Building a multilingual website
In the context of globalization, the creation of multilingual websites is becoming increasingly popular. There are different approaches to implementing this task, and we will try to highlight them in this article.
The information below primarily concerns the development of a multilingual website based on the WordPress engine (CMS), but it may also be useful as general information.
So, there are two approaches to implementing multilingualism.
- Multilingual website on one domain. As a rule, the problem is solved using a commercial plugin; Google will easily give you a dozen options. For very simple sites, for example, the free version of the “GTranslate” plugin may be suitable.
- Construction of separate sites for each language (region) on separate domains or subdomains with their mutual linking. Certain domains, of course, require annual renewal, but if you purchase a domain in a national zone corresponding to the language of the site, this approach is justified and pays off.
Below we will simply outline the main advantages and disadvantages of each method.
Multilingual website on one domain
- One admin panel, although inside it you still need to switch between language versions, i.e. in fact, to translate an article, it is usually necessary to switch to another page in the browser.
- When switching languages, the visitor remains on the same (internal) page of the site.
- Better indexing compared to implementing sites on subdomains. However, implementation on individual domains (for example, national ones), especially with proper linking, on the contrary, has an advantage in terms of SEO.
- It is possible to automatically (although not always successfully or correctly) determine in which language to show the page to the visitor when they first visit the site. This depends on the language of its operating system, browser, geolocation and other data that the server can extract from the user’s request.
- Unified design, i.e. corrections in the design and layout of the site, changing functionality using plugins, etc. are made for the entire multilingual site as a whole and do not require duplication of work.
- A simpler procedure for transferring a site to another hosting (if necessary), because one site is being transferred. Although if the site is very heavy, with a large database (>3GB), then sometimes, on the contrary, it is easier to transfer several small ones.
- The method is preferable for small online stores and other selling resources with unified accounting, as it allows you to maintain unified records of goods, services, clients, sales, maintain general statistics, etc.
- The need to purchase and annually renew a subscription to a multilingual plugin (for example, the undisputed leader in this area is the WPML plugin). The plugin will work without a subscription, but after one year after purchase it will no longer be updated and security risks will increase over time, and at some point there will be a conflict between versions of the WPML plugin with the WordPress engine, other plugins or hosting environment.
- If there is no translation of any page or block, “embarrassing” situations may arise for the visitor; information may be displayed in the main language of the site, or a 404 error may be displayed.
- It is more difficult to manage a website; you need to study the work of the plugin, understand the principles of its operation and settings. For example, the WPML plugin is quite complex and takes time to fully master.
- It is necessary to take a very responsible approach to the layout of the site – menus, buttons, banners, etc. Since words and phrases in different languages have different lengths, but all languages use the same page layout, this can become a problem, especially given the need for correct display on different devices with different orientations.
- Increased load on the site – visitors of all languages jointly load one site. The ability to more quickly run into hosting resource limitations, such as database size or CPU time. A site failure leads to the unavailability of all language versions.
- There may be a temporary situation where the multilingual plugin will conflict with other plugins or even the WordPress engine itself. Large developers such as the WordPress or WPML teams resolve compatibility issues quickly, but developers of some, especially free, plugins may not resolve the conflict at all.
Separate language versions on different sites (domains or subdomains)
- The possibility of independent design, structure and even functionality for each language version, which can reflect the national specifics and characteristics of demand in the regions.
- Better indexing in national search engines if a domain from the national zone of the country is used for each language version.
- Independence in the operation of sites; failure of one will not lead to the unavailability of other language versions.
- The ability to more effectively distribute the load, and, consequently, improve the response time of each individual site.
- Creating separate websites in different languages does not require an annual subscription to a multilingual plugin. At the same time, implementation on individual domains requires an annual payment for domains, which in most cases is still 2-3 times cheaper.
- There is no compatibility problem that is introduced by the very presence of a multilingual plugin.
- Various admin panels for managing websites. However, if there are, or even the need to appoint, different regional administrators, this can be a plus.
- When switching to another language version from the internal pages of a site, the transition is usually made to the main page of the site of a different language version. This issue can be resolved, but requires additional work.
- Changes in functionality and design must be duplicated on all sites. Therefore, with this approach, it is better to first completely complete and debug the site in the main language and only then copy it to other domains or subdomains.
- If licensed plugins or libraries with a limit on the number of installations are used when developing a site, then each site requires a separate license or is counted in the total number of installations.
It should be noted that the length and volume of lists of advantages and disadvantages do not in themselves determine which method is better or worse. Everything will be determined by your tasks, goals and priorities.
I hope this information will be useful to you when making a decision)