July 15, 2014

Multilingual WordPress

Even though the web is a global network, many businesses are happy to create an English-language site and leave it at that. In some cases, that’s fine. The burden of translation can be quite high, and if the market a site is addressing is fairly localized, then the ROI of internationalizing isn’t worth the effort. The US and Europe, most of the populations of which have at least a passing familiarity with English, have long dominated the online economy, but that’s rapidly changing.

South America, India, and China are quickly growing in online spending power, and companies that fail to address expanding markets are missing a trick. Sites that are targeted at the European market will generally find that their audiences speak English, but if they can find what they need on sites in their native languages, they’ll preferentially do business there, so the international nature of English shouldn’t be relied on.

Even within the US, providing multi-lingual sites is a good idea. The Spanish-speaking population is large, and with Mexico, and Central and South America close by, there’s much to be gained from providing at least bilingual content.

The cost and difficulty of providing a multilingual site on WordPress isn’t as prohibitive as one might expect. To provide a selection of languages, there are three basic steps involved:

  • Add language selection and browser language recognition features to the site so content can be presented in users’ preferred languages.
  • Integrate translation capabilities into your content management system.
  • Translate content, menus, and other onsite content.

There are several WordPress plugins that aim to satisfy these requirements, but the one that I have found to be most effective is the WordPress Multilingual Plugin, which provides features for each step of the translation process.

WPML isn’t free, and comes in a couple of premium versions that are likely to be of most interest to readers of this blog. The lowest price tier, aimed at bloggers, provides the necessary onsite functionality to translate pages, posts, tags, categories, and menus. It also includes browser language detection so that the right language is delivered to users. Users of this tier will probably want to organize their own translations, but the plugin provides plenty of functionality to make that easy.

The higher tier, aimed at larger websites, includes additional functionality, including multilingual eCommerce support, theme and plugin translation, and the ability to manage multi-user translation efforts.

WPML includes integration with the ICanLocalize service, a professional translation agency that can provide high-quality and reasonably inexpensive translation services. They’ll provide an upfront quote for translating a site, and use certified translators that are working in their native language. You don’t have to use ICanLocalize, although the translation process will be less streamlined with other translation services.

Providing multilingual content is one of the best ways to increase the reach of your business’s online presence, and with WPML it’s not as difficult as you might have thought.

Image Credit: woodleywonderworks


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