Why and how to add multilingual support for your WordPress site
By default, WordPress doesn’t have multilingual support. That means you have to think out of the box if you’re looking to translate your site into other languages. Good for you, there are a lot of options on the table to help you translate your website into any of the 6900 different languages available worldwide. That’s one of the key reasons why I love WordPress. There’s almost always a tool/plugin for everything. This post learns you how to make your WordPress website multilingual without having to spend thousands of dollars on professional translators.
Why would I want to add multilingual support for my WordPress site?
If you have to make your site multilingual, you’ve got to have a good reason why. Below are some of the key reasons/motivations why people add multilingual support to their WordPress sites.
- Leverage a global marketplace – your website is hosted on the internet, a global marketplace. Someone in China, Russia, South Korea, or other countries where English is not the native language could access your website just as easily as your US audience. So what happens when they land on your ‘inconsiderate’ website trying to purchase a product they’re so much interested in? There’s a little chance they might try to use Google translator to make a little bit sense out of it. But it’s almost always given that they’re going to scamper away. Gone! Never to come back again. If you’re serious about scaling beyond local boundaries so you can leverage a truly international audience/clientele, you might want to start by making your WordPress site multilingual.
- Increased revenue – can’t read, won’t buy makes sense for a lot of online visitors. According to the 2014 Common Sense Advisory, over 70% of internet users are likely to purchase a product if the information is available in their native language. If you’re looking to give your business website some wider exposure, adding multilingual support is one way to go. Multilingual support is also a great way to stay ahead of your competition and create an environment where your WordPress site can operate on a truly global stage. Not to forget, making your site multilingual is an excellent way to fine tune your message so that it resonates with foreign cultures. This can strengthen your brand, foster trust, and credibility, as well as enhance your reputation.
- You’re in the e-commerce business – if you’re in the e-commerce business, you should have translated your WordPress-based store yesterday. It doesn’t matter whether your site caters for a laid-back local market in Archer City, Texas, or a bustling modern clientele in Glasgow, UK. A few years ago, I used to run a small e-commerce website that serviced my local town. I’d come across the occasional order from Italy, Russia, or Germany. All in different languages. I had a hard time piecing together a response email to coordinate international shipping. If my site was multi-lingual back then, I might have as well foregone this trouble.
- Google analytics suggests that you translate your site – Google Analytics is no doubt the number one tool to analyze and monitor your WordPress site in real time. Take a look at your analytics data to see the geographic origins of your visitors. Where are they located? Are you providing support for all these languages? If your website is receiving traffic from a non-English speaking audience, translating it is one sure step to boost your conversion rate. This is truer if your site sells quite expensive products, where people have to do very extensive research before making a purchase decision.
- Improve SEO – done well, multilingual SEO can help boost your WordPress site’s rankings, as well as increase visibility on a global scale. Whether you’re operating in the B2C or B2B realm, though, don’t forget to render your messaging in a H2H (Human 2 Human) format. Being able to establish an emotional connection with your clients has always been a key part of succeeding in business.
How to add multilingual support to your WordPress site
You have two options for translating your WordPress site. You can either do it manually by having people re-write your content in different languages, or you can use an automated tool/plugin for machine translations. The first option is better because you get top quality results for a small website. But this can be an expensive undertaking especially if you have tons of contents on your site. In the section below, we look at how you can add multilingual support for your WordPress site using a plugin.
Install a good translation plugin
The first step is to select a really good multilingual plugin. Personally, I do recommend WPML, it’s one of the very best translation plugins for WordPress. WPML is a premium plugin and comes at a fee, but it provides a range of useful options and it’s definitely worth the price. For purposes of this post, I’m going to use WPML to demonstrate how you can add multilingual support to your site.
Reasonable free alternatives to WPML
WPML is a good WordPress translation plugin, but it isn’t the only one. There are a few free translation plugins that you should definitely give a try. However, these might not have as many customization options as WPML, and you’re definitely not going to get premium-level support with a free plugin.
You can create different posts for each language with Polylang. The plugin makes everything cleaner. However, there’s a bit of learning curve involved here, plus there’s no installation wizard to help you get set up right from the word go.
qTranslate appears to be a more popular free translation plugin compared to Polylang. It is also much older. qTranslate facilitates the specification of multiple languages within a single post. It operates using proprietary tags that ease the process of switching between languages.
Note: be careful while deactivating qTranslate. You might end up having posts that are stuffed with all the different languages.
How to translate your site?
Now that you’ve installed your translation plugin of choice, it’s time to start making your content available in multiple languages. Keep in mind that your WordPress content is more than pages and posts. You also to translate all components of your site for it to make sense.
1. Start by translating posts
I recommend that you start by translating individual posts. This shouldn’t be hard. Once you’ve installed the multilingual plugin, go the settings screen and add your desired languages. You’ll be presented with a few translation options within the post editing screen. WPML and Polylang create independent posts for each translation. So each translation has its own content independent of the original one. Similarly, there will be different URLs for the different posts.
2. Translate Metadata
Once you’ve translated your posts, go right ahead and translate the metadata too. This includes information stored in custom fields, though.
3. Translate featured images and attachments
Third on the list are featured images and post attachments (files inserted within the post content itself). It’s a good idea to replicate your attachments for the various posts. But if you have the WPML Media Translation plugin, you can automate this process without having to upload all your files again.
4. Translate widgets
Just like all other components on your WordPress site, the widgets area has to be translated. But this can be tricky given that the majority of WordPress translation plugins do not provide an inbuilt solution just yet. You’re going to have to do a little bit more scratching and install more plugins to make your widget areas multilingual.
Navigate to the WordPress plugin and download Widget Logic. This little addon makes it possible for you to add conditional statements for your widgets. Thus, you can detect the active language on your site and adjust the widgets accordingly.
If you’re using WPML, things can be so much easier. All you need to do is populate the field that’s created for each widget with the language you prefer.
‘en’ should standard for English, ‘fr’ will translate your widgets to French, while ‘es’ will change the language of your widgets to Spanish. If you want a specific widget to appear in all the languages, just leave the field above empty.
5. Translate menus
The procedure for translating menus is quite similar to that of translating posts. You’ll need to create multiple menus to be used for each of the different languages. With WPML, the latest version allows automatic syncing of menus between the various languages. If your menus are quite complex, though, you better avoid using it and just create them manually. Once you translate your menus, check to see that everything is in good order.
6. Translate theme options
Translating theme options is perhaps the hardest part of adding multilingual support to your site. By default, most themes provide a single settings page where you can specify styling, appearance, and other options. It can be impossible to change these settings options to be compatible with different languages. It’s up to the theme developer to create a product that’s compatible with WPML. This makes it possible to create different sets of options for the different languages.
7. Add a language switcher
To add multilingual support to your WordPress website, you’ll need to add a language switcher. This allows your visitors to easily switch between the various languages that you’ve translated your site into. People can just click on the language switcher to change the language in which the content is displayed. This can be particularly important if your visitor is on a very specific part of your website and you really don’t want them to go to the homepage just to change the language.
WPML comes with its own language switcher. Navigate to the settings page (WPML > Languages) and look for the language switcher section.
There are two common ways to set up a language switcher using WPML:
- You could let WPML place its language switcher on a sidebar within your theme.
- For better control of the language switcher’s position, insert icl_langauge_selector within your theme layout.
Your easiest option is to put the language switcher on a sidebar. It’s very important that you position it on a visible place at the top areas of your website. This works like bliss more so if your WordPress site is a blog. However, if you have a full non-blog site, it’s recommended that you put the language switcher somewhere on the header. If you’re using a premium WordPress theme, they can provide support and help you put the WPML language selector wherever you want on your website.
If you’re using WPML, you’ll have a much easier time adding multilingual support for your site. But if you’re using any of the free plugins, there’s much more work that you need to put in. However, you choose to get it done, there are many benefits to making your WordPress website multilingual. It’s a great way to expand your horizons, especially if you’re in the e-commerce business. Just as long as you want to open up your business to more people regardless their nationality, you have a justification to go multilingual.
Have you made your WordPress site multilingual yet? If there’s something you’d love to add or have a specific question you need me to help with, use the comments section below!
LAST UPDATED ON: June 26, 2017
POSTED UNDER: Tutorials