are You Going Multilanguage?

Sometimes it’s a no brainer, you are forced to host multiple languages by local legislation, I know French Canadian provinces are forced to be bilingual, UK based government sites are obliged to host English and Welsh.

You may want to break into a new territory and need to support their local language, great but are people coming to your site from those countries already, are they consuming your content in the current languages?

I always suggest you dig into your analytics and see where people are coming from before you invest in multiple languages. I;ve written a post in this called Which Languages Do You Need.

It is not cheap to build and maintain a multi language site, do you really need multiple languages or will one do? Which leads me to …


You need to take into consideration the additional costs involved with multi language.

You will need translators to make your contents available (this is ongoing of course) specialist multi language web development {and potentially more powerful and costly hosting to deal with the bigger website.

These all costs more than a single language site.


Will you current database config support multiple languages, in particular double character languages such as Chinese.  These are known to cause database problems if not configured correctly from the start.

I’ve worked on a number of projects where these characters don’t display and come up as a string of ?????????????? It is a real pain to reverse engineer a database setup,  do this at the outset,  before there is content.

Here’s a quick test, go to Google translate and select all languages you intend to support enter “hello world” in your current language and cut and paste all the translations into your current site.  Do they display, yes, then you are okay, if not you need to look at your database collation setup.


As you add the complexity of multiple languages you need to be sure your current website hosting has enough “oomph!”  to support multiple languages and all the coding required to switch between and maintain that content.

As you add a language, your site doubles I size overnight and most people go for multiple languages which means triples or quadruples your hosting requirement.


This is a huge consideration most people never think about, they assume their current website design will work in foreign languages. I’m here to tell you that is not correct. Here are just some areas you need to consider:

  • Design for expansive languages I’m thinking German in particular, your neat navigation design may not fit when you populate it in German
  • Left to right / right to left languages, will your design work with Arabic or Hebrew when people read right to left, are your call to action buttons positioned optimally?
  • Cultural differences, will you colour selection work in another country, are you using symbology that won’t work; Red Cross versus Red Crescent for Islamic countries.
  • Have you designed a widget to allow site visitors to select their desired languages and is it obvious, there is no point creating a link that says Japanese when all they can read is 日本人.

Multi language design is a huge topic and I will be writing much more in future posts, but here are some great resources to get you started

Can you deal with multi language leads

You shiny new site starts generating leads from customers who don’t speak your native language can you fulfil their needs?

Do you have multi lingual customer support agents, are your products translated, can you handle emails in French?

If not it is very important to set customer expectations, personally I conduct all business in English even though I have translations and I spell that out to potential clients.

Ads And Banners And Downloads Oh My!

It’s not just your website copy you need to think about.  Have you translated the following:

  • Are images containing text translated
  • Are your downloadable PDFs translated
  • Have you setup multiple languge ad banners and pay per click campaigns? Why spend money on a multi language site when you are not driving people there with ads in their own languages.

Ecommerce Multilingual Languages And Currency

If you are courteous enough to translate your site into multiple languages are you also going the final fews yards / metres to also offer your products in multiple currencies?

If you are making people feel confident in your products and services why not remove the final barrier to entry of exchange rates.

Last But By No Means Least Translations

Tell me you are not relying on Google translate!

Unless you have good in house language skills you are going to need a good translator.

Let me reiterate a good translator, having a couple of years of French at high school does not give you the skills to write business copy that converts. This is an investment you should look into.

Another thing to note is that subject matter skill are also crucial. If you have technical content can an everyday translator handle complex technical translation? As an example as a computer “techie” I might talk about object orientation, but would the translator think I’m talking about landscape versus portrait which is something completely different.

I sub contract all translation work to I CanLocalize, they have a large team of freelance translators, check them out.

Wrap Up

This was a very quick list post to highlight the issues you should be aware of before you start a multi language build.

I was thinking about running a free live webinar to go into more depth about these issues, if that is of interest let me know by leaving a comment if I get enough feedback I’ll run the live event.
Photo Credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via Compfight cc

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