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October 2013

Launching a Multilingual website in 7 steps

Posted by Annemieke, October 21 2013

If your audience consists of speakers of different languages, it is a good idea to launch a multilingual site offering your content in two or more languages. Launching a multilingual site can be a complex, time consuming process that you will want to get right the first time. We have set out the most important considerations to bear in mind from the start. Of course if you would like more information or discuss your project, give us a call on +31 (0)23 - 2024 723 or email

Gathering requirements

As with any website project, the key to a successful multilingual site is to think about your requirements. The following questions could be used as a starting point:

  • Will every single piece of content be translated, including blogs and calls to actions, or will you offer only key content in foreign languages? If, for example, you do not have the resources to update the blog in each language, it might be worth considering removing it from the foreign language site altogether.
  • Will you structure your sites based on languages or territories, or both? For example, will there be a separate site for Northern Ireland and Ireland, and will there be both a French and an English version of your Canadian site? How will this be reflected in the URL structure?
  • Is there an online purchasing system? Does this need to be localized – for example the currency, delivery timelines, postage costs, VAT?
  • Will images need to be localized?
  • Who is going to manage the content for each site? If you work with in-house translators and multilingual SEO providers, will they all be working in your CMS at the same time? How many concurrent users will your CMS license need to allow for? If you are using an external supplier, how will you manage the translation and SEO processes? Do you work with native speakers to check all content? Does the CMS need a workflow system to ensure all content is translated?
  • Are there any restrictions with regards to your server setup? This may impact on your URL structure and SEO strategy.
  • How will you roll out future updates to your site? Having to update several language sites may increase maintenance and translation costs depending on the technology you are working with.
  • How will you decide which language to present to the user? Do you want to use IP information to detect where a user is based, and serve content based on that location? There are some downsides to this method. Another option is to show a language selector, such as the one on
  • Do you have separate social media profiles for each market? Should your French site, for example, show only your French Tweets and Facebook posts?
  • Are the required domain names available?

At this stage it is also a good idea to consider your offline processes. For example, if you work with external suppliers, how will you respond to enquiries in different languages? You may have a customer service representative for each language, so ensure the integration with your online content is smooth.

Technical considerations

If you are creating a new website from scratch, research CMS systems and their multilingual capabilities. Most providers will happily organise a demonstration to run you through the language features. Check that the technology fits your requirements and processes now and in the future. Once you have decided on the technology that will be used, map out both the initial and the ongoing localization process. Chances are that the website needs to be created in your main language first, ensuring that all development issues have been resolved, before rolling the site out for all territories.

Include the following considerations in the technical brief:

  • The language code must be set for each language version, so that software such as screen readers can identify the language and interpret the content.
  • Ensure it's clear to search engines what version of your site they are looking at, utilising Google Webmaster Tools and Hreflang attributes.
  • Keep the content for each language on separate URLs. Don’t use cookies to show translated versions of the page.
  • Consider cross-linking each language version of a page. That way, a French user who lands on the German version of your page can get to the right language version with a single click. Linking content in one language, to the equivalent content in a different language helps Google know what your pages are about. However, setting this up may take more development than having one button for each language which takes you to each translated version of the homepage, and it is unlikely that users will want to change their preferred language frequently.

Multilingual content creation

  • Your content will need to be translated by native speakers. Think about whether your content will also need to be adapted for different accents, for instance European Portuguese and South American Portuguese, or European French and Canadian French.
  • How will content be added to the site? Will this be done by your translation company or by your internal resources?
  • When choosing a translation agency, make sure they are used to working with your preferred workflow. If you're happy to outsource all of your multilingual content creation, Media Lingo will happily work within your chosen CMS.
  • Ensure that the translators or the translation agency you work with offers multilingual SEO, as you don't want to end up with a site that is not optimized for your intended target market. They should be able to work with your SEO strategy.
  • It is important to consider duplicate content and international sites - Websites that provide content for different regions and in different languages sometimes create content that is the same or similar but available on different URLs. This is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries. While it is strongly recommended that you provide unique content for each different group of users, this may not always be possible. There is generally no need to "hide" the duplicates by disallowing crawling in a robots.txt file or by using a "noindex" robots meta tag. However, if you're providing the same content to the same users on different URLs (for instance, if both and show German language content for users in Germany), you should pick a preferred version and redirect (or use therel=canonical link element) appropriately. In addition, you should follow the guidelines onrel-alternate-hreflang to make sure that the correct language or regional URL is served to searchers.

Multilingual SEO strategy

One of the first things you will want to think about is the preferred URL structure. This will depend on your technical setup and your marketing goals. Google offers a wealth of information on the best set up. In short, there are four common approaches to structuring multilingual and multi-regional sites:

  • ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains) e.g
  • Subdomains with gTLDs (generic top-level domain name) e.g.
  • Subdirectories with GTLDs e.g.
  • URL parameters e.g. (not recommended)

Each has its pros and cons and so the approach you choose is down to your preferred server setup, marketing strategy and available resource. If most of your content is focused on a single territory (e.g. .com) and you want to drive SEO authority to that domain, subdirectories are preferable (search engines treat subdomains as separate entities). This is relatively easy to setup and host on a single server and can usually be managed from a single CMS. Whilst ccTLDs have advantages such as clearer geotargeting, Google recommends using subdirectories or subdomains if time and resources are limited. (Read more on


In addition to the standard accessibility requirements for any site, when creating a multilingual site there are a number of additional factors to consider. The most important ones are:

  • Ensure your images have a different Alternative text in each language using the Alt attribute
  • Ensure screen reader software can identify the language by setting the language version correctly
  • When creating a link to content in a different language, you need to let people using assistive technologies know about this by using the ‘hreflang’ tag
  • Make sure the font sizes are appropriate for each language. Depending on the languages used on your site, for example Chinese and Arabic, you may need to increase the font size.


When dealing with different languages or even different scripts, the layout of your pages will need to be flexible. In particular, include the following considerations into your creative brief:

  • The design should allow for right – to –left languages such as Arabic. You may want to mirror the entire design for such languages, this is something the United Nations have done (
  • The design should allow for text expansion and contraction. To find out how much your content is likely to contract or expand by, please read "Will the translated version be longer or shorter than the original document?". Test the layout with varying amounts of text to ensure the content won't break the design.
  • The design should include a clear and intuitive language switcher to allow users to easily switch between languages or regions.
  • Colours may have a different meaning in different markets. Whilst purple suggests royalty and spirituality in the West, it represents mourning in Thailand and sorrow in India. For a full list of colours and their meanings in different cultures, please go to

Social media

  • Subtitling videos: Do you use videos on your site? Consider having these subtitled for your foreign audience. They are an increasingly important marketing tool and a viral video is one of the best ways of driving business.
  • Which media will you be using in which country? Will you have a separate Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest account for each language or territory? Who will be producing multilingual content for these channels and who will post these?
  • It may be worth using country specific social media as well. Research which ones your brand would benefit from.

Media Lingo can help you plan out the design and development of your multilingual website. For more information or to discuss your requirements, please email us on or give us a call on +31 (0)23 - 2024 723.

  Posted by Annemieke, October 21 2013
  Languages, Multilingual SEO, Website Translation