5 Steps of Multi-language Website Infrastructure Complexity

By Mislav Jantoljak -

For large, multinational companies, multi-language website environments are a common roadblock. And, with notable exceptions (like Nike), one few successfully cross when it comes to offering a great customer experience.

Anyone with enough resources can create a seemingly functional multi-language website environment. But when it comes to maintenance, back-end, content creation and management, translations management, quality SEO and a bunch of other things we’ll be covering as a part of this blog - this is where things could get tricky and resource consuming.

In this blog we’re going to help guide you through the steps you need to take and things to look out for to ensure an elevated customer experience while providing a localized service in as many markets as your business needs.

1) Solving the multi-language website dilemma

This is the first big decision you need to make and is largely based on your business strategy and marketing plan. Your website is here because it helps you tackle a specific goal. From conversions to brand awareness, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is a huge part of how a prospective customer perceives your business.

Depending on business strategy and your goals, the current tech, sales, marketing and content publishing stack there are a lot of questions you need to answer before deciding if your business needs a multi-language web environment and in how many markets.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • What is the primary and secondary purpose of your website?
  • What are our key business markets?
  • What is my key targeted demographic and ICP (Ideal Customer Profile)?
  • Do all of these markets (or audiences) require a localized website or is a microsite or landing page enough for some?
  • What are the brand and sales goals for these markets?
  • How do localized web instances help get us closer to those goals?
  • How do I ensure quality localized content and excellent customer experience on all my local language web instances?
  • What is the tech stack behind our current website? How flexible is my current CMS? 
  • Is it flexible enough to support a quality customer experience (from page load speed to non-duplicate content)  and process optimization across all localized instances?
  • What kind of support does my business need to have all of this running smoothly?

The need for a multilanguage website starts with your strategy and goals. The first question to answer is if there’s an actual need of localizing your website, which stems from the goals your company has for that market. And if you do need one, you better do it right.

2) Avoid the pitfalls of localized content

Obviously, the main reason behind the need for a multi-language website or a multi-language website ecosystem is the need to offer localized content to a particular customer base.

On average, localized content does a lot better in most countries where English isn’t native or well spoken. In fact, according to CSA Advisory 65% of business users prefer content in their native language.

Common Sense Advisory found that language impacted purchasing habits. They found that customers would be more likely to buy a product if the description and product details were written in their native language. The research also showed that for 56.2% of customers, access to information in their own language is valued above price. Additionally, website translation is sometimes mandated by local laws and regulations - in Quebec, Canada you’ll need to include a French version of your website.

But, let’s get one thing straight. Translated content isn’t localized content. Localized content = well-done translations that capture your brand essence and product value in the native language (quite difficult, especially in IT) + curated content especially designed and built for that particular country/market/demographic. 

This means you likely cannot copy/paste your entire web content, translate it and “voila!” - localization done. No. This means having an entire back-end logic that allows you to publish varying content based on language and audience requirements, the ability for each market to control and maintain their own content while avoiding content duplication (hello Google) and showcasing different things in different markets - from marketing campaign landing pages to products on offer.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • Does our marketing and sales tech stack support multi-language content? (Marketing forms, blog posts, landing pages etc.)
  • How do I ensure quality and up to date translations?
  • Is there a way to automate translations?
  • How will we direct users coming from various languages to their native language variant (by IP address etc.)? 
  • How will automated responses work for people filling out forms in various languages?
  • Make sure Google doesn’t view content between instances as competing or duplicate content

Remember, if you’re going with a multilingual direction, no language variant should feel like it’s just there because it has to be there. It needs to offer the same level of customer experience as your main website. Nobody wants to feel like a second fiddle - and this will immediately tell customers if you’re in fact serious about their market.

3) Managing and publishing content

Your website should be a living, breathing thing. New content is published, web copy changed to reflect the new products and offerings, numerous landing pages created for your marketing teams to drive demand and acquire marketing (qualified) leads for your sales teams.

So, the second thing regarding content you need to take into consideration is the complexity of management and publishing, both on the core language and multi-language web instances.

Let’s assume you have a content team, or content publishers. They need to be able to easily publish any type of content in any language on any web instance. If your business does any type of content marketing or demand generation you should already be aware of the time lost due to poorly optimized content publishing and management processes.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • How much time are our content management teams losing when publishing or editing content?
  • How much will that increase with the addition of new language variants?
  • How will we manage (and who’s going to manage) all those language variants when we update our content?
  • How many content publishers do we have available to publish and edit content?
  • Why is that so and how can it be streamlined for less hours lost (and collect feedback)
  • Can we get our landing page content up fast enough to support all of our planned marketing campaigns in all supported languages?
  • How difficult is it to learn our current CMS by new employees in content or web management teams?
  • How good is the user experience inside the CMS for content publishers?

Content management, especially multilingual content management, can take up much more time than expected for your content/publishing teams. Streamlining it can mean the difference between your campaigns being properly supported, your publishers happy and productive and your content team focused on writing good content, instead of a bad internal user experience.

4) Ensuring a smooth and unified web experience across all multi-language website instances

One of the main goals of multi-language websites is to offer a great user experience wherever you’re offering your products and services. A smooth, uninterrupted access to information, service or newsletter signup to page load speed - everything doesn’t just have to run smoothly on your main homepage or hub website, it needs to provide this experience across the board.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do customers have the same quality experience across all language instances? 
  • Can they access product/service information seamlessly across every language?
  • What does nurturing prospects across various languages look like in terms of available content?
  • How fast can they access information across instances, how quick is the transition in terms of navigation across instances?
  • Are all the transactional emails translated in the right languages?

The quality of the translations and localization have to be closely mimicked by the technical quality of the local instances to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted flow and access to information, only then will both of the local user experience requirements be met.

5) Technical hiccups and back-end requirements

Now we dive deeper into the technical side of your future multi-language website setup. From search functionalities, that need to be indexed properly for each language (solr, elasticsearch etc.) and form validation (different time/date formats, currencies etc.) to the generation of sitemaps for local website instances and various language URL generation - there are number of things that can impede a launch of a good multi-language website environment.

A good partner, with technical expertise and the ability to educate your internal teams, can be the difference between a streamlined, well-functioning environment that provides great experience for customers and a hot mess.

As a general rule of thumb, as with anything, it’s much easier to do a deep dive with domain experts and setup the initial multi-language ecosystem, than fixing it later on, once it does damage to both your internal processes and customer-facing reputation.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • One domain vs local domains - do we benefit from having local domains for our multi-language website instances or would a main domain which houses all the language instances be enough? Keep in mind that every extra domain = extra maintenance and likely lesser overall domain authority with it comes to Google
  • How are URLs generated depending on language?
  • Do our teams have to manually detect if the main website content has been changed and apply changes to other instances or can this be automated?
  • How do we manage and create a hierarchy between main website content and local website instances?
  • Microformats and SEO differ from language to language, do we have that covered?
  • What is the fallback language if a certain piece of content doesn’t exist in a local language?
  • User role management - are certain roles (like admins) tied to specific languages so that admins can only manage their own languages or should they have a broader access?
  • Do we need additional granulation per language and URL (for example /en for a global audience and /en-us for US-based users)
  • Do we want to automatically display local content (if available) per IP address via IP lookup?
  • Hreflang structure - how do we “tell” search engines to serve up corresponding query results in the local language for users from certain countries?

There is a lot more, but this blog post is meant to give you a bit of insight into the complexity of building the optimal multilanguage website environment, why strategy is key before diving into it, and why the right development partner is crucial if you don’t have the technical expertise to run things in house.

Generating digital change for businesses

At Netgen, we think of ourselves as that partner, by tailoring our approach to each client, through a process that allows us to not just build your website, but fully understand your digital needs and chart a bold direction forward.

Every company’s structure and culture is different so we start by understanding what makes you tick and apply agile methods that work for you. From lean UX strategy guidance and education, running design sprints for your teams and assisting you in structuring your agile development in Scrum or Kanban.

Additionally, change is hard, it takes energy. Especially when investing in complex web environments and elevating customer experience to perfectly serve your brand and customers. Our teams are uncompromising in building the best solution for you, which means we will fight, challenge you and ourselves to drive your project forward.

From discovery, design and development, to support, maintenance and consultancy, our experts will use an immense amount of energy and drive to help you achieve full-scale digital transformation.

Start solving your website complexity. Contact us today or check out some of our work.

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