Pop quiz: Out of the ten countries that search most often for “WordPress themes,” what’s the highest rank achieved by an English-speaking country?
Of course, these facts shouldn’t be terribly surprising, since English is far from the most commonly-spoken language in the world. It’s third, behind Mandarin and Spanish.
One reason why WordPress is so popular all around the globe is its availability in so many different languages. In 2014, the number of English downloads was surpassed for the first time by non-English downloads.
What’s more, the digital marketplace is increasingly a global one. As web technologies expand, improve, and become more accessible all over the world, the barriers to the exchange of information, goods, services, and currency are all dropping. So if you’re thinking of hopping on the multilingual bandwagon, that’s a smart, forward-thinking notion.
But how do you get from English-only to multilingual?
If you’ve done any research on this issue at all, chances are you’ve come across mentions to a plugin called WPML, which has been around since 2007. WPML is often the go-to choice for smart WordPress site owners who want to provide content in more than one language.
For the sake of completion, however, let’s note from the outset that there are basically three ways to provide your site’s content in languages other than your language of origin:
- You can create different sites for each language. This isn’t a practical solution for most sites.
- You can create multiple sites using WordPress Multisite. This can be a workable solution, but some experts suggest that it may not be practical to pursue a different solution later on if it proves insufficient to handle future language additions.
- You can use a plugin such as WPML (which is premium) or Polylang (which is free) to manage the translation process. This is the most common solution, and it’s probably the most appropriate for the largest percentage of sites.
While plugins such as WPML don’t actually do the translation for you, they provide a number of important benefits, including connecting you with professional translation services if you’d prefer outsourcing the entire job.
More crucially, WPML helps you maintain the requisite connection between different versions of the same page (the English and the French versions, for example) and providing the mechanism by which your users can select their language of preference, among other translation-related tasks.
Translation of your entire site’s worth of content is a big job. To make sure it goes smoothly, even if you’re using WPML, or a similar plugin, you’ll want to make sure you’ve taken care of the preliminary items we mention below.
Is Translation Even Warranted?
To begin with, you should determine whether translation into a second language is even warranted. How can you tell?
Simple: check your Google Analytics.
In your account’s dashboard, you’ll be able to see the source of your site’s traffic. Look for this information under the Audience label in the sidebar menu on the left side of the screen, then click “Geo” and then “Language.”
The data will be presented in a table which lists in descending order the languages used by your visitors’ machines or devices.
To verify this, you can also check the “Location” data, also found under the “Geo” label in the Audience menu. This will give you access to a graphical map showing how your visitors are dispersed around the world by countries.
Note that the city-level location data may be of questionable accuracy, but the country-level data is pretty reliable.
Together, “Language” and “Location” data will tell you whether you have enough visitors using a language other than your own to warrant the expense and effort of a translation project, and if so, which language you should focus on first.
So if 1 percent of your visitors are coming from Spanish-speaking countries while 15 percent come from China, then you might want to prioritize Chinese translations over Spanish ones.
Is Your Site’s Information Architecture Ready?
Now that you know you’re going to translate your site, and you know what language you’re going to translate it into, examine your site’s architecture to make sure it’s ready for the translation process.
Some of the specifics of this analysis might change in minor ways, depending on which method you choose to manage the process, but for the most part, you’re looking at the same elements in this analysis.
For instance, you’ll want to make sure your parent/child relationships between pages are consistent and logically coherent.
One way to approach this is by way of a visual map. Draw a graphic representation of your pages in the manner of a family tree or personal genealogy, with parent and child relationships shown.
If the resulting layout doesn’t look quite right to you, make those changes before you begin translating your content. Otherwise, your translated page may not get properly associated with the primary language version of that same page.
What Gets Translated?
You’ll also want to decide how far you want your translation process to dive into your site. Are you translating just the content itself? What about the categories for your posts, and the tags you’ve associated with the posts?
Furthermore, if you’re not translating the entire site at once, you’ll want to look very carefully at all of the links on the pages and posts that you will be translating. Any internal links to other pages or posts on your own site should likewise be translated to the same language.
While you may not necessarily want to link only to external pages in that same language, you may want your translator to provide a note to readers about links that aren’t in the same language. Provide those details and your preferred phrasing to your translator for each page of content to be translated.
This may be a small courtesy, but it’s one that’ll help ensure a smoother, better user experience for all your visitors.
Are Your Theme And Plugins WPML-Compatible and Translation-Ready?
Finally, double-check to make sure your site’s existing theme and plugins are also ready for the translation. Otherwise, user requests to the site may find results, created by PHP and served up in the browser, in a different language than they expected.
Fortunately, more and more developers are getting on board with the translation process. For instance, all of Elegant Themes’ products are WPML compatible since 2013.
And if you’re a theme or plugin developer, check out this documentation from WPML on making your products WPML-compatible.
The world may be getting smaller, but there’s still a big gap if your site doesn’t actually speak your customer’s language.
Using WPML to manage the translation process can make it smoother, but it’s still quite an undertaking. Ensuring these preliminary issues have been considered and optimized before turning a translator loose on your content will save time, money, and effort in the long run.